Swimming can be a lifesaver, literally as well as figuratively. Swimming is an exercise that can be enjoyed by anyone, at any stage of life or any level of fitness. Check out the community pool midday and you will see toddlers, teens, families, octogenarians, and a whole host of other folks making a splash. Like walking, swimming is truly a lifetime sport. But swimming is more than a casual way to spend a hot summer’s day. It’s also a way to accelerate your weight loss and overall health goals, and it comes with a long list of benefits unique to the sport. 

In the post, we will look at the benefits of incorporating swimming into your workout plan, including fat loss and improved cardiac health, and we will check out some swim workouts that help burn fat while building lean body mass. 

(Note: Want our elite trainers to build your swimming workouts for you ? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)  

What’s So Great About Swimming?

Swimming is different from any other land-based sport because let’s face it, you are guaranteed to get wet, and not just from sweat. It’s the workout of choice for people who are recovering from joint surgeries or other procedures, but it is also a highly competitive Olympic sport. 

It’s Low Impact

Water lifts you up, and the natural buoyancy provided by working out in a pool removes the impact you would experience when jogging at a similar level of intensity. For this reason, it’s a great exercise for older or overweight individuals who are looking for ways to keep moving without adding additional stress to their joints since the water supports about 90% of your body weight. 

But swimming is not just for the beginner or recovering athlete. It’s a useful exercise for more advanced athletes because it exercises the total body. Swimming provides resistance training through the weight of the water itself, aerobic training with a special focus on form and breathing, and to some degree, it can even be considered strength training since you are building lean muscle as you slice through the pool.  

Swimming isn’t just good for the body, it’s always great for the mind.

It’s Good for Your Brain

Like walking, running, and other methodical physical activities, swimming can produce a certain kind of focused mindfulness. When you use proper form with swimming, every breath is consciously taken, just as it is in meditation and mindfulness practices. The steady splash of water, the feeling of being supported in space, and the rhythmic nature of moving your arms and legs all work together to clear your head by allowing you to focus on nothing more than the task at hand. 

It’s a Life Skill

According to the Centers for Disease Control, unintentional drowning is the fifth-highest cause of death due to unintentional injury in the U.S., and they are not even counting boating accidents. The CDC reports that about 10 people die every day from drowning, and a fifth of those deaths are of children under age 15. So learning to swim and practicing basic water safety skills is an essential skill for anyone who may encounter open bodies of water, including pools, lakes, and oceans. 

Swimming Can Be a Solo or a Group Activity

Swimming can be anything you want it to be. Want to get together with a group of friends and splash around in a lake for an afternoon? Need to spend some time with nothing but the sound of chlorinated water slapping against the sides of the pool? Or maybe you just want to get in a total body workout in the most efficient way you can? No matter what your preference, swimming is there for you.

It’s Versatile and Adaptable

Unlike cycling or running, swimming provides you the ability to focus on different muscle groups and specific parts of your body. This, in turn, means that you can avoid overtaxing other parts of your body that may need a chance to heal or recover. Swimming can be part of your cool down after a session of Marissa Rivero’s Ultimate Fat Burn series, or it can be integrated into your high-intensity interval training (HIIT) regimen. 

It Forces You To Focus on Breathing

As you progress as a swimmer, your body and brain learn to build breathing in and out as part of the training. This focus on taking, using, and expelling your breath builds lung resilience and the ability to maintain oxygen levels even when the body is under physical stress. Unlike athletes who are engaged in land-based sports and exercises, swimmers are forced to put breathing front and center in their workout. 

It’s Great for Your Heart

Like other aerobic exercises, swimming produces positive results for cardiovascular health. Regular swimming can reduce blood pressure, increase cardiopulmonary function, and contribute to other positive health benefits like lower cholesterol and a stronger overall immune system. 

Swimming Drowns Fat

According to a study published in 2010 by Australian researchers in the medical journal, Metabolism, swimming has positive effects not just on weight loss, but also on body fat distribution. Experts will explain that body fat distribution is a more relevant measure of health risks than the total amount of body fat. Specifically, swimming helps improve and reduce intra-abdominal or visceral fat, i.e., belly fat. In addition to the positive effect belly fat loss has on your physique, reducing upper-body fat reduces your risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, some types of cancers, and high cholesterol. 

What Kind of Fat Burn Are We Talking About Here?

