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Danny 03-02-2017 05:35 PM

how effective is swimming for weight loss?
I see a lot of posts on this forum from people who tell me they are getting into swimming to lose weight, and I am wondering about how effective this strategy is. I know nothing about which sports offer the best chance for weight loss, but maybe someone else does. All I have is some anecdotal evidence and folk science which I will offer here. Please feel free to refute or contradict what I am offering, especially if you have succeeded in swimming to lose weight or if you actually understand some of the science behind this.
(1) It is much more common to see good swimmers who may be overweight than, say, good runners. This may just be because the odds of injuring yourself running when you are overweight are much higher than the odds of doing so while swimming. But it may be that running helps reduce your weight more quickly.
(2) My folk science claims that the body has to reach a certain temperature before it starts to burn fat when exercising. Folk wisdom claims that you need to run for about hour before your body switches from burning carbohydrate to burning fat. Because it is harder to overheat when swimming than when running, it may also be harder to burn fat when swimming. Is there any truth to this?

novaswimmer 03-02-2017 06:04 PM

Swimming is fantastic exercise! It can be an extremely important part of a regimen to lose weight and burn calories! Are you bringing this up as hypothetical? or are you trying to lose weight?

Of course the other side of the equation is what you take in (the so-called elephant in the room). You just cannot have a large pizza every day, and snack on pastries and a beer every evening, and expect swimming to burn off those calories -- especially when you get older and your metabolism changes. But nobody really wants to talk about this because it means sacrifice and discipline. To lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in. It's as simple (and as difficult) as that!

Any weight-loss program 'worth its weight' will combine a calorie-burning activity (swimming, elliptical, rowing, power-walking, biking, lifting, etc) with a reduction in calorie intake and often replacing worthless foods with healthy ones.

If you lack that discipline to avoid bad foods, it may be difficult. You'll have to come up with some strategy to get around the urge to binge on carbs, if that is an issue for you.... like perhaps having raw carrots, celery, cauliflower available at those times.

I'll be eager to hear when others 'weigh in'.

I guarantee if you start a diet both high in protein and high in vegetables -- eliminating carbs such as sweets, breads, chips, alcohol -- and combine that with swimming or other exercise at least 3 times a week for 45 minutes to an hour -- you will lose weight! (unless you have other metabolic issues, like a thyroid problem, etc).

bujanglokal 03-02-2017 06:15 PM

Swimming is good for weight loss because when you're obese or overweight you want to do a sport which is not causing injury to your knee, with a caveat that you will be hungrier after swimming than other sport. To reduce this effect you need to warm up your body after swimming by drying yourself quickly, or take a warm bath, and drink something warm (tea or plain warm water will do).
Of course to reduce your weight beside doing aerobic sport, diet in conjunction with weightlifting or just plain bodyweight is the most effective way. Just remember that with the slowly reduction of your weight, your resting calorie is reduced as well, so you might want to ensure that your calorie intake is adjusted.

Danny 03-02-2017 08:09 PM

Novaswimmer and Bujanglokal, Thanks for your responses. First let me say up front that I myself don't have a weight problem, so my question was more out of curiosity. Have either of you succeeded in using swimming to lose weight? The other question I have is whether you can do it as quickly swimming as you can, for example, by running. This question may not be a very useful one if, for example, you have bad knees or (like me) arthritic hips, so you can't run. But for those of us who have that option, is there any hard science that points to running as a better way to achieve weight loss than swimming?

borate 03-03-2017 12:29 AM

novaswimmer 03-03-2017 01:54 AM

That article brought up an important point about intensity. I see people at the pool swimming at all different degrees of intensity. To equate swimming with running I think you'd really have to increase intensity.

I see people at the pool who bob like a cork, are somewhat overweight, and who don't seem to be putting forth much energy at all as they do their slow, slow laps. They take maybe 40 strokes per lap with limited extension (probably due to poor joint flexibility). They can't be burning up calories nearly as quickly as the younger ones who do sprints.

But do what you love because you'll stick with it!

Just know that you might also have to exercise your will regarding calorie intake as well.

Danny 03-03-2017 04:01 AM

Interesting article. I don't experience more hunger after swimming but I do feel the need to take a nap. Years ago, when I was running, this didn't happen to me after running, but then again years ago I was younger than I am now. Anyway, that points to some answers. Thanks for the link, borate.

Danny 03-03-2017 04:06 AM

By the way, my solution to getting warm after swimming in cold water is to take a long hot shower. Maybe that's why I never experience the hunger, but I just get sleepy.

WFEGb 03-03-2017 07:33 AM


just had a look in my yellowed "Cooper". These first(?) measures (done in the 1960ies) about power-supply are "somewhat" unsharp, but he set

running 3km in 16:00min-19:59min equal to

swimming FS 1000m in 16:40min-24:59min equal to
swimming BS 1200m in 20:00min-29:59min equal to

cycling 12.8km in 24:00min-31:59min

This was long before TI was born, so it might be for TI-FS we should take more the BS-values.

And have in mind, Cooper's statement, "You're in good shape, if you do one of this four times a week." was meant for normal citizens not for athletes to work at their metabolic borders. (Think he's still right, and (at least we Germans) were much healthier in general if everyone did so..)

Best regards,

Tom Pamperin 03-03-2017 07:39 PM


Originally Posted by novaswimmer (Post 61955)
To lose weight you have to burn more calories than you take in. It's as simple (and as difficult) as that!

Well, no. As I understand it, that's not how it works.

The type of calories you eat matter just as much (maybe more) than how many you eat. A diet that includes lots of simple carbs and sugars (as in any food you buy in a grocery store outside the produce aisle) causes lots of bad effects, including insulin resistance and excessive weight gain. These kinds of calories trigger your body to store any energy not used immediately as unhealthy body fat.

On the other hand, I've been reading lots of current research suggesting that a diet high (as in 70-75% of total calories) in healthy fats (avocados, olives, coconut oil, nuts, seeds) can actually program your body to switch to burning fat as your primary fuel. It's counter-intuitive, but a diet high in healthy fats actually seems to lead to a sharp decrease in body fat.

Exercise is necessary for health and fitness, but I suspect eating right matters more than trying to just "burn calories" in the pool or running or whatever.

When I've needed to lose weight, I've had much more success changing the type of calories I eat. Change the WAY you eat, don't just try to restrict calories. That rarely works.

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