How many calories does swimming burn compared to running?

Both swimming and running are great forms of cardio that can help you burn calories and lose weight. But which burns more calories – swimming or running? Generally speaking, running burns more calories per hour than swimming. However, swimming still provides an excellent cardio workout and has many other benefits as well.

Calories Burned Running vs Swimming

According to Harvard Health, a 155 pound person burns around 498 calories per hour while running at 5 mph (12 minute mile pace). The number of calories you burn running depends on a few factors:

  • Your weight – Heavier people burn more calories than lighter people
  • Speed – Faster paces burn more calories per minute
  • Terrain – Running uphill burns more calories than running on flat ground

For swimming, a 155 pound person burns around 372 calories per hour with moderate effort swimming. Like running, the speed and exertion level impact calories burned. Faster swimming burns more calories.

So in direct comparison, running burns about 100 more calories per hour than swimming for a 155 pound person moving at moderate intensity. The difference comes down to the fact that running requires supporting your full body weight and involves more muscle activation compared to the buoyancy of swimming.

Calorie Burn by Swimming Stroke

The exact swimming stroke you use also impacts calorie burn. Here’s a breakdown of calories burned per hour for a 155 lb person by stroke:

  • Freestyle / Front crawl stroke – 372 calories
  • Backstroke – 330 calories
  • Breaststroke – 372 calories
  • Butterfly stroke – 411 calories

Butterfly stroke burns the most calories because it uses the most muscle groups and requires the most exertion. Freestyle and breaststroke burn roughly the same. Backstroke tends to burn fewer calories than other strokes.

Other Factors That Impact Calories Burned

Aside from activity type, speed, and body weight, other factors impact calories burned during exercise:

  • Gender – Men tend to burn more calories than women
  • Age – You burn fewer calories as you get older
  • Fitness level – Those who are more fit burn more calories
  • Body composition – Muscle burns more calories than fat

So an out of shape, older woman will burn fewer calories during a workout than a young, fit man. But over time, as your cardiovascular fitness improves, you’ll burn more calories doing the same workout.

Swimming vs Running: Calories Burned Per Mile

Another way to compare swimming and running is to look at calories burned per mile. Here is the estimated calories burned per mile for a 155 pound person:

  • Running – Around 100 calories per mile
  • Swimming freestyle – Around 50 calories per mile

So again, running burns about twice as many calories as swimming per mile. However, it’s easier for most people to swim further than run. During a solid swimming workout, it’s realistic to swim over 2 miles (100 lengths of the pool). That would equate to around 100 calories burned per mile x 2 miles = 200 calories.

Whereas running 2 miles at a moderate pace would burn around 200 calories. So ultimately, if you are swimming vs running the same distance, running will burn more calories. But you may be able to swim further than run in a single session, helping close the calorie burn gap between the two activities.

Swimming vs Running: Which Burns More Fat?

Both swimming and running burn significant fat if done at an aerobic intensity. However, there is some evidence that swimming may burn slightly more fat than running.

One study found that swimming led to a greater decrease in body fat percentage compared to running over a 12 week training program. Both groups did the same amount of training in terms of distance, but the swimmers lost more fat.

Researchers believe swimming may burn more fat because cooler water temperatures cause your body to burn fat to stay warm. Also, the buoyancy of water means less weight bearing impact compared to running.

However, both running and swimming burn significant fat if done regularly. So neither has a huge advantage when it comes to fat burning potential.

Benefits of Swimming vs Running

While running may burn slightly more calories overall, swimming has its own unique benefits:

  • Low impact – Reduced stress on joints and muscles
  • Works upper and lower body – Swimming uses all the major muscle groups
  • Easy on sensitive joints – Swimming is great for those with knee or ankle pain
  • Keeps you cooler – The water dissipates heat unlike running outdoors in warm weather

Swimming and running are both excellent forms of cardio. If your main goal is maximum fat loss, running may burn slightly more calories. But if you are prone to overuse injuries or have joint pain, swimming allows you to workout in a low impact manner.

Ultimately it’s best to do a combination of both swimming and running to get the benefits of both activities.

Tips for Maximizing Calories Burned

Here are some tips to burn the most calories possible during swimming or running:

  • Increase speed and effort – Faster paces and harder exertion levels mean more calories burned
  • Minimize rest – Taking less rest between intervals increases calorie burn
  • Use equipment – Paddles, kickboards, and floats can make swimming harder and burn extra calories
  • Run hills or stairs – Changing terrain by adding hills/stairs increases calorie burn from running

Also, doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) during either running or swimming maximizes calorie expenditure in a short period of time.

Some examples of HIIT for running and swimming include:

Running HIIT Workouts:

  • 30 seconds fast running / 60 seconds moderate x 10
  • Sprint up hill for 30 seconds / walk back down x 8
  • 20 seconds fast / 40 seconds slow x 15

Swimming HIIT Workouts:

  • 50m fast / 100m moderate x 10
  • 20m fast / 40m moderate x 15
  • 30m pull buoy fast / 60m swim easy x 8

By incorporating high intensity intervals into your workouts a few times a week, you can maximize calorie and fat burn.

Sample Swimming vs Running Workouts

Here are some sample swimming and running workouts with estimates for total calories burned:

Moderate Intensity Running (30 minutes)
Total calories burned: Around 250

  • 5 minute warm up
  • 20 minutes run at moderate pace
  • 5 minute cool down

High Intensity Running (20 minutes)
Total calories burned: Around 200

  • 5 minute warm up
  • 30 seconds sprint / 60 seconds easy jog x 10
  • 5 minute cool down

Moderate Intensity Swimming (45 minutes)
Total calories burned: Around 285

  • 5 minute easy swim warm up
  • 30 minutes continuous swimming at moderate pace
  • 10 minute mix of strokes (freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke)

High Intensity Swimming (30 minutes)
Total calories burned: Around 225

  • 5 minute easy swim warm up
  • 20 minutes: 50m fast / 100m easy x 10
  • 5 minute cool down

These sample workouts give you an idea of how calories burned swimming vs running compare for different types of workouts. Go with high intensity intervals 2-3 days a week and moderate intensity cardio 1-2 days a week for maximum fat burning benefits.

Nutrition for Fat Loss

To maximize fat loss from swimming or running, pay close attention to your nutrition. A calorie deficit is required to lose body fat – meaning you need to burn more calories through activity than you consume from food and drink.

Here are some dietary tips to support fat loss:

  • Consume 0.5 – 1 gram protein per pound of body weight daily
  • Fill up on fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains
  • Limit added sugar, processed carbs and saturated fats
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Watch portion sizes and avoid overeating

Apps like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt can help you track your calorie intake to ensure you are maintaining a deficit.


In conclusion, running generally burns more calories per hour and per mile compared to swimming. However, swimming has unique benefits including full body muscle engagement, low impact cardio, and may help maximimize fat burning.

For optimal fat loss, combine swimming and running workouts with high intensity intervals plus a calorie deficit from your diet. This will ensure maximum calories and fat burned from both your training and nutrition program.

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