6 Reasons Your Pool is a Great Calorie Burner


Looking to beef up your exercise routine? Bored with the gym? Hit the pool instead. Swimming is an amazing calorie burner: Depending on things like gender, body type, and weight, hitting the pool for an hour can burn almost 1,000 calories!

1. Swimming is a low-impact exercise

Some popular forms of exercise, like running, can be hard on the joints. Not so with swimming—this exercise burns calories, but at the same time, it’s low-impact enough that astronauts use underwater training to simulate zero-gravity space conditions. This makes swimming an ideal form of exercise for seniors, people recovering from injuries, and people with conditions such as arthritis that make them particularly vulnerable to joint damage.

2. Swimming is also a great whole-body workout

You may not feel like you’re working hard as sunshine spills on your face and cool pool water laps against your skin. But swimming is definitely a full body workout that burns calories like any other fitness routine. While skimming through the water, you’ll plow through calories and inch closer to your weight loss goals.

For ideal calorie-burning muscle work, try this challenging swim workout:

  • Warming up: 100m at moderate exertion
  • Swimming fast: 50m of each stroke: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly
  • Resting 30 seconds
  • Swimming fast: 100m of each stroke: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly
  • Resting 30 seconds
  • Cooling down: 100m at moderate exertion

Swimming calculator: Calories burned by stroke

Calories burned swimming will depend on things like your weight, gender, body type age, and other factors. The amount of calories burned while swimming will also change depending on how long you swim and the type of swimming stroke.

General Breaststroke Treading Water Vigorous Laps Butterfly Crawl
125 lb. 180 300 300 300 330 330
155 lb. 233 372 372 372 409 409
185 lb. 266 444 444 444 488 488

3. Swimming is cardio and strength training in one

Swimming tones your cardiovascular system, ultimately helping you to breathe more efficiently as you build endurance. And water makes you feel light, but it’s actually over 780 times denser than air. You’ll work every muscle of your body -- and burn calories -- as you press through this dense resistance to glide through the pool.

4. Water exercise is safe for people with injuries

Because water creates a buoyant state, swimming is the ideal calorie-burning exercise for those recovering from injuries. And even for people who can’t swim, calorie-burning exercises like walking in the water, water weight training, or kicking with a paddleboard can be a great substitute.

5. Water is a natural mood booster

In addition to the depression-thwarting benefits common to any form of exercise, swimming offers particular mood boosting capabilities. Medical experts dating back to Hippocrates have recommended hydrotherapy for both physical and mental health conditions. And water induces a tranquil state, soothing the stress and anxiety of overstimulated senses of the modern world. Combining exercise with the soothing waters of a backyard pool, surrounded by the tranquility of the natural landscape, proves a significant mood booster.

6. The pool is calorie-burning fun for everyone

There aren’t many sports that toddlers and teens, middle-aged adults and grandparents can enjoy together. Learning to swim at an early age develops a skill that can be employed long into the senior years. People with varying physical abilities -- and people of every gender, body type, and levels of athleticism -- can enjoy swimming together.

Beyond swimming: Other ways to burn calories in your pool

Even if you’re not in the mood to swim, calorie-burning activities and water sports can keep you active. Try another form of water exercise, like water aerobics, water volleyball, or water polo, to add some excitement to your water workout routine.

Calorie calculator: 30 minutes of pool exercise by weight

Water Aerobics Water Volleyball Water Polo
125 lb. 120 90 300
155 lb. 149 112 372
185 lb. 178 133 444

This table was first printed in the July 2004 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.