This question gets asked of us a lot, so we thought we’d take the time to review the answer.
First, understand that swimming is among the top endurance sports for calorie burning with the added benefit of it being non-impact (versus running) and full body (versus running and cycling), making it an excellent choice when weight, injury, and special physical needs are a factor.
As a quick review, the rate at which your body burns calories to use as energy is known as your metabolism, which varies from person to person. Metabolism rates are dependent on a number of things, including body composition and gender, but all calorie burning rates are directly impacted by weight and exertion levels. For swimming, it’s a simple equation: Calories burned are directly proportionate to duration and intensity. In laymen’s terms, you burn more when you swim longer, faster, and harder.
How many calories does swimming burn?
For reference the American College of Sports Medicine has created a chart with estimates based on time and weight, rather than total distance.
• A 130-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour will burn 590 calories swimming fast, and 413 calories swimming slower.
• A 155-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour will burn 704 calories swimming fast, and 493 calories swimming slower.
• A 180-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour will burn 817 calories swimming fast, and 572 calories swimming slower.
• A 205-pound person swimming freestyle for one hour will burn 931 calories swimming fast, and 651 calories swimming slower.
Consider time versus intensity.
When comparing strokes, as a general rule one hour of breaststroke at a moderate speed is equivalent to a slower freestyle, while a technically proficient, moderate intensity backstroke roughly equates to a fast freestyle workout. The heavy hitter though, is the butterfly, burning anywhere from 700 to 1100 calories in an hour (based on weight.) Try it if you dare though, as the butterfly is the most technically demanding stroke in the pool!
Finally, it’s important to remember that while we’ve established that fast freestyle will burn more than a slow one, and butterfly will burn like fire, discernment is still necessary when choosing your workout. If you can sustain a more extended workout doing a moderate speed breaststroke, you may burn more calories in the long run than doing a short sprint freestyle workout. If you swim a slow, inefficient butterfly, you want to choose a stroke you are more technically capable of swimming or consider adult swim lessons to improve your swimming technique and ultimately help you to become one with the water.
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Here at One with the Water, we offer premium swim lessons for all ages, whether you are a beginner, want to improve your technique, or looking to train for competition events. Register today to start your journey towards confidence and success in the pool.
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.