Swimming can be an excellent way to burn calories and exercise your entire body in the process. Maybe you’re in a workout rut with your treadmill and dumbbells, or maybe you’re just looking for a way to burn a lot of calories in a short period of time. Either way, swimming is an exercise you may want to add to your workout routine.
Does Swimming Burn the Most Calories?
While the exact numbers will depend on several different factors, an hour of moderate swimming can easily burn around 500 calories. And while this is certainly a great result to aim for in a regular workout, if you’re looking for the exercise that will burn the most calories, you’ll (unfortunately) have to hit the pavement. Running at a seven-mile per hour pace for one hour can burn nearly 700 calories, compared to the 500 in a moderate swim. But, if you want that full-body workout that’s easy on your joints, and still want to torch as many calories as possible, you can amp up your swim to see better results.
Speed up your swim and keep your heart rate at around 80 percent of your max for as much of your workout as you can. A vigorous swim can bump your total up to 680 calories per hour, based on a 150-pound woman. An easy way to keep track of your heart rate to ensure you’re staying in the zone is to stop every 10 to 15 laps to take your pulse. Use the pool clock to count your pulse for six seconds, then add a zero onto the end number.
You can also achieve a better workout by incorporating equipment into your swim. Use fins, pull buoys, hand paddles, or a kickboard to burn more calories while also improving technique and toning your muscles at the same time. Sprinkle sprint sets into your workout as well to boost your calorie count—nothing burns fat better than a fast swim. And, as maybe a more obvious tip, rest less during your workout to ensure a higher calorie-burn swim. No more than ten percent of your workout should be spent standing at the wall.
Swim to Your Strengths
A commonly-asked question is: which stroke burns the most calories? The answer: the one you perform best. While each stroke is beneficial in its own way, you’ll find you get the best workout when you swim efficiently. For example, if your butterfly is more of a thrash than an elegant swim, you’re just going to tire yourself out faster, and end up dealing more with the turbulence around you than focusing on a good workout. Once you establish where you swim most efficiently, you can focus on how those strokes will help you burn calories.
Freestyle is known as the fastest of all competitive stokes. A person weighing 155 pounds can burn 704 calories per hour while swimming relatively fast freestyle. Average lap swimmers can typically easily complete an hour of freestyle without becoming too exhausted, due to its efficient nature.
While breaststroke is the slowest, it can actually burn the same number of calories per hour as fast freestyle. This is because your body is met with more resistance while swimming the breaststroke—rather than slicing through the water like in freestyle, the flat plane of your chest meets with the water’s resistance during breaststroke, leaving you to rely on your kick for propulsion. Larger leg muscles devour energy, so while the breaststroke is slower by nature it burns calories in a big way.
Backstroke burns the least number of calories, coming in at just 493 per hour. However, backstroke is an efficient stroke—with your body rotating and your head aligned with your body and out of the water for easy breathing, you’re able to conserve energy and swim longer. Backstroke is also a great abdominal and shoulder workout as well.
And if you can swing it, butterfly is the calorie-burning winner. And hour of butterfly can burn up to a whopping 774 calories! However, unless you’re Michael Phelps, it’s highly unlikely you’d swim the butterfly for a full hour (and we’re not even sure Phelps would want to do it, either). Butterfly is a difficult and demanding stroke, requiring forceful movements and speed to keep a smooth and efficient flow.
No matter what stroke you swim, a swim workout can be a great, refreshing way to burn calories while achieving a total-body workout.
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