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How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?

How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?

If you’re a swimmer trying to figure out how many calories you’re burning during your daily lap sessions, you’ve come to the right place! Swimming isn’t merely a form of exercise — it’s a full-body workout that few activities can match in terms of total body conditioning.

For those who love to get their cardio in by plunging into the crystal clear waters of their local pool or swimming hole, swimming is much more than just a means to get movement in. The rhythmic strokes of the swimmer are a pathway to increased physical fitness, enhanced endurance, and even weight management. 

In this article, we break down the science of how swimming burns calories and why it might just be your next favorite exercise for a lean, strong, healthy body (and a calm, focused mind!). 

Is Swimming a Good Calorie Burning Exercise? 

Swimming is often celebrated for its ability to torch calories, and for good reason. Unlike many forms of exercise, swimming is a low-impact activity that leverages the water’s resistance to work every muscle group in the body. 

The water density serves as a natural weight, forcing swimmers to work harder with every stroke. With this combination of cardio and strength training all in one low-impact activity, the calorie-burning quotient is considerable. 

Swimming has the unique benefit of being an extremely low-impact exercise. This means that those who may have trouble doing other forms of exercise can swim without any problems like extra pressure on their joints. For people who need low-impact exercise, there’s nothing like swimming! 

Swimming: The Ultimate Triple Threat for Calorie Burning

Because swimming offers unique benefits, we like to think of it as a triple threat: It works the cardiovascular system, improves muscular fitness and strength, and even helps with flexibility.

  • The Cardiovascular System: Swimming keeps your heart rate up and gets your heart pumping, just like any other cardio activity does. However, to some people, their rate of exertion doesn’t feel as high because when you’re swimming, you don’t feel yourself sweating.
  • Muscular Fitness: Whether you’re freestyling, breast stroking, or butterfly stroking, you’re actively engaging your arms, legs, and core, all at the same time. It is an excellent way to tone and develop muscle strength.
  • Flexibility: The reach and pull of each stroke, the leg work, and the core work all contribute to improved flexibility. How does this impact calorie burn? Flexibility allows for a better range of motion, promoting more movement and muscle use overall. 

Can Swimming Help You Lose Weight?

Swimming can undoubtedly contribute to your weight management goals, but how you utilize it within a broader fitness and nutrition plan makes the difference. Anytime you take in fewer calories than you are expending, you will likely lose weight. 

Here are some ways to maximize your weight management results:

1. Keep it Varied

Mix up your swimming routine with different strokes, intervals, and even underwater aerobics classes to keep your body guessing and avoid plateauing. This has the added benefit of keeping you from getting bored while doing your laps. 

You may want to consider throwing in some other forms of cardio and weight training, too. Challenge yourself not only for weight loss but also to keep yourself motivated. 

2. Pair Your Swim Routine With a Balanced Diet

The word “diet” sometimes gets a bad rap, but what they say is true: weight loss is most easily achieved with a healthy diet, and exercise is icing on the cake. Of course, exercise has myriad benefits beyond weight loss, but the exercise/diet combination is pure gold. 

The truth is that no amount of exercise can compensate for a poor diet. For sustainable weight loss, swimming should be combined with a balanced, nutrient-dense eating plan. 

3. Post-Swim Recovery

Muscles need time to recover after intense exercise sessions, and swimming is no exception to this rule. Proper recovery, including nutrition and rest, is essential for progress. A great post-workout meal combines complex carbohydrates, protein, and hydration. 

4. Consistency

Like all forms of exercise, the consistency of your routine will largely dictate its effectiveness in achieving weight loss. Aim for at least three to four swim sessions per week. Also, don’t be afraid to mix it up. Swimming can absolutely contribute to weight loss, but you may want to add weight training, hiking, or cycling to your schedule from time to time. 

5. Maintain a Calorie Deficit

To expand on the importance of diet, it is vital to eat whole foods in balance and to eat fewer calories. While eating a whole foods-focused diet sounds great, you could still gain weight if you consume thousands of calories of lean meats and veggies in a day. 

How Can I Calculate the Calories Burned While Swimming?

Understanding the number of calories swimming burns is crucial for those who are serious about getting optimal workouts, losing weight, and maximizing their fitness. A general rule of thumb suggests that the average person burns roughly 500 calories per hour of swimming. 

