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Weight loss is an achievable goal that requires a combination of a well-balanced diet, physical activity, and lifestyle modifications. Options regarding physical activity are numerous, ranging from regular jogging to the gym or playing sports. Swimming is also a viable option for men and women who want to slim down. How much do you know about swimming for weight loss? Does it really work, and how? In this post, you’re going to learn more about this subject.
Generally speaking, any kind of physical activity is better than no activity at all for weight loss. When thinking about exercise and weight loss, we tend to assume only running, and gym workouts can help, but the truth is you can benefit from other forms of activity as well. Swimming is one of those activities.
One study compared the effects of swimming and walking on fitness, body weight, lipids, glucose, and insulin. Results showed that compared with walking, swimming improved body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin in both short- and long-term. Scientists concluded swimming could influence health benefits (1), and, as you can see, it promotes weight loss.
A study from the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that swimming was associated with significant changes in body composition, body fat percentage, and fat-free mass. Moreover, long-term aquatic exercise could help control the negative energy balance, thus resulting in a continuous decrease in body fat. This happens because swimming can effectively consume body fat and help a person slim down. Considering the fact body fat, especially around the abdominal area, is stubborn; this makes swimming even more important for weight loss. The study also showed that swimming improved physical fitness, muscular endurance, and flexibility (2).
Swimming for weight loss works, but you are probably wondering how. Unlike some exercises which target specific muscles, swimming is a whole-body workout. Similarly to other forms of cardio exercise, swimming burns calories and thereby promotes weight loss. However, water creates extra resistance, which jogging or walking doesn’t have. As a result, you use the muscles more. The more the muscles are engaged, the more calories you can burn.
What makes swimming practical is the low impact which may suit overweight people, even pregnant women, and persons with arthritis who want to maintain their weight in a healthy range. While running is a great cardio activity, it is considered a high impact and forms a lot of pressure on your joints, which can lead to more pain if your fitness levels are low. Since swimming takes the load off the joints compared to walking or running, it is less likely to cause injuries, and people are more likely to stick to it (3).
Swimming has a great potential to tone the upper body, core, and lower body all at the same time. The breaststroke can add more definition to your shoulders, chest, and arms, while backstroke is particularly useful for abs, backs, and quads.
When it comes to swimming for weight loss, the increased appetite may be a source of concern for many people who wonder whether it could undermine their effort in the pool. During swimming, the body temperature is usually low, so the first thing that most people want to do, especially when swimming in cold water, is to drink or eat something warm to restore body temperature. What gives swimming the edge is that people also tend to move more in order to keep themselves warm rather than remaining passive to cool down after running or brisk walking. Warming yourself after a swim by remaining active allows you to expend more energy and thereby burn more fat and lose weight.
As mentioned above, water creates resistance that makes muscles work harder, thus burning more calories. The number of calories burned while swimming is not the same for every person. Various factors play a role in the calorie-burning aspect of swimming, such as metabolism, weight, swimming distance, swimming intensity, and style.
Here are some values for people of different weight swimming freestyle for an hour:
Swimming backstroke generally burns the same number of calories as freestyle (4). Bear in mind the above-mentioned values are estimates as other factors such as metabolism also play a role. To get a clearer picture of how many calories you can burn while swimming, here is a calculator that can help you out.
The benefits of swimming for weight loss are evident, but to experience them, it is necessary to adopt a proper technique. The technique is vital because if you can't swim well enough to burn a lot of calories, then weight loss is difficult to achieve. Actually, that’s how all other types of activities work. Only by adopting the proper technique will we be able to get the best results. Otherwise, we would get tired without doing much work and end up quitting swimming. It may be practical to get improvement lessons from a personal trainer who will teach you how to get the most out of swimming or what mistakes to avoid.
When swimming for weight loss, make sure to use the legs intensely and alternate laps with a slower and faster pace. For example, swim one lap the fastest you can, and your next lap goes slowly. To make sure you stick to swimming, make it an even more enjoyable experience by setting up personal goals. Options are endless here e.g., the number of laps, the time needed to finish the lap, weight to lose within a month, among others. Below, you can see some useful tips to get the most out of swimming for weight loss (5).
