Swimming Routines for Weight Loss

Kathryn Vera
Swimmer using the breaststroke

While any type of exercise is better than none, swimming may be especially beneficial when it comes to promoting fat loss. Just be sure to follow the FITT principle, which focuses on the frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise so you get a high-quality workout.

Beginner's Swimming Routine

Beginning swimmers can promote weight loss by exercising at the right intensity and choosing appropriate stroke styles.

Routine Frequency

Women's Health Magazine (WHM) recommends swimming two to three days a week for the first two weeks when starting a routine designed to promote weight loss. As the workout becomes easier, increase the number of days you perform your routine. In fact, in the publication Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (GETP page 71), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) encourages healthy adults to aim for five days of exercise each week to promote healthy weight loss.

Routine Intensity

WHM also recommends that swimmers perform the routine at an easy intensity level to ensure optimal weight loss results. To determine how hard you are working out, rate the amount of effort you put into your swimming on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is very, very easy and 10 is very, very hard. If you are working at an intensity level of 3 or less, you are likely swimming at an easy intensity level (GETP page 111).

A Timed Routine for Beginning Swimmers

Beginning swimmers can promote weight loss through the following routine.

  1. Swim 100 meters then rest for 30 seconds.
  2. Repeat this routine five to 10 times.

Depending on your level of fitness, the speed at which you swim and the time it takes to perform this routine may vary substantially.

Type of Strokes to Use

While swimmers can use any type of stroke to promote weight loss, the freestyle and breaststroke appear to be especially effective. In WHM, Joel Shinofield, who was the head swim coach at Washington and Lee University at the time, notes that the freestyle is a great choice for beginning exercisers interested in shedding unwanted pounds since it promotes substantial caloric expenditure; this is a must for weight loss. The breaststroke may also be a good choice, notes Shinofield, since it targets the hips and inner thighs, which are often missed during other types of exercise.

Intermediate to Advanced Swimming Routine

Intermediate and advanced exercisers can achieve further weight loss by extending their swimming routine, notes the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in ACE's Personal Training Manual (page 323). Using a variety of swimming strokes also incorporates more muscles, which can be helpful for increasing the number of calories you burn.

Routine Frequency

Intermediate and advanced swimmers should perform their swimming routine two to three times per week. To meet current exercise recommendations, cross-train by walking, jogging, biking, or engaging in other forms of cardiovascular exercise an additional two to three days per week (GETP page 546).

Routine Intensity

According to the ACSM, the bulk of an intermediate or advanced swimming routine should be performed at an intensity between 4 and 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 to promote optimal caloric expenditure and weight loss (GETP page 547). An intermediate or advanced swimming routine designed to promote weight loss should also include a warm-up and cool-down, performed at an intensity level between 1 and 2.

Timed Routine for Intermediate to Advanced Swimmers

As with beginning swimmers, the speed at which intermediate and advanced-level swimmers complete their strokes and the time it takes to perform this routine will vary, depending on fitness level.

Warm-Up:

  1. Using the stroke style of your choice, perform a warm-up of 200 meters.
  2. Rest for 10 to 30 seconds.

Set one:

  1. Using the breaststroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds
  2. Using the backstroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds.
  3. Using the freestyle stroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds.

Set two:

  1. Using any stroke, swim 50 meters.
  2. Rest 10 to 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat three more times.

Set three:

  1. Using the sidestroke, swim 25 meters.
  2. Rest 5 to 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat three more times.

Set four:

  1. Using the breaststroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds
  2. Using the backstroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds.
  3. Using the freestyle stroke, swim 100 meters. Rest 10 to 20 seconds.

Cool-Down:

Using any stroke, perform a cool-down of 100 meters.

Swim Like a Fish

Whether you are a beginning swimmer or an Olympic wanna-be, swimming is a great choice for promoting weight loss. For optimal results shedding unwanted pounds, be sure to cross-train with other forms of aerobic exercise on the days you skip the pool.

Swimming Routines for Weight Loss