female swimmer

Is Swimming A Good Workout For Weight Loss?Fancy/Veer/Corbis - Getty Images

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."

You already know that cardio exercise is one common component of weight loss success. But if you’ve been relying on traditional methods like cycling and running recently, you might want to change up your routine and give swimming for weight loss a try.

“Although swimming seems relatively hard and sometimes scary, it’s one of the best cardiovascular workouts anyone of any age can do,” says Kris Gagne, senior swim coach for Life Time, and a USA-registered and ASCA-certified swim coach. Plus, fighting through the water’s resistance can help strengthen your muscles. Of course, trying a new workout routine can be challenging. Here's what to know about swimming for weight loss and how to make the most of your swim workouts.

Meet the experts: Kris Gagne is a senior swim coach for Life Time and a USA-registered and ASCA-certified swim coach. Dan Daly, CSCS, is the owner of Train Daly and a competitive open water and masters swimmer.

How does swimming help you lose weight?

Like any type of exercise, swimming will help you burn calories, and if you’re in a calorie deficit, you’ll lose weight, according to Dan Daly, CSCS, owner of Train Daly and a competitive open water and masters swimmer.

For someone who is 155 pounds, 30 minutes of vigorous lap swimming can burn 360 calories, per Harvard Health. By comparison, the same source notes that 30 minutes of vigorous stationary rowing can burn 369 calories, and half an hour of vigorous stationary cycling can burn 278 calories.

Can swimming help you lose belly fat?

The short answer: Yes. But Gagne warns against focusing on "spot training," or trying to work only one body part to lose weight from that specific area, especially since your body composition and genetics can play a role in where you store fat. (You also can't control where you lose fat from first!) Still, swimming can help you lose weight, which will lead to the loss of fat overall, including belly fat eventually, and certain strokes work the abs especially well.

“Swimming works a lot of different muscles throughout the entire body, but when it comes to targeting certain areas, butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke will engage your core more. The more you are engaging them, the more work you’re putting into that certain area for leaner muscle," says Gagne. (More on all the strokes later!) Still, he notes, "the best way to help with losing belly fat is making sure that you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to complement all the hard work you’re putting in.”

How much do you have to swim to lose weight?

New swimmers, take note: “In the beginning, going three times a week for 30 minutes will benefit you greatly,” says Gagne. “You will find that you are using muscles you didn’t even know you had.”

Remember, though, that a calorie deficit is crucial for fat loss, per Daly. For help figuring out your (safe and healthy!) calorie deficit for weight loss, you can turn to your doc or nutritionist, a few different formulas, or online calculators, WH has reported. And to estimate calories burned during your swimming workout, you can consult an online calorie counter like this one, which uses three inputs: your body weight, activity time, and activity level (in units called METs). (ICYMI, MET stands for “metabolic equivalent of task,” per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Compendium of Physical Activities site can help you determine what to enter for your swim workout—to give you an idea, moderate-effort freestyle is listed at 5.8 METs.)

Also keep in mind that while exercise can be a great place to start for fat loss, you’ll ultimately want to focus on your nutrition, too, Daly advises.

What does a swimming workout look like for beginners?

The Strokes

First, let’s dive (pun intended) into each of the different strokes, starting with freestyle and backstroke. “In the swimming world, we call those long axis because you rotate around a long axis through the length of your body,” Daly explains. Both require you to alternate arms with each stroke and alternate legs with each kick. The difference between them is pretty intuitive: With backstroke, you’re moving through the water on your back, and with freestyle you’re on your stomach. (If you want demos from the pros—and a good dose of inspo—check out this video of Simone Manuel’s 100-meter freestyle at the 2016 Olympics and this one of Missy Franklin’s 200-meter backstroke at the 2012 games.)

“Breaststroke and butterfly are what we call short axis,” Daly says. Unlike freestyle and backstroke, they require you to take each stroke with two arms and kick with both legs at the same time, too. And, while we’re on the subject, you might recognize butterfly and breaststroke by their distinctive kicks. Daly describes a butterfly kick as similar to a dolphin’s movement (think: two legs together in a wave-like motion). Breaststroke, he notes, has a frog-like kick. (Need a butterfly demo? Watch Dana Vollmer break a World Record in the 100-meter event at the 2012 Olympics. And for a reminder of what breaststroke looks like, check out this vid of Rebecca Soni in the 200-meter event at the same games.)