If you can fit it into your lifestyle and schedule, you may want to try swimming in the morning before breakfast. The reason is simple; early morning swims before eating leave the body in a fasted state meaning it is ready to use stored fat as a source of energy. Of course, if you don't have access to the pool at that time or the daily schedule doesn't allow it, you can swim when it best suits your day-to-day life.
Certain routine is effective at the very beginning, but doing the same thing over and over again can undermine weight loss effort. That happens because the body is used to making certain movements; there is no challenge to encourage muscles to work harder. The answer to this common obstacle is to mix things up a little bit by avoiding sticking to the same routine too long. This doesn't mean you have to try new things in swimming all the time but refers to the importance of making it more challenging. When you get used to a certain number of laps, increase it. Or try out a different style from time to time. The point is to take the existing routine to a new level once you feel like it's not giving you enough challenges anymore. That way, the body will always be challenged, and muscles will work harder.
Once you decide to start swimming for weight loss, make sure to start wisely. It will be a mistake to start swimming for an hour if your fitness levels are low at this point. Ideally, you should start swimming 15 to 20 minutes first and gradually increase to 30 minutes. Once it feels easy to swim for 30 minutes, increase to 45 minutes and later to 60 minutes. Otherwise, your muscles would be sore, and you would be less likely to stick to the routine. Ease your way into it, and you will feel more comfortable, but also stronger and more energetic.
Swimming is not the only way to lose weight while spending time in the water. Water aerobics is popular and incredibly effective. Just like swimming, it is gentle on your joints, but resistance caused by water makes muscles work harder. You may want to try alternating swimming and water aerobics to add more variety to your physical activity routine.
Men and women who want to swim to lose weight may want to do a few bicep curls with water dumbbells in between laps. As previously mentioned, water resistance will propel muscles to work harder, all of which leads to burning calories, but you will also build more strength and endurance. This is a great way to take your swimming routine to a new level and get more out of swimming.
Although it is perfectly natural to wonder about the ideal distance to swim for weight loss at this point, there is no accurate measurement that would calculate that correlation. That being said, monitoring how many calories you burn could give you valuable insight. That way, you will be able to adjust the distance and increase when necessary in order to lose weight successfully.
Due to the fact that each person is different numerous variables influence their weight loss. An overweight man or woman with low muscle mass and cardiovascular capabilities need more time to build endurance for swimming sessions of higher intensity. That same person also needs to lose more fat mass and may achieve rapid weight loss in the early stages of the program. To keep it off and ensure continuous progress, the swimming routine should also include stretching (6).
Beginners who want to lose weight with swimming may want to start with the following plan then upgrade it when the body needs more challenge (7):
Ideally, you should do two rounds. The first round should be slower while the second round at a faster pace.
Generally speaking, breaststroke and freestyle are the easiest to master while butterfly stroke is the most demanding. If the above-mentioned routine doesn’t seem appealing to you, you may want to alternate swimming styles. For example, swim freestyle one day and do breaststroke the next day.
If you're a beginner in swimming for weight loss endeavor, you probably wonder where to swim because we can do it both indoors and outdoors. If you can't swim, make sure to take lessons first or if you feel like your skills need more "sharpening." The choice of an environment depends entirely on you or your preferences. For most people, the easiest options are public pools or those in fitness clubs (8).
Even though swimming for weight loss truly works, it is still important to modify diet. Remember, a well-balanced diet and physical activity come hand in hand, and they allow you to lose weight and keep it off. Make sure to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean protein rather than processed and refined foods. According to the CDC, you should experiment with different healthy foods in order to figure out what works best for you (9). Reduce sugar intake, consumption of junk food, trans fats, and other foods with empty calories i.e., no nutritional value.
Besides weight loss, swimming has other benefits (10), and some of them are:
Studies confirm that swimming for weight loss is effective, but various factors play a role, including metabolism and current fitness levels. Swimming, if fun, provides a whole-body workout, and it supports weight loss as well as general health and wellbeing.