We’ve been writing about the benefits of swimming on fitness for a while now, we’ve gone over which stroke is the best for burning the most calories as well as the physical, emotional and mental benefits that come with swimming. In this article we’ll do a deeper dive into the science of swimming for weight loss. What makes swimming the best exercise for total body weight loss?
Swimming for weight loss is extremely efficient. Of course, it’s important to remember that – as with any exercise, coupling a healthy diet with your routine is key to weight loss. Not only does swimming help you lose weight, it burns calories intensively, and works all the major muscles in your body at once – all without stressing your body or joints. Weight loss is a journey that’s different for everybody. How and when a person loses weight largely depends on their diet, their commitment to the workout plan and often overlooked – their genetics.
Let’s talk about the role genetics and diet play in weight loss before we begin talking about what swimming does for your body and how it does it. At the end of the article we’ll recommend a swimming program for recreational swimmers and some resources that’ll help you find a regimen that you can tailor to your goals and needs.
DNA & Diet
You’re not just what you eat, genetics play a role, too. Before this gets too convoluted, here’s the over-arching message. Every body is different, everybody has a unique genetic makeup that dictates how their body responds to different foods, environments and activities. In short, this means that there is no one-size fits all diet or workout regiment. It’s likely your body can’t process carbohydrates the same way somebody else’s body does. Your body might process them more quickly or more slowly. The answer to a good diet lies between the intersection of genetics and diet. To find a diet tailored to your body consult a doctor and a registered dietitian. Getting your diet right makes weight loss a lot easier as your body becomes more efficient. The right diet will have you seeing results instead of set backs. With all this being said, this isn’t just about genes and diet, it’s about your behaviour. Fine tuning your diet according to your genes is just taking an extra step to optimize your health in conjunction with exercise – such as swimming.
Swimming for Weight Loss
Utilizing the Whole Body
Almost all major and small muscle groups are used to propel you through the water. Different strokes will use different muscles, effectively allowing you to target or use every single muscle in your body during a work out session, given you add variety to your set(s). Water is twelve times more dense than air. Propelling through the water acts as resistance exercise…which is the best way to build muscle tone and strength.
Although each stroke uses different muscle groups to execute different techniques, all swimming strokes will develop the following muscles:
- Core abdominal and lower back muscles that keep the body steady in streamlined positions in the water to reduce drag.
- Deltoid and shoulder muscles to help the hands have proper entry in the water and to reach out far.
- Forearm muscles that are worked when pulling in the water for more propulsion.
- Upper back muscles that stabilize the shoulders throughout the swimming strokes.
- Glutes and hamstring muscles to keep the body in a balanced position and to aid in propulsion.
Additionally, swimming has also been shown to improve bone strength — especially in post-menopausal women.
Cardiovascular & Respiratory Health
Briefly explained in our article about the stroke that burns the most calories, let’s expand on calorie burning by explaining these two body systems and the role they play in swimming for weight loss.
This aerobic exercise strengthens the heart by helping it to become larger; making it more efficient in pumping — which leads to better blood flow throughout your body. Thirty minutes of swimming a day can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30 to 40 percent. Regular aerobic exercise can reduce blood pressure. Studies have also shown that aerobic exercise like swimming can also keep the layer of cells lining your arteries flexible and in good shape.
During physical activities, our lungs send oxygen to our muscles. The larger the lungs, the more oxygen our muscles receive. Strong, healthy lungs not only improve sports performance but prevent ailments to the body. Low lung capacity results in less oxygen entering the bloodstream and reaching the cells. Aerobic exercise like swimming is excellent for building lung capacity. During aerobic exercise, your heart rate increases alongside your lung efficiency. Swimming is an aerobic exercise as it activates the large muscle groups that require large volumes of oxygen to perform their task.
When it comes to weight loss, using more oxygen yields more results. The fact that swimming exercises your heart, all of your other muscles and increases the heart rate in doing so means your body burns more oxygen which in turn, burns more calories. This is what makes swimming for weight loss the best option.
The Total Fitness Package
Your body is a machine and everything connects. As you might’ve already deduced, swimming is not only great for weight loss – it’s rather beneficial for a plethora of health-related things. There aren’t many other exercises you can do that offer as wide a scope of tremendous benefits as swimming. Perhaps best of all…swimming can keep you from dying prematurely. Researchers at the University of South Carolina followed 40,547 men, aged 20 to 90, for 32 years and discovered that those who swam had a 50 percent lower death rate than runners, walkers or men who got no exercise. The study authors concluded that the same benefits would be received by women too.
Swimming Programs & Routines
For recreational swimmers we suggest you start with the breaststroke or whichever stroke you’re best at performing. The routine below is assuming you’re swimming in a standard recreational pool which is 25 yards (22.86 meters). This is a very basic swimming for weight loss routine, feel free to change up your warm-ups, cool downs and of course – your main set – as you get more comfortable, faster and better in order to keep yourself challenged.
Warm Up (5-10 minutes)
Start your workout by warming up your muscles to prevent injury. You can either do your warm up outside of the pool or do the warm up in the pool by swimming a few slow freestyle laps to get your heart rate going. Alternatively, you can combine them and do five minutes out of the pool and five minutes in the pool to warm up.
Kick (5-7 minutes)
A good kick set helps you continue to warm up while also getting your heart rate up. Some swimmers use kick-boards, but you can just extend your arms in a streamlined position or kick on your back.
Your kick should start at the hip, not the knees, which means you’re using your entire leg to provide propulsion. Keep your kick narrow and steady. A large up-and-down motion slows you down as it creates drag and reduces the power you generate.
Main Set (10-15 minutes)
This is the focus of your workout. The set should allow you to maintain a high heart rate over an extended time, which allows you to burn maximum calories. Swim two to four lengths of the pool at a quick pace. Rest for 5-10 seconds and repeat. Beginners should repeat the set three to five times. Individuals who do swimming for fitness, complete ten to fifteen sets. Remember not to over exert yourself and listen to your body. If you can’t do more than one or two sets, move onto the cool down phase and increase the set number week by week.
Cool Down (5 minutes)
Your body needs to recover from the main set. As with any exercise, stopping altogether is bad for your heart. Keep swimming at a comfortable pace, similar to the pace you had during the warm up.
This will depend on your level of fitness. If you’re just starting swimming for weight loss purposes, start with 30 minutes of moderate intensity and incrementally increase your time each week. You should commit about 3-5 days per week to swimming if this is your main form of exercise. You can always add resistance gear to up the intensity and calorie burning!