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Swimming for Weight Loss — In or Out of the Pool!

Holly Smith

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

swimming for weight loss

Are you getting tired of the same old workouts and strength sessions? Why not try swimming for weight loss?

If you are looking for a new way to get in shape while also building strength and cardiovascular endurance at the same time, then swimming for weight loss may be perfect for you!

Swimming has a long list of health benefits.

For one, pool workouts have been found to help decrease cardiovascular risk factors and lower blood pressure.

Plus, swimming improves lung capacity and endurance while simultaneously increasing muscle strength, especially in your upper body and core.

Ready to try swimming for weight loss? Here's what you need to know to get started.

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Protect Your Joints With Swim Workouts

If you have arthritis or joint pain, certain activities like running and even biking can exacerbate these symptoms.

On the other hand, swimming is a great low impact activity.

Since water is 800 times denser than air, you will build strength in your muscles and bones and reduce joint pain without excessive pounding on the hard ground.

Since swimming is more gentle on your joints, this means you can swim more often without worrying about aggravating knee or hip pain.

This will lead to improved cardiovascular endurance without the high risk of injury.

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Swimming For Weight Loss

You already know that in order to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume.

A consistent fitness program helps you achieve this goal, and swimming is a great activity to add to your weekly routine to do just that.

But swimming for weight loss is more than just going to the pool and splashing around for 20 minutes.

If you go to the pool without any plan in mind and mindlessly swim up and down for a few laps you won’t get the most out of your workout.

Having a structured swim training plan will help you stick to your workouts and keep you motivated to continually improve on your strength and cardio in the pool.

If you are a beginner, it’s OK to start out with just a few laps at a time.

You can then build intensity over the next weeks to months as you continually challenge your body.

As you get stronger, you will be able to increase your speed in the pool.

This means you’ll be able to swim further in the same amount of time and burn even more calories.

 

Add High-Intensity Intervals To Your Swims

While swimming is low impact, you can apply the principles of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to fire up your metabolism and burn more fat.

The same principles that work for HIIT in the gym also apply in the pool.

High-intensity interval training has been shown to produce similar calorie-burning compared to longer bouts of lower intensity endurance exercise.

This is despite being much shorter in duration.

So if you are short on time, you can increase the intensity of your swim, just like you would do with interval training on land.

This ensures that even a shorter workout will be high in fat burning and strength building.

Any workout is going to burn calories, however, the higher the intensity of the workout, the more calories you will continue to burn, even after the workout has ended.

This is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).

Research has even shown the fitness benefits of intense intervals of activity.

A study out of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism showed that two minutes of sprint intervals produced similar post-exercise oxygen consumption compared to 30 minutes of continuous running at a lower intensity.

And while this was using sprinting, and not swimming, similar principles apply to any high-intensity activity.

 

Different Strokes to Move the World

Most people know how to do the front stroke, or freestyle, and only use this stroke while swimming.

However, incorporating the butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke adds variety and keeps your workouts interesting so that you don’t get bored doing the same motions every time.

Plus, this will force you to use different muscles and avoid overuse injuries.

Add Some Pool Toys To Your Workouts!

You can add even more variety to your swimming workouts by using different swim tools.

Using equipment like fins, pull buoys, and paddles, adds even more variety to your workouts!

For example, paddles will increase resistance to challenge your muscles and burn more calories.

In addition, incorporating equipment will help you improve your technique, which in turn will make you faster in the pool and will allow you to burn more calories.

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Beginner Swimming Workout

This is a great beginner swim workout. So grab your bathing suit, goggles, and swim cap and get started!

Most pools will be 25 yards or 25 meters, so just note which one you are using so that you can compare your times later on.

You can do this exercise with or without equipment depending on how comfortable you are in the pool.

In the beginning, swim at a comfortable pace until you get your technique down.

Incorporating drills will help with this as well.

As you improve your strength and feel for the water, you can start tracking your times to determine how you want to pace yourself.

Warm-Up

  • 2 x 100 Freestyle: Swim for 100 meters (or yards), rest for 30 seconds, then repeat.
  • 2 x 50 Backstroke: Swim backstroke for 50 meters, rest 30 seconds, then repeat.
  • 2 x 50 Breaststroke: Swim breaststroke for 50 meters, rest 30 seconds, then repeat.

Drill Set

  • 2 x 50: Kick with Fins: Put on a pair of swim fins and kick across the pool with or without a kickboard for 50 meters.
  • Rest 30 seconds, then repeat.

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Main Set

  • 1 x 50 Freestyle: Swim 50 meters freestyle. Rest 30 seconds.
  • 1 x 100 Freestyle or Pull: If you have a pull buoy and paddles, try them out for this 100-meter interval. Place the pull buoy between your thighs. This will float your hips up as your legs drag behind you. You will then “pull” yourself through the water with your arms as you will not be able to kick. You can use paddles on your hands for added resistance, or just swim freestyle. Rest 30 seconds after finishing.
  • 1 x 50 Freestyle: Swim 50 meters then rest 30 seconds.
  • 1 x 200 Freestyle or Pull: This is the same as the 100-meter interval above, but try to increase the distance to 200 meters this time. Rest 30 seconds after this interval.

Cool Down

1 x 100 Freestyle: Swim a slow, controlled 100 meters to cool down. Focus on your form and breathing.

This is a short 1000 meter workout that will help you improve your strength and fitness.

If this feels like too much, shorten the intervals or reps.

If you feel like doing more, you can increase the interval lengths.

As you get more comfortable in the water you can start adding on new workouts or even join a swim group.

 

Swim Workouts From Home

There may be days when you can’t get to a pool but still want to get in a “swim” type workout.

This has been the case for many people during the ongoing COVID pandemic as many pools have been shut down.