Like walking, the effect of swimming on calorie burn depends on body weight, intensity, and duration. According to Harvard Medical School, an individual who weighs 125 pounds will burn approximately 330 calories from doing 30 minutes of swimming (assuming there are swimming freestyle or doing the butterfly), while a 185-pound person will burn 488 calories for the same exercise. 

Cornell University designed a simple METs (metabolic rate) to calorie calculator that allows you to input your weight, the duration of your workout, and the estimated METs by activity level. If you want even more detail about calorie expenditure by activity type and duration, then spend some time examining the Compendium of Physical Activities, which is available to us based on a project sponsored by the American Cancer Institute and conducted by researchers at Arizona State University. The compendium is fairly comprehensive and includes most physical activities that you can imagine, and it is useful to anyone looking to measure calorie output based on different types of physical and cardio activities. 

If you are looking for a full-body workout that focuses on fat-burning, toning, and sculpting, try Hattie Boydle’s Beginner Aesthetics Fit Plan

Now, About That Swim Workout

Rather than give you a single fat-scorching, calorie-burning swim workout, we will give you three! But first, see below for an outline of your basic swim workout. 

Outline of a Basic Swim Workout

Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes of relaxed swimming with rests in between laps if needed. Pay attention to your technique and get your breathing into a steady rhythm by breathing in through your mouth, then breathing steadily out when your face is in the water. Note that you are not actually holding your breath so much as you are controlling it. 

Kick it out for 5 to 10 minutes. You can do this by resting on a kickboard (or even a boogie board) and kick lightly, then vigorously. If you don’t have a kickboard, you can lie on your back or even face-down (taking side-breaths as needed). Kick from your hips down to your toes, but keep your feet close together, as if you are kicking inside a bucket.

Sprint and rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This is where the calorie burn really kicks in, and the pace is really determined by your own fitness level. To begin, swim fast and hard for one or two pool lengths, rest, and repeat. If you find you do not yet have the stamina to swim vigorously for a full pool length, try starting with swimming half-lengths or pool widths instead. Repeat the sprint and rest activity for up to 15 minutes.

Cool down for 10 to 15 minutes. If you haven’t done the cool-down, then you haven’t finished with your set! Swim at a reduced pace, then gradually wind down for slower and slower laps. Allow yourself a few minutes at the end just to float and enjoy the experience of being in the water. 

Note: For different variations (or to give certain muscle sets a rest while engaging others), consider alternating between breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly.

For a more prescribed, interval-based alternative to the basic swim workout, follow this guideline: Take a leisurely swim for 4 pool lengths, followed by a moderate swim for 5 lengths, followed by swimming as fast as you can for 5 lengths, then a slow cool down for 2 lengths. This approach is obviously geared a bit more toward folks who have some experience with endurance and fast-paced swimming. Take rests between sets as needed. 

Note: Most community pools are 25 yards long (about the same as 25 meters), so swimming the length of the pool 4 times in a row equals 100 meters. Olympic pools are 50 meters in length.

Each of the workouts below is structured to loosen and warm up your muscles first, then kick start your metabolism, followed by an intense fat-scorching main set. Each workout ends with a set to allow your muscles to absorb the shock you’ve given them and begin recovering. 

Swim Workout #1: Too Fast, Too Furious

In this workout, you won’t cover as much distance, but boy will you feel the burn, and your metabolism will thank you!

Warm Up: 4×100

Swim 100 meters (in most pools, this is 4 lengths) at a steady but leisurely pace, rest, then repeat the swim and rest three more times. 

Pre-set: 4×25

Swim 25 meters at 50% effort, rest for 20 seconds. Swim 25 meters at 65% effort, rest 20 seconds. Swim 25 meters at 75% effort, rest 20 seconds. Swim 25 meters at 90% effort, rest 20 seconds. 

Main Set: 8×25

  • Swim breaststroke or butterfly all out for 25 meters, rest 10 seconds. Repeat 7 more times. Do a relaxed but steady backstroke for 50 meters. 
  • Do a flutter-kick freestyle (or use a kickboard) for 25 meters, rest 10 seconds. Repeat 7 more times. Do a relaxed but steady backstroke for 50 meters. 
  • Swim breaststroke or butterfly all out for 25 meters, rest 10 seconds. Repeat 7 more times. Do a relaxed but steady backstroke for 50 meters. 

