When people think about their dream body, a swimmer’s physique often comes to mind. Strong, broad shoulders, a tight core and toned legs are a sure sign of fitness and athletic prowess.
But some of us need to lose a few pounds to get the dream body we desire! The good news is that swimming is a fantastic way to lose weight and keep it off for good.
It works every muscle in your body and is a solid cardio workout that will keep you fit and healthy for the rest of your life. Plus, it’s amazing for your mental health.
Keep reading to learn why swimming is such an amazing workout, how many calories swimming actually burns, and how to create a swimming and nutrition plan that will help you work toward the body you’ve been dreaming of.
First, though, a quick disclaimer: You do not need to swim specifically for weight loss or to change your physical appearance. A lot of people use swimming as a form of moving meditation, to train for races, or as a way to be social and make friends, and that is great! But if weight loss is a goal for you, swimming might be a good choice.
4 Reasons Swimming is Great for Weight Loss
1. It’s Beginner Friendly
First off, it’s easy to get started with swimming. You don’t need to be fit to start swimming.
All you need is a comfortable bathing suit, swim cap and goggles. Just show up to the pool and dive in!
You don’t need to know how to swim every stroke to get a good workout, either. If you can only do freestyle or breaststroke, that’s all good! Just do what you can, and the rest will come later.
Stay committed to getting 1% better every day, and over time you’ll start to see progress. Remember that every swimmer started somewhere, and there’s absolutely no shame in being a beginner. Embrace the journey!
2. It’s Low Impact
Swimming is a wonderful, low impact exercise option. If other forms of exercise don’t work for you because of knee pain or other joint issues, consider swimming!
It won’t stress your joints the same way as something like running does, so it’s a great way to get moving and it should hopefully make your body feel good, too.
3. It Burns a Lot of Calories
Next we’re talking calories. If you’ve heard about Michael Phelps’ insane 5,000-calorie diet, that says it all…swimming burns a ton of calories. And if you have the right nutrition plan in place, swimming should help you lose some weight.
But just how many calories does swimming burn? I’m glad you asked. Let’s break it down:
Now, exact calorie burn will vary from person to person. A taller, heavier person will burn more calories per workout than a shorter, lighter person. Swimming intensity also plays a role here.
Let’s use one hour of continuous freestyle swimming as an example. According to the American College of Sports Medicine:
- A 205-pound person will burn 931 calories swimming fast, and about 651 calories swimming at a slower pace.
- A 155-pound person will burn 704 calories swimming fast, and 493 calories swimming slower.
- A 130-pound person will burn 590 calories swimming fast and 413 calories swimming slow.
You probably won’t swim at your fastest pace for a full hour, nor will you swim extra slow. So you can most likely expect a calorie burn somewhere in the middle of the range.
As we mentioned above, calorie count will vary widely depending on who you are. So take these calorie counts as an estimate, and swim with a smartwatch to get a better look at your personal calorie burn. Learn more about swimming calorie burn here.
4. It’s Accessible
Last but not least, swimming is relatively accessible! You don’t need to swim on a team to get a good workout. Just head to the pool on your own time. Many pools have reasonable entry fees, and many gyms have lap pools nowadays as well.
And once you get to the pool, you don’t need to swim for hours to get a good workout. For many beginners, just 15 to 20 minutes is enough to leave them totally gassed.
It’s safe to say swimming is a good bang for your buck, time wise. So if you’re really busy and trying to lose weight, swimming is a great option!
How to Lose Weight Swimming
Now that we know WHY swimming is great for weight loss, how do you actually lose weight swimming and get that swimmer body?
According to the Mayo Clinic, healthy weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week. That’s about half to 1 kilogram.
To lose 1-2 pounds per week, you need to burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you consume each day. This is called a calorie deficit.
How to Create a Calorie Deficit
How do you create a calorie deficit with swimming? First we’ve got to do some math. Step one is to calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. Your TDEE is the total number of calories your body burns just by existing. Breathing, digesting food, and living life. There are tons of online calculators that can help you figure this out.
Once you have your TDEE, add your total calories burned from exercise for the day. Subtract the calories you plan to eat, and the result is your calorie deficit. Play with different calorie intake numbers to see where the deficit will work out.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, you should aim for a 500 calorie deficit to start. This should allow you to lose about a pound a week. So, if your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is 2,000 calories and you burn 300 calories from a swim workout, you will need to eat 1,800 calories per day to achieve a 500-calorie deficit.
Once you know your calorie goals, it’s time to start swimming.
The Best Way to Swim for Weight Loss
If weight loss is your goal, try to swim two to three times per week, or more if you can. Follow a structured training plan that will help you progress in distance and intensity over time. Give the MySwimPro app a download to get a fully personalized plan designed for weight loss!
Related: How to Cross-Train for Swimming
And if it feels ok for you, maybe try to add in walks or light strength training on your off days as well. Keep in mind that most (if not all) pro swimmers do extra training in the weight room to achieve such a strong physique. As you get in shape you’ll be able to handle more training volume, so try slowly increasing how often you swim and hit the gym.
Try to be consistent and stick to your weekly plan. Create a habit and it’ll be easier to maintain your weight loss long-term!
Don’t Skimp on Nutrition
The next step in creating our calorie deficit is all about nutrition.
Your dietary needs are very personal. If you are a 5’2” woman, you’re probably going to need fewer calories than a man who is 6’5”. Don’t follow someone else’s meal plan just because it worked for their unique body.
If you want more personalized, detailed guidance on your nutrition, I recommend working with a registered dietitian who has experience helping people lose weight safely. Check out our interview with a registered dietitian for some great meal examples.
Track Your Meals
Many people find it helpful to track their daily calories with an app or write down their meals in a food diary.
Whatever your calorie goals are, make sure you’re eating enough protein, carbs and fat to fuel your body and help your muscles recover after exercise. Eat like an athlete!
Prepping your meals ahead of time can help make sure you’re covering all your bases and keeping your portion sizes in check. Don’t forget to hydrate, either!
When you eat right, you’ll feel more energized and will have more endurance for your workouts. Think about eating to fuel your body, instead of depriving it. Don’t punish yourself. Eat enough calories!
Mike’s Swimming Weight Loss Transformation
To prove that losing weight with swimming is possible, let’s take a look at Mike’s incredible 100-pound weight loss journey.
Mike lost 100 pounds with swimming and a healthy diet, and he did pretty much exactly what we explained above! He stayed consistent with his MySwimPro Training Plan and prepped his meals to make sure he was hitting his calorie deficit goal every day.
And after a year of hard work, Mike transformed from 264 pounds to 165 pounds, and has kept the weight off years later. Read Mike’s full story here.
So if you don’t take it from us, take it from Mike. Weight loss is a long game.
Don’t try to crash diet or ramp up your workout routine to something that’s not sustainable. You might lose weight super quickly, but you won’t be able to keep it off.
As much as we want our bodies to look different overnight, that’s just not the way it works. The key is making small, incremental lifestyle changes that build on each other week by week. These habits are key to being healthy for the rest of your life!
As you dive deeper into your swim journey you’ll start to see more benefits beyond just the physical changes. Your mental health will improve, you’ll sleep better and you might even focus better at work or school. What’s not to love?
Share your tips for creating sustainable weight loss in the comments. If you’re ready to start your swimming weight loss journey and become the best version of yourself, download the MySwimPro app to get your very own customized Training Plan!
For extra accountability, join the MySwimPro Global Community Facebook Group to connect with swimmers from all over the world and get inspired.