We all know that in order to lose weight we have to be in a negative energy balance (energy out > energy in), where calorie expenditure (energy out) is greater than calorie intake (energy in).
To accomplish this, individuals typically use a two-pronged approach that entails calorie restriction and increased physical activity.
Provided that you’re already lifting weights between three to five times per week, the other manner in which a person will increase their energy output is through cardio.
Now, when we typically think of cardiovascular exercise for weight loss, we almost always default to walking, jogging, spinning, or hopping on the elliptical.
But today, we’ll discuss why swimming might be one of the better options to try next time you’re looking to burn calories, increase activity levels and shed belly fat.
Why Choose Swimming for Weight Loss
Increased Calorie Burning
“Conventional” forms of cardio like spinning and jogging typically only involve the muscles of the lower body. Some forms of cardio such as “elliptical-ing” involve the upper and lower body muscles, but the amount of work the upper body actually does is minimal at best.
One of the reasons that swimming is great for weight loss is that it heavily involves both the upper body and lower body musculature. And, as you know, the more muscles worked in a given movement, the greater number of calories your body will burn, which helps you lose weight faster.
But, that’s not all.
You see, when you swim, you’re also working against the resistance of the water, which is greater than the resistance your body encounters (the air) when you’re walking or running. Having to work against a greater resistance means that you’re burning more calories during exercise too!
In fact, some estimates suggest that in just 30 minutes of swimming you can burn over 350 calories while a similar time spent walking burns at most 200 calories. Now, of course the amount of calories burned depends on a number of factors (intensity, bodyweight, muscular efficiency, etc.), but the point is the same nevertheless -- swimming burns a ton of calories in a short period of time.
Furthermore, most of us don’t swim all that regularly, meaning our bodies are also incredibly inefficient at the movement. While inefficiency might not be great for a sport like powerlifting where you’re trying to move a maximal amount of weight, for weight loss purposes, inefficiency is very good.
The reason for this is that the more inefficient we are with a given movement, the more calories our bodies will burn.
We’re all (relatively) competent with walking, jogging, and riding a stationary bike, which means we’re already pretty efficient with those movements. This means that our calories burned per minute is less than that of swimming, and since we’ve been walking for most of our lives, the speed with which we become more proficient at conventional forms of cardio is that much greater than the rate at which we’d become proficient and efficient with swimming.
Basically, swimming is one of the best “bang for your cardio buck” forms of exercise you can pick.
This is backed up by research from 2010 which found that women who swam three times per week lost more belly fat than those who walked three times per week.
The stair climber (step mill) is another popular piece of equipment for performing cardio, and while it certainly provides a tremendous calorie burn, it might not be better than swimming for weight loss for a couple of reasons.
First, as you fatigue, you’ll tend to lean on the handles of the machine more, which means you’re legs are actually having to move less weight with each step, thereby reducing the actual amount of calories you burn. This is one (of the many) reasons why you can’t always trust the number of calories burned that cardio machines show.
With swimming, you can’t really “cheat” as there’s no crutch to lean on (unless you stop swimming and grab onto the side of the pool). If you don’t swim, you sink. It’s as simple as that.
Second, climbing stairs can also place greater demands on the musculature of the lower body than other forms of cardio such as walking or jogging. While this might sound like a good thing for calorie burning, it also means your body may not fully recover from your stair climbing session in time for your next lower body resistance-training workout.
The reason this is bad is that overdoing lower body-intensive forms of cardio will impair performance during your squat and deadlift workouts, thereby reducing calorie burn and the amount of overload on the muscles you create due to still being fatigued from the stair climber.
Swimming is a total-body form of cardio that helps spread the fatigue more evenly across your body so that no one muscle is overly taxed. This pays dividends into future workouts as you’ll have better recovery for your muscle groups and be more apt to induce overload, which is required to build muscle.
Certain forms of cardio (jogging, sprinting, plyos, etc) are higher impact and can put too much stress on some gym rats joints. Swimming is a low-impact form of cardio that’s joint friendly, meaning it’s easier on the hips, knees, and ankles than walking or running.
This also means that swimming is a great exercise modality for those who are looking to get in some much needed exercise while dealing with an injury as it is low-impact yet still delivers a tremendous calorie burn while simultaneously building cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
It can even serve as a form of “active recovery” on non-lifting days for already fit individuals seeking to “get the blood flowing” while not digging too deep into their body’s recovery capacity (and thus hindering subsequent performance in resistance-training sessions).
The reason that most people don’t like cardio is that slogging it out for 45 minutes to an hour on a treadmill or elliptical is incredibly boring.
Swimming, on the other hand, is more enjoyable. You’re in the water (which helps keep you cool), and it requires more concentration and coordination than other forms of cardio which helps keep you motivated and engaged in what you’re doing.
This increases the likelihood that you’ll have greater adherence when it comes to performing cardio sessions and you might actually look forward to doing them, which means you’ll attack them with greater intensity and ultimately burn more calories!
Cardio can be boring, tedious, and leave you feeling more run down and banged up than you should.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Swimming provides a great way to burn calories and burn fat that’s enjoyable and easy on the joints!
If you’re tired of the same old cardio workouts, try swimming for a change and see how it can help you lose weight.
And, if you’re looking for an added boost to help you push that much harder in your swimming workouts, try a serving of 1UP Sport Amino before diving in.
Sport Amino is a lightly caffeinated amino acid supplement specifically formulated to help increase energy, boost endurance, and protect against muscle breakdown while helping you burn more calories during cardio workouts.
- Cox, K. L., Burke, V., Beilin, L. J., & Puddey, I. B. (2010). A comparison of the effects of swimming and walking on body weight, fat distribution, lipids, glucose, and insulin in older women—the Sedentary Women Exercise Adherence Trial 2. Metabolism, 59(11), 1562–1573. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2010.02.001