Is swimming or running better for losing weight?

Both swimming and running can be excellent forms of exercise for losing weight. The key factors are the intensity and duration that you do each activity. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and fitness level.

How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn vs Running?

On average, running burns more calories per hour than swimming. But this can vary based on the exercise intensity.

Here is an estimate of calories burned per hour (for a 160 lb person):

Exercise Calories burned per hour
Running (6 mph) 700 calories
Swimming freestyle (fast pace) 670 calories
Swimming (leisurely pace) 500 calories

As you can see, running burns more calories on average. But the difference is fairly small if you swim at a fast, vigorous pace.

Benefits of Swimming for Weight Loss

Here are some of the key benefits of swimming for losing weight:

  • Low impact: Swimming is easy on the joints since your body is supported by the water. This makes it a great option if you have injuries or joint problems that prevent high-impact exercises like running.
  • Works the whole body: Swimming uses all the major muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, chest, core, and legs. This builds lean muscle mass which can boost your metabolism.
  • Easy to modify intensity: You can adjust your swimming pace and strokes to increase or decrease the intensity of your workout.
  • High calorie burn: At a vigorous pace, swimming can burn over 500 calories per hour.
  • Accessible: Swimming only requires access to a pool, so it’s a convenient exercise option year-round.

Benefits of Running for Weight Loss

Here are some of the key advantages of running for losing weight:

  • Maximizes calorie burn: Running burns 20-30% more calories per hour than swimming at an equivalent effort level.
  • Convenient: Running requires very little equipment or facilities. You can run anywhere, anytime.
  • Time efficient: You can burn more calories in a shorter time compared to swimming.
  • Boosts metabolism: Running increases your metabolic rate for hours after exercising. This creates an “after burn” effect.
  • Free: Running requires no membership fees or equipment costs once you have running shoes.

Which Burns More Fat: Swimming or Running?

Most of the calories burned from both swimming and running come from your body’s fat stores. So both are excellent for reducing body fat.

For weight loss, what matters most is the total amount of calories burned, not necessarily where they come from. Since running burns more calories per hour, it can result in greater fat loss over time.

How Many Calories You Burn Swimming vs Running

The exact amount of calories you burn swimming or running depends on a few variables:

  • Your weight: Heavier people burn more calories than lighter people when running the same speed or swimming at the same pace.
  • Exercise intensity: Higher intensity burns more calories. Sprinting burns more than jogging. Fast swimming burns more than leisurely swimming.
  • Time spent exercising: The longer you exercise, the more calories you’ll burn overall.

Here is an estimate of how many calories a 160 lb person could burn swimming and running for different durations:

Exercise Time Running (6 mph pace) Swimming (vigorous pace)
30 minutes 350 calories 335 calories
45 minutes 525 calories 503 calories
60 minutes 700 calories 670 calories

As shown, running burns about 20-30 more calories per hour. But swimming still provides an excellent calorie burn, especially when done vigorously.

Swimming vs Running: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?

So is swimming or running more effective for losing weight and burning fat?

Overall, running may have a slight edge for pure weight loss. The higher calorie burn means you can create a larger daily calorie deficit to lose weight fast. However, both provide excellent calorie burn when done vigorously.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Running may burn 15-30% more calories per hour. But vigorous swimming still provides major calorie burn.
  • The duration of exercise matters more than the type. You can burn the same calories swimming for a longer duration.
  • Swimming may be better if you have existing injuries that exclude high-impact exercise like running.
  • Choose the exercise you enjoy more and will stick with consistently, as consistency is key.

Combining swimming and running can provide maximum benefits. You get the high calorie burn of running along with the reduced injury risk of swimming.

Tips for Maximizing Fat Loss When Swimming

Here are some tips to burn the most fat possible with swimming workouts:

  • Swim at a vigorous pace consistently
  • Minimize breaks; keep rest intervals short
  • Include sprint intervals (high intensity swimming for 30-60 seconds)
  • Use different strokes like butterfly, backstroke, and breaststroke
  • Wear webbed gloves and a drag suit for increased resistance
  • Work the large muscle groups with kick sets and pulling buoys
  • Aim for at least 45-60 mins of swimming time

Tips for Maximizing Fat Loss When Running

Here are some top tips for maximizing fat burn through running:

  • Run at a challenging pace where speaking full sentences is difficult
  • Include sprint intervals (high intensity running for 30-60 seconds)
  • Run for at least 30-45 minutes per session
  • Include hilly routes or use a treadmill incline to increase intensity
  • Run most days of the week to maximize calorie deficit
  • Include strength training days for a metabolic boost
  • Maintain good running form to prevent injury
  • Progressively increase your running distance and pace over time

Sample Swimming Workout Plan for Weight Loss

Here is a one week sample swimming workout plan for weight loss:

Day Swimming Workout
Monday 45 minute swim – 25 laps freestyle (vigorous pace), 25 laps breaststroke
Tuesday 60 minute swim – 30 laps freestyle, 30 laps backstroke
Wednesday 45 minute swim – 10 laps freestyle as sprint intervals, 35 laps mixed strokes (vigorous pace)
Thursday 60 minute swim – 45 laps freestyle, 15 laps butterfly
Friday 45 minute swim – 25 laps breaststroke, 20 laps freestyle (vigorous pace)
Saturday 60 minute swim – 30 laps freestyle, 30 laps backstroke
Sunday Rest Day

This provides a solid calorie burn of 500-700 calories per swim session.

Sample Running Plan for Weight Loss

Here is a sample one week running plan for fat loss:

Day Running Workout
Monday 45 minute run – 3 mile course at vigorous pace
Tuesday 30 minute interval run – 1 min sprint intervals with 2 min jog recovery
Wednesday 30 minute run – 2 mile course including hills
Thursday 45 minute run – 3 mile course at vigorous pace
Friday 30 minute interval run – 1 min sprint intervals with 2 min jog recovery
Saturday 60 minute run – 5 mile course at vigorous pace
Sunday Rest Day

This provides a high calorie burn of 500-700+ calories per run.

Additional Tips for Maximizing Fat Loss

To maximize fat loss, it’s also important to focus on your nutrition and creating an overall calorie deficit. Here are some additional tips:

  • Follow a reduced calorie, high protein diet focusing on whole foods
  • Increase protein intake to help retain muscle while losing fat
  • Cut back on added sugars, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats
  • Fill up on fiber-rich fruits, vegetables to help stay full
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Get adequate sleep (at least 7-9 hrs per night)
  • Manage stress with yoga, meditation, or other relaxation practices

The Bottom Line

For pure calorie and fat burn, running appears to have a slight edge over swimming. However, swimming remains an extremely effective option, especially when done vigorously.

Consistency and workout duration are most important. So choose the cardiovascular exercise you enjoy more and can adhere to long term. Combining running and swimming workouts can provide maximum fat burning benefits.

Just be sure to also focus on your diet, protein intake, and lifestyle factors for optimal fat loss results from swimming or running.

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