That is where dryland swim workouts come into play.

Dryland training engages the body out of the water to improve your performance in the water.

These exercises help prevent injuries and increase calorie burn on the days you can’t swim.

Dryland swim training involves engaging the muscle groups involved in the swim strokes, especially the lats, shoulders, and core.

You can also use elastic bands, or swim cords, to mimic the swim strokes.

If you can’t get to the pool, try out this beginner dryland swim workout.

Just like swimming, these exercises are low impact and gentle on the joints and don’t require any equipment.

Dynamic Warm-Up

  • Jumping Jacks
  • High Knees
  • Arm Circles
  • Lateral Lunges

Main Workout

Plank with Alternating Leg Lift

Planks with leg lifts will strengthen your core and improve your balance.

While it may not seem like it at first, balance in the water is essential to glide through the pool and improve your swim technique.

  • Get into a plank position, with your forearms on the ground, elbows directly under your shoulders, and legs extended straight behind you, feet hip-width apart.
  • Squeeze your glutes and raise your right foot a few inches into the air.
  • Hold for two seconds, then lower your foot.
  • That's one rep.
  • Repeat with your left foot.
  • Continue alternating for 12 total reps.

 

Burpees

Burpees are not only a great cardio workout, but you will be strengthening your muscles in the shoulders, chest, glutes, and quads.

  • Start in a standing position and lower your body to place your palms on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
  • Kick your legs back so that you are in a push-up position.
  • Do one push up, then jump your knees back into your chest.
  • Explode up into the air for one rep.

Backstroke

This movement mimics the backstroke form that you would use in the pool.

You will feel this in your shoulders, lats, hip flexors, and your core.

  • Sit in a chair and place your hands next to your butt.
  • Raise your right arm above your head while extending your left leg.
  • Keep your left hand on the chair as you do this.
  • Then bring your arm and leg down.
  • Repeat, now raising your left arm above your head and extending your right leg.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps on each side.

Russian Twist with Medicine Ball

This exercise will target your core, which is so important to keep your body moving through the water.

Adding a medicine ball adds an additional strength training element.

  • Sit on the ground with your knees bent and your heels about a foot from your butt while holding a medicine ball.
  • Lean slightly back but be sure to keep your back straight.
  • Twist to the left, bringing the weight to your left side, then rotate to the right.
  • This completes one rep.
  • Repeat this for 10-12 reps.

 

Glute Bridges

This dryland workout will strengthen the glutes and will also work the quads and hamstrings.

These muscles are important for producing a strong kick during your swims.

  • Lay on your back and bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart.
  • Bend your elbows to 90 degrees so that only your upper arm is on the ground.
  • Drive up through your heels and upper back to lift your glutes up off the ground.
  • Squeeze your glutes for a second or two at the top and lower all the way back down to the ground before repeating.
  • Aim for 10-12 reps.

Superman Extensions

This core workout will improve strength in your lower back muscles while simultaneously strengthening your shoulders and lats.

  • Lay on your stomach on the floor or exercise mat.
  • Extend your arms in front of you.
  • Contract our glutes and back to raise your arms, legs, and chest off of the floor.
  • Once in this position hold your arms up and squeeze your shoulder blades together for two seconds.
  • Lower your arms, legs and chest back down to the ground. Repeat for 12-15 reps.

Dead Bug

The dead bug is another great core workout that will improve your stability and core strength.

  • Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, about a foot away from your hips.
  • Rest your arms alongside your body.
  • Lift your legs so your knees are directly over your hips.
  • Slowly lower your right arm and left leg until they’re just above the floor.
  • Then bring them back to the starting position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side by lowering your left arm and right leg.
  • Repeat for 6-8 reps on each side.

TYI

This is a great shoulder exercise for swimmers and is exactly like the name sounds.

You will be making T, Y, and I shapes with your arms during this exercise to strengthen the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lifting from the back of your shoulders, raise your arms straight out to the sides to form a “T.”
  • Lower back down, then raise them at a 45-degree angle from your body so they form a “Y.”
  • Lower and then raise your arms straight above you to form an “I” and lower back down to your sides.
  • Repeat for 8 reps.

You can do this whole workout with no weights or add light dumbbells or resistance bands to make it more challenging.

 

Swimming For Weight Loss — In or Out of the Pool!

Swimming is really one of the best all-around exercises out there.

Working out in the pool builds cardiovascular fitness and serious upper body and core strength, all while keeping your lower extremity joints protected from the pounding associated with running or plyometric workouts.

You can even modify your workouts to turn a swim session into a high-intensity interval training workout.

This makes swimming an excellent activity to burn calories and lose weight.

For example, instead of swimming 2-100 meter intervals at a slower pace you could swim 4-50 meter intervals and increase your pace to really challenge yourself.

And if you don’t have access to a pool, you can try out home exercises that mimic swimming moves and strengthen similar muscles that you would be using during a swim session.

This will keep you fit and in shape for the next time that you are able to get back in the water.

Not only will swimming get you in great shape, but it also has numerous benefits for your long term health.

Plus, swimming is a sport you can continually challenge yourself in to improve your speed and endurance over time.

Most communities offer masters swim teams and swim lessons that you can even join to improve your technique.

Plus, this gives you an opportunity to work out with others which will only add to your motivation to work out.

So if you are looking for a new and fun way to lose weight and get gain strength, jump in the pool and get started now with these awesome swimming for weight loss workouts!

Holly Smith
Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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If you’re a busy mom who wants to finally lose weight, get healthy, and actually keep the pounds off for good, this is the simple program you’ll love sticking to…

Our Fit Mother 30X Program (FM30X) is the answer you’ve been looking for. Inside FM30X, you’ll receive:

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on swimming for weight loss.

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