This estimate, however, varies greatly depending on several key factors:

  • Stroke Technique:Different strokes require different levels of effort. The butterfly stroke is the most physically demanding, while the breaststroke is often the easiest.
  • Speed and Intensity: The faster you swim, the more calories you’ll burn. Sprinting can significantly increase calorie burn versus a leisurely backstroke or a casual, slow doggy paddle.
  • Duration: Just like any other exercise, the longer you swim, the more calories you’ll burn. Endurance swimming can often lead to a hefty caloric expenditure. 
  • Body Composition: Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. A person with higher muscle mass will typically burn more calories — even when doing nothing at all — than a person with a higher body fat percentage. Yet another reason why hitting the weight room every now and then is beneficial for calorie burn and weight loss efforts.
  • Body Weight: In general, the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn during any given exercise, including swimming. 

So, while there is no surefire calorie counter when it comes to swimming, even swimming laps at a moderate effort at your local swimming pool is going to deal some serious damage to those unwanted calories! 

What Are Some of the Best Swim Workouts for Torching Calories?

If you’re really trying to get an intense workout and burn as many calories as possible, we’ve got some great tips for you! The following types of swim workouts are designed to maximize calorie burn and burn the largest number of calories in the least amount of time.

HIIT Training (HIIT)

HIIT training has gained popularity, and you’ve probably heard of it. It consists of doing short, intense (basically unsustainable) bursts of exercise, followed by short rest periods. This type of workout is highly effective since it continues to burn calories long after the workout.

This could look like swimming at a sprint for 30 seconds, then swimming at a lower intensity for 30 seconds, just enough to keep moving. Then, repeat this cycle several times. The key is to keep that high-intensity effort going. 

Interval Training

This is similar to HIIT training, but just not quite as intense. While HIIT is great, it is not the best for beginners. Regular interval training is a great place to start! 

This could look like a few laps to warm up, then a few laps at a high but sustainable intensity. This would be followed by a few laps at a slower pace. Repeat for several cycles. The main difference between this and HIIT is in the intensity: regular interval training should be performed at a moderate-intensity pace.

Plyometric Training

Plyometric training involves explosive movement, such as jumping. This dynamic form of exercise is challenging and effective when it comes to calorie burn. 

This could look like jumping in and out of the pool between laps or even doing explosive jumps while in the water (think water aerobics, but to the -nth degree). Because this is so challenging, it’s best left to those who are already in pretty good shape. 

Water Aerobics

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some serious swimmers might poo-poo water aerobics, but don’t sleep on this incredible form of exercise! It’s easy on the joints, provides some resistance training, and has a lot of variety to keep you engaged.

This could look like an instructor-led class, an audio water aerobics podcast you could listen to with your underwater headphones, or just a series of exercises that you choose yourself and do underwater.

Swim Technology That Can Help You Get a Great Workout

The workout you’re looking for is right around the corner. But first, let’s gear up! Thanks to the latest technology in swim gear, you can enhance your workout and keep yourself motivated. 

We recommend getting yourself some of the following items if you plan on making swimming your primary form of exercise:

  • A good quality swim cap
  • A pair of underwater headphones
  • A motivational playlist or podcast series
  • An athletic bathing suit or pair of swim trunks
  • A way to time your laps: an app on your phone, a physical stopwatch, etc.
  • A heart rate monitor
  • The latest fitness apps

Swimming Benefits Beyond Calories

Though this article is about calorie burning achieved through swimming, it’s worth noting that swimming laps has health benefits that go far beyond calorie burn and weight loss. Swimming activities can improve mental health and keep you emotionally fit, and we know that mental health is physical health.

All the energy expenditure during a swim session can help you to sleep better at night. Other benefits of swimming include improved cardiovascular health and a better overall mood. 


Can swimming burn a ton of calories? Absolutely! On average, an hour-long swimming session can burn around 500 calories. Water activities have many benefits beyond calorie burn and weight loss, but the physical effects that can occur from adopting a swimming exercise program cannot be overstated. 

By using intervals to maximize your efforts, swim technology to keep you going, and a balanced diet to make sure that all that calorie burn isn’t going to waste, you can achieve your health and fitness goals through a consistent swim routine. 

Enjoy the pool, and take a lap! 


Calories - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf

Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories | Mayo Clinic

Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity | Center for Disease Control

Best swimming stroke for weight loss |

Viewpoint: Swimming | PMC

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