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Swimming and Weight Loss: Benefits and How It Works

One of the benefits of swimming regularly is weight loss. Swimming is an effective full-body workout that builds strength and cardiovascular endurance. Moreover, the resistance induced by moving through water engages the muscles and tones it for overall definition. Stacy Carpio, a former swim coach and Red Cross water safety instructor, quotes:

“Swimming tones your upper body, lower body, and core at the same time, giving you a full-body workout and more overall muscle definition versus other cardio activities like running.”

Most forms of cardiovascular exercise (if not all) are beneficial for the body’s overall health improvement; however, there are differences in the processes of which each exercise benefits the individual. For instance, some exercises are high-impact (ie. running, boxing, jump rope, competitive football) while some are low-impact (ie. swimming). Generally, high-impact exercises burn calories faster but the risk of injuries is higher. Swimming, on the other hand, which is a low-impact workout, is known for being safe and friendly to the joints. This means that in the long-run, there is a higher risk of wear and tear among those who engage in high-impact workouts as compared to those who engage in low-impact exercises.

“Low-impact” does not mean “ineffective”—let’s just get this one straight! Just look at the built and structure of swimmer’s bodies. You would notice that the V-shape is common. Swimmers are commonly lean and muscular because swimming engages almost all muscle groups. Pulling yourself to swim especially targets your latissimus dorsi (back) and deltoids (shoulders), while kicking to propel yourself especially targets your pecs, glutes (butt), and quads (thighs). Furthermore, each stroke targets a variety of muscle groups:

Freestyle: chest, triceps, biceps, forearms, quads, middle and upper back, and neck

Breaststroke: chest, back of your shoulders, quads, and calves

Butterfly: chest, shoulders, neck, abs, upper back, lower back, calves,

quads, lateral hamstring, and trapezoids

Backstroke: middle and upper back, trapezoids, quads, and glutes

In general, you burn about 300 calories for half an hour of swimming freestyle laps at a moderate pace, says Albert Matheny (CSCS, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab). This statistic, of course, is just an average—there are variables to consider that makes each individual’s weight loss progress unique. This includes one’s own weight and metabolism. Nonetheless, weight loss from swimming is effective for both body types: those who start off with more weight would lose the extra calories faster, while those who start off relatively lean build muscles earlier.

While exercise is very crucial for weight loss, diet is equally important. Zach Lazzari from notes,

“Diet is a major factor and will determine how much weight loss is actually achieved. For example, swimming daily for a week might burn enough calories for several pounds of weight loss, but eating high calorie, processed foods will slow down your progress.”

One of the recommended ways to go about a healthy diet is to cut down on sugars and saturated fat—these can always be replaced by something healthier such as fruits and raw vegetables. Fast food is also a common culprit but it can easily be replaced with fresh food prepared with preferable ingredients.

Maintaining a good diet supports a healthy body and it keeps visceral fat away. Visceral fat, which is considered as the most dangerous type of body fat, increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Prevention includes both good diet and regular aerobic exercise—swimming is a good choice!

Where do I start?

Look for a nearby pool (a typical swimming pool is about 25 or 50 meters). Wear complete gear: swimsuit, goggles, and a swimming cap. Bring a kickboard for kicking drills. You can try the exercises below for a good workout (these exercises were prepared by Helen Lin, a master swim team coach in Boston):

For beginners:

4 x 25 meters warm up of any stroke

2 x 25 meters freestyle with 40 seconds rest in between each 25

2 x 25 meters kick of your choice with one minute rest between each 25

2 x 25 meters backstroke with 50 seconds rest in between each 25

2 x 25 meters breaststroke kick with one minute rest in between each 25

2 x 25 meters kick of your choice

2 x 25 meters cool down of any stroke

For advanced swimmers (requires a kickboard):

4 x 50 meters warm up of any stroke

2 x 50 meters freestyle in two minutes. (If you finish the 50 meters in one minute, then you get one min of rest. If you finish the 50 meters in 1:30, then you get 30 seconds rest)

4 x 75 meters freestyle in two minutes and 15 seconds

2 x 100 meters alternating freestyle and using a kickboard with 30

seconds rest after each 100

2 x 50 meters freestyle in two minutes

2 x 50 meters kickboard in two minutes

4 x 50 meters freestyle in one minute



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