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How Many Calories can I Burn from Swimming?

28th February 2018

Swimming is a great activity for fun and keeping fit. In addition to burning calories, it has proven benefits for the heart and generally improves muscle tone. If you are swimming because you aim to lose weight, it is important to combine the sport with the right diet too.


How we burn calories

Your metabolism is the rate at which calories are burned in your body. The rate depends on a number of factors, including body composition, gender and the activity you are undertaking. The more exercise you do, the higher the metabolic rate. A general estimate of calories burned whilst swimming for a person weighing around 150 pounds is about 400 for an hour of moderately paced swimming and 700 for an hour of swimming at a fast pace. This can vary considerably between individuals and other relevant factors include intensity, duration, weight, swimming stroke and swim efficiency.


Which swimming stroke burns most calories?

Since more calories are burnt when swimming fast and covering a greater distance, it seems obvious that the fastest stroke will burn most calories. It is generally agreed that the freestyle stroke, also known as front crawl, is the most efficient and fastest swimming stroke, but this does not mean you should choose freestyle every time.

In addition to speed, the number of calories burned whilst swimming depends on frequency and duration. This means that if you prefer breaststroke to freestyle, you may swim longer when you do breaststroke than you would doing front crawl, so more calories would be burned in total.

The stroke that actually burns the most is the butterfly stroke, and this can use 404 calories in thirty minutes, but this cannot normally be maintained for a long period of time. Five minutes of butterfly would burn about 67 calories.

Thirty minutes of backstroke could burn 257 calories, compared to 367 calories burned for thirty minutes of breaststroke. Slow front crawl will use up 220 calories in thirty minutes, whilst half an hour of front crawl at a fast pace can burn 404 calories. General leisure swimming will burn 220 calories in thirty minutes. If you combine all the above strokes, doing five minutes of each, you will burn around 318 calories in half an hour.

The best strategy for burning most calories is to choose the stroke or strokes that you are most likely to be able to do consistently. Mixing strokes helps to work more of the muscles and adds interest to your swimming workout.


How does swimming compare to other sports?

If simply burning calories is your aim, swimming may not be the optimum choice. Some sports such as running and cycling may burn more calories, depending on the pace and your weight, but swimming is a great option that is enjoyable and easy on the joints. Running can burn as much as 70% more calories than swimming on a minute for minute basis, but it is a high impact sport and is unlikely to be a suitable option for anyone who is overweight. If you sustain an injury whilst running, the time spent recovering may mean that a regular steady swimming routine is the better option.


Starting a swimming programme

It is important to build up your exercise routine gradually to avoid sustaining any injuries. Begin with swimming one to three times a week, for between ten and thirty minutes. You can increase your swimming time by five minutes for each swim each week, and add in different strokes as you wish. At first, it is important to rest whenever you feel you need to, possibly between each lap. Doing a stroke such as breaststroke may mean you can swim for longer than you could if you were doing a stroke such as front crawl.

You can gradually increase the distance you swim until you reach whatever goal you have set yourself, but do this in a way that is not going to cause any overuse injuries. For example, if you have decided to swim twenty laps, you should not swim them all as soon as you get in the pool. Start with four easy laps and then do two laps at a faster pace, repeating this eight times with a twenty second rest between each set to make up your twenty laps.


Swimming injuries

Although swimming is a low impact sport compared with many other forms of exercise, injuries do still occur. Each swimming session should be limited to around an hour to avoid injuries and muscle stresses, because overuse can cause fatigue.

The shoulders, hips, knees and back can all be affected by swimming injuries, depending on which stroke is used. Micro-trauma or slight injuries can cause instability in the shoulders, causing tendinitis and shoulder pain. Hip and inner knee problems can be caused by kicking in breaststroke and dolphin kicks can cause back problems.


What are the most common swimming injuries?

Most injuries sustained by swimmers are related to overuse, but using incorrect techniques can also cause injury. Shoulder problems can be related to poor stroke mechanics used in front crawl and elbow issues can be caused by the arm pull in breaststroke and butterfly. Breaststroke can also cause knee stress injuries which are not seen in swimmers using different strokes.

Injuries to the shoulder are the most common in swimming and, in fact, 90 percent of all swimming injuries are related to the shoulder. These can include shoulder instability, rotator cuff impingement and biceps tendinitis. All these conditions, collectively known as Swimmer’s shoulder, can result from weakness and fatigue of the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade and the rotator cuff.

Injuries to the lower body are quite common in swimmers who use breaststroke.

Breaststroker’s knee involves the ligaments and tendons of the knee and inflammation of the hip tendons can also cause hip pain.


Preventing and treating swimming injuries

The risk of injury can be reduced by various strategies. Learning and implementing good stroke techniques is important, as is performing cross training and core strengthening exercises at the beginning of the season, to make sure your condition is as good as it can be. Try to lessen any repetitive strokes that may be responsible for overuse injuries.

Good communication between the swimmer, their coach and any medical professionals involved is very important, both for preventing injuries and for aiding recovery. Rest is needed for recovery from an injury, so only return to swimming when advised by a health professional.

Some contributing factors to the development of a swimming injury include joint swelling or stiffness, poor rehabilitation following an earlier injury, an inadequate recovery period from training, poor warm up or warm down and poor core stability.


Diet and swimming

If you are aiming to burn calories by swimming, your diet is also important and you need to ensure you have sufficient energy to complete your workout. It is advisable to eat at least half an hour before starting your swim, if you intend your workout to last an hour or more, and include some carbohydrates for energy. Following your workout, you should refuel with a small meal consisting of lean protein and quality carbohydrates. To prevent the urge to stop and pick up some fast food on the way home, take a snack with you to eat after swimming.


Calorie calculators

If you want to know exactly how many calories you’ve burned during a swimming session, there are various online swim calorie calculators that can give you a more precise indication. To use these, you normally need to enter swim time, pace or distance and other variables such as your weight and gender for them to calculate how many calories you’ve burned through swimming.

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