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Swimming for Weight Loss

Swimming for weight loss has been a popular concept for a long time. And of course there’s a certain logic to it. Olympic swimmers and triathletes have very lean bodies, so swimming must be good for weight loss, right? Well, not so fast.

The logical flaw with swimming for weight loss

As with so many fitness activities, swimming simply does not burn that many calories.


And for swimming to burn more calories than just walking through the store, you have to SWIM LAPS, back and forth, without stopping, FOR A LONG TIME. You know, “SERIOUS SWIMMING”! And even THAT doesn’t burn that many calories.

Almost any lap pool you can find will be 25 yards long, so a round/trip is 50 yards. Swimming at a speed of 50 yards/minute you will cover a mile in 36 minutes. For reference, that’s relatively fast. If you have never swam regularly or competitively you probably can’t swim that fast. Swimming at that speed burns 4.5 calories/pound/hour. So for someone 180 lbs. swimming a MILE burns just under 500 calories (4.5 cals x 180 lbs x 0.6 hours).

And remember, a 180 lb man burns around 100 calories/hour AT REST, so swimming for an hour only burns 400 calories over that.

And to use my repeated illustration, ONE SLICE of relatively loaded large regular-crust pizza has around 400 calories. Any questions? 🙂

As a former triathlete I have done considerable swim training, and from that experience I can add one more challenge to the mix: Swimming generates a ravenous appetite! Admittedly this is very anecdotal as it is only my experience and what I have heard from a handful of others, but still, after a swim workout I’m STARVING. If I’m near a pizza you would be well advised to keep your hands safely clear of the feeding zone!

Swimming for weight loss works, but only if…

As with many fitness activities, swimming does not burn enough calories to offset a calorie count problem.

But an active lifestyle is better than a sedentary lifestyle! So if you are carefully minding your calorie counts as advised elsewhere on this site, and you enjoy playing in the pool for an hour or two in the evening (or swimming laps if you do that), then have at it. It burns far more calories than sitting on the couch, and it takes up time that you might otherwise spend munching on chips and dip (unless of course your pool has a snack and drinks deck, then it’s pretty much like the couch)!



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