Cool Down: 6×50

Swim 50 meters at a slower pace but with good technique, rest 15 seconds. Repeat 5 more times.

It’s always good to stretch before your swim workout to reduce the risk of injury.

Swim Workout #2: Finding Your Porpoise

This workout includes vertical dolphin kicking, which just means being upright and keeping your head above water by dolphin kicking instead of treading water. It’s a great way to focus on your lower body and core in the water. 

Warm Up: 200 + 8×25

Swim 200 meters at a relaxed pace, resting for 10 seconds between lengths. Swim 25 meters with a focus on elongating your reach to get across the pool in as few strokes as possible, rest 10 seconds. Repeat the 25-meter stretch stroke and rest cycle 7 more times. 

Pre-set: 6×50

Swim for 25 meters, then kick for 25 meters (with or without a board). Rest 15 seconds. Repeat the swim/kick/rest sequence 5 more times, building from 50% effort to 75% effort by the last set. 

Main Set: Dolphin Tricks and Accelerated Swim

  • Swim 100 meters at 80% effort, rest 15 seconds. Repeat 4 more times. (5×100)
  • Vertical dolphin kick for 30 seconds. Keep your core steady and kick with equal power in both directions. 
  • Swim 100 meters at 85% effort, rest 15 seconds. Repeat 3 more times. (4×100)
  • Vertical dolphin kick for 30 seconds. 
  • Swim 100 meters at 90% effort, rest 15 seconds. Repeat 2 more times. (3×100)
  • Vertical dolphin kick for 30 seconds. 
  • Swim 100 meters at 95% effort, rest 15 seconds. Repeat 1 more time. (2×100)
  • Vertical dolphin kick for 30 seconds. 
  • Swim 100 meters at max effort. 

Cool Down: 8×25

Swim 25 meters with a focus on elongating your reach to get across the pool in as few strokes as possible, rest 20 seconds. Repeat the 25-meter stretch, stroke, and rest cycle 7 more times, and see if you can get across the pool in fewer strokes than you did in the warm-up sequence.

Swim Workout #3: The Gold Standard

This is the workout used most frequently by folks who are looking for the best workout to shred fat and build lean muscle, and it’s also used by individuals training for a triathlon. As with all workouts, the goal is to push yourself to the maximum safe effort, so take note of your ability level and adjust as needed. For example, if you cannot swim 100s, drop to 75s or even 50s as you build your tolerance in the water, but limit yourself to 20 second rests in the main set.  

Warm Up: 300

Loosen up with a slow-paced 300-meter swim. 

Pre-Set: 200 swim/kick

Swim for 50 meters and focus on controlling your breathing, rest 20 seconds. Kick for 100 meters, rest 20 seconds. Swim for 50 more meters. Build from about 50% effort to 85% effort by the end of the pre-set.

Main Set: 30×100

Swim freestyle 200 meters, kick 100 meters, rest 20 seconds. Repeat 9 more times. 

Cool Down: 4×50 + deep water bobs

Swim 50 meters, do 10 deepwater bobs. As you bob, shimmy and shake out your arms and legs, rest 10 seconds. Repeat 3 more times. 

Other Ways to Amp Up Your Swim Workout

If you are not quite ready for a swimming workout that is favored by triathletes, you can still get your heart rate up and engage your entire body by following some of the tips below to help you burn calories in the pool. 

  • Swim with your fists closed. This pushes you to really rely on your torso, and you will find that you are raising your elbows higher out of the water. 
  • Increase resistance. By adding flippers, resistance bands, or buoys/floats, you are making it harder to slice through the water, and this allows for greater strength and resistance training.
  • Switch your stroke. In order of calorie-burning potential, the butterfly is the best fat burner, followed by breaststroke, backstroke, and freestyle.  
  • Include HIIT. The workouts above focused on periods of intense swimming or kicking with short rest periods. You can adjust your own free-form workout using the same guidelines that you would for any other type of interval training. 

(Note: Want our elite trainers to build your workouts for you, in and out of the pool? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)  

The Final Stroke

Swimming is an effective cardio workout, and it is a great way to mix up your workout routines. The swim workouts included in this post have been shown to burn major calories, and when combined with other fat-blasting home workout routines like Melissa Alcantara’s BUILT at Home Fit Plan, you will find that you are well on your way to creating the body of your dreams.  

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