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6 Best Swimming Workouts for Weight Loss

A performance coach for swim athletes shares his must-try swimming routines for weight loss.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

If you're diving into the pool to swim off excess pounds, you're on the right track. Swimming is not just a refreshing way to cool off on a hot summer's day; it's one of the most effective weight-loss workouts you can do. When you're ready to hop in, I've taken my experience as a lifeguard and performance coach for swim athletes to share my go-to swimming workouts for weight loss.

Before we get started, let's discuss the benefits of using swimming as a primary form of exercise. Unlike high-impact exercises like running, swimming reduces the risk of injury and is suitable for individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Plus, the variety of strokes and techniques means you can tailor your workouts to keep things challenging.

When it comes to weight loss, the key is consistency and variety. Swimming about three to four times a week can significantly contribute to your weight-loss goals. Incorporating various styles and drills can enhance your metabolism and burn more calories, helping you achieve a leaner physique. In addition, each stroke targets different muscle groups, and the water's resistance increases the intensity of your workouts without adding stress to your body.

Ready to dive into the best swimming workouts for weight loss? Just don't forget the sunscreen!

Workout #1: Endurance Swim with Pacing

Long, steady swims improve cardiovascular endurance and build muscle strength, which is essential for sustained calorie burn. In addition, swimming for extended periods trains your body to use oxygen efficiently, enhancing aerobic capacity.

Beginner Option:

Start with a shorter distance to build up your endurance. Swim 400 meters continuously at a moderate pace. For every 100 meters, increase your speed slightly by 25 meters, then return to your steady pace.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Swim 800 meters continuously at a moderate pace. Every 200 meters, increase your speed slightly for 50 meters, then return to your steady pace.

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Workout #2: High-Intensity Freestyle Sprints

High-intensity sprints elevate your heart rate and boost your metabolism, leading to significant calorie burn during and after swimming. Pushing yourself to swim as fast as possible engages more muscle fibers, which helps build lean muscle mass and improves cardiovascular health. The bursts of intense activity followed by recovery periods create an efficient fat-burning workout, similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on land.

Beginner Option:

Start with shorter sprints and longer recovery periods. Swim 25 meters at maximum speed, then rest for 45 seconds, or swim 25 meters at a slow pace. Repeat this cycle five to eight times.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Increase the sprint distance and shorten the rest periods. Swim 50 meters at maximum speed, then rest for 30 seconds, or swim 50 meters at a slow pace. Repeat this cycle 10 to 15 times.

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Workout #3: Mixed Stroke Circuit

Using different strokes in one workout engages various muscle groups and prevents workout monotony, keeping your body challenged and burning more calories. By switching between strokes like freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, you ensure a balanced workout that targets your legs, arms, core, and back. This variety also helps improve your overall swimming technique and efficiency in the water.

Beginner Option:

Perform shorter circuits with more rest between each set. Swim 50 meters of freestyle, 50 meters of backstroke, 50 meters of breaststroke, and 50 meters of butterfly. Rest for one to two minutes, then repeat the circuit two to three times.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Increase the distance and reduce rest periods. Swim 100 meters of freestyle, 100 meters of backstroke, 100 meters of breaststroke, and 100 meters of butterfly. Rest for one to two minutes, then repeat the circuit three to four times.

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Workout #4: Kickboard Power Drills

Isolating your legs with a kickboard forces your lower body to work harder, strengthening your legs and core while burning calories. Kickboard drills focus on improving your kicking technique and power, which are crucial for overall swimming speed and efficiency. Strong leg muscles also contribute to better balance and stability in and out of the pool.

Beginner Option:

Start with shorter distances and simpler kicks. Kick 25 meters with a flutter kick, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for eight to 10 cycles.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Incorporate different kicking styles and increase the distance. Kick 50 meters with a flutter kick, 50 meters with a breaststroke kick, and 50 meters with a dolphin kick. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the cycle five to six times.

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Workout #5: HIIT in the Pool

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the pool combines short bursts of maximum effort with rest or lower-intensity exercise periods. This type of workout is highly effective for burning calories and boosting metabolism. The water's resistance increases the intensity of each movement, engaging multiple muscle groups and providing a comprehensive cardiovascular workout.

HIIT workouts also help improve your anaerobic capacity, which is beneficial for athletic performance. Adding in aquatic exercises like lunges, squats, and high knees amplifies the strength training aspect, targeting your lower body while the swimming intervals keep your heart rate up.

Beginner Option:

Start with shorter, high-intensity intervals and more straightforward water exercises. Warm up with five minutes of easy swimming. Perform 30 seconds of high-intensity swimming (freestyle or another stroke), followed by 45 seconds of bodyweight exercises. Rest for one minute between each movement. Repeat this cycle six to eight times. Cool down with five minutes of easy swimming.

Example Set:

  • 30 seconds of high-intensity freestyle
  • 45 seconds of water lunges (alternating legs)
  • 30 seconds of high-intensity backstroke
  • 45 seconds of water squats
  • 30 seconds of high-intensity breaststroke
  • 45 seconds of high knees in place

Repeat this set three to four times, then finish with a five-minute cool-down of easy swimming.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Increase the intensity and duration of your intervals, and add more complex water exercises. Warm up with five minutes of easy swimming. Perform one minute of high-intensity swimming (freestyle or another stroke), followed by 45 seconds of water lunges, squats, and high knees. Rest for 30 seconds between each movement. Repeat this cycle eight to 10 times. Cool down with five minutes of easy swimming.

Example Set:

  • 1 minute of high-intensity freestyle
  • 45 seconds of water lunges (alternating legs)
  • 1 minute of high-intensity backstroke
  • 45 seconds of water squats
  • 1 minute of high-intensity breaststroke
  • 45 seconds of high knees in place

Repeat this set four to five times, then finish with a five-minute cool-down of easy swimming.

Workout #6: Pull Buoy Upper-body Blast

A pull buoy isolates your upper body, enhancing your arm and shoulder strength while improving your swimming technique. By eliminating the use of your legs, you force your arms to do all the work, which helps build upper-body muscle and endurance. This workout improves your stroke efficiency and breathing technique, making you a more proficient swimmer overall.

Beginner Option:

Start with shorter distances and longer recovery periods. Swim 50 meters with the pull buoy, then swim 50 meters at a moderate pace without the buoy to recover. Repeat this cycle five to eight times.

Intermediate to Advanced Option:

Increase the distance and reduce recovery periods. Swim 100 meters with the pull buoy, then swim 50 meters at a moderate pace without the buoy to recover. Repeat this cycle eight to 10 times.

This story has been updated to include additional entries, fact-checking, and copy-editing.

Jarrod Nobbe, MA, CSCS
Jarrod Nobbe is a USAW National Coach, Sports Performance Coach, Personal Trainer, and writer, and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 12 years. Read more about Jarrod
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