While freestyle is generally considered the fastest and easiest stroke to learn, Gagne recommends starting with breaststroke. It allows newer swimmers to keep their heads out of the water as they become more comfortable with swimming and breathing technique, he says.

The Workout

To start, Gagne recommends swimming slowly for 30 minutes three times a week, and then building speed or amount of time spent in the pool at the four-week mark. Once you feel comfortable just swimming for 30 minutes, give this swim interval workout a try:

  • Slowly warm up with four lengths of the pool (with a maximum of 25 breaths between each length)

  • Swim at a moderate intensity for five lengths without stopping

  • Swim at a high intensity, or a fast as you can go, for another five lengths without stopping

  • Slowly cool down for two lengths

“As you learn other strokes, you can vary your swim workouts in order to target different parts of the body," says Gagne. "You will find yourself cruising at a faster speed the more you swim—it just takes some practice.”

How can you burn more calories while swimming?

Try these ideas next time you want a more challenging workout.

  1. Increase resistance. You can increase resistance in the water by adding flippers, resistance bands, or buoys (more on equipment below). Any items that make it harder for you to kick and stroke through the water will increase your strength.

  2. Change up your stroke. The type of stroke you do also makes a difference. While butterfly burns the most calories, it’s not easy to do for very long, so Gagne recommends a combination of all the different strokes. In your workouts, aim to do your harder strokes for a minute or two at a time, and then sub in freestyle as an active recovery.

  3. Incorporate intervals. HIIT intervals can help you burn more calories when you swim, since the faster you go, the more challenging the workout—and the more calories you’ll burn, per Gagne. However, since you probably won’t be able to swim fast nonstop, incorporating intervals can help (think: swimming as many lengths as fast as you can for 30 seconds, with a 30-second break in between). Breaking up your workout into sets of specific intervals allows you to maintain a higher speed and stroke form, which will help you improve your performance and the amount of calories burned.

  4. Work out with a swim coach. “A swim coach can also help you create a workout plan and incorporate breath exercises so that you can slowly build up your time and speed over the course of a few months,” says Gagne. “Getting started is probably the hardest part, especially if you're not an experienced swimmer," says Gagne. But a coach can help you move past any fear or hesitation so that swimming can become a fun, go-to workout for you.

Best Swimming Workout Gear

There are plenty of tools out there that can help newbies and experienced swimmers alike. Just remember not to rely on them all the time—doing so can prevent you from learning how to swim efficiently on your own, according to Daly.

Swimming Tips To Keep In Mind

Warming Up For Your Workout

Following some dynamic stretches on the pool deck, Daly says a typical swimming workout warm-up should check a few different boxes: In the pool, you’ll want to ease in with an aerobic warm-up. Then, he advises doing technique work so you can dial in on something that you’re trying to improve (and not have to think about it as much during your workout). Finally, he notes that it’s a good idea to “rev your engine” with some bursts or builds to sprint to prep your body for the intensity of the workout. Again, if you need help determining what’s appropriate for your fitness level, consult a trusted pro.

Getting The Right Gear

As far as gear goes, know this: There’s lots of great stuff out there, according to Daly. Most importantly, he recommends getting a proper suit (think: something form-fitting and streamlined rather than the casual suits you might wear at the beach). And you definitely need goggles, he says, adding that they should fit comfortably—they don’t need to be super tight. He also advises getting a lighter pair for swimming indoors and a darker pair for swimming outdoors. (Daly works with and recommends goggles from TheMagic5, which are custom-fitted.) Finally, consider a swim cap, especially if you’ve got long hair. In fact, some pools require caps, according to Daly. This Speedo cap has 4.3 stars (with over 6,000 ratings) on Amazon, and it’s designed to not snag your hair.

Nailing Your Breathing Technique

For new swimmers, Daly acknowledges that having your face in the water can feel claustrophobic. But keep this in mind: “When you run and bike, you’re not breathing constantly, and you’re not completely inhaling and exhaling,” Daly says. That said, he recommends beginners get as much air as possible. When you’re doing freestyle, for example, take a breath every other stroke (so you’re always breathing to the same side). Exhale, blowing bubbles, when your face is in the water.

You Might Also Like

Source link