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Swimming for weight loss?

February 15th, 2010 No Comments

I got an awesome question a few weeks ago about swimming for fitness.  The question was whether or not a swim-heavy workout routine is effective for weight loss.  It seems experts are rather confused on this issue, so let’s address it!

First, I have to say, if you discover a type of exercise that you love, it should DEFINITELY be part of your routine- you can always balance what you love to do with the types of movement you feel you need to do.

Swimming is a unique form of exercise because you can get a cardiovascular workout while also building strength as your body pulls itself through the water.  The reason some experts are on the fence about using swimming as a stimulus for weight loss is because some studies have shown that although swimming can burn a significant number of calories, the weight loss would not be as significant as “land based” training burning the same number of calories.  Many of these studies, however, fail to account for water temperature and diet.  The water temperature may have a significant effect on metabolism, appetite, and fat storage.  Swimming in cold water has been shown to significantly increase appetite (we have all had that ravenous feeling after being in the pool) and can cause your body to store subcutaneous fat (which acts like a built in blanket!).  So, swimming in cold water could be detrimental to weight loss, while swimming in room temperature or warmer water has been shown to be nearly as effective as land-based training.

Bottom line: swimming is a great total body workout and you can see great results when it is used appropriately in your workout routine.  If you love swimming, I would recommend using it as your workout 2-4 times per week combined with 2 land-based cardio workouts and at least 2 days of weight training.  Using swimming as your only mode of exercise would not be optimal for a few reasons.  The “weight bearing” aspect of land-based training is important to stimulate bone and joint strength.  In addition, mixing up your workout routines will keep your body responding to the exercise stimulus you are placing on your system.  Once we get close to our goal weight, if we don’t keep our bodies guessing a least a little bit, we will never make it over the dreaded plateau.

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