body image · swimming · training · weight loss

Why Swim?

Swimmer in lake. Image credit:
Swimmer in lake. Image credit:

Regular readers of the blog will know that I am totally in love with swimming. So when Sam sent me this post “5 Reasons Why Swimming Is the Perfect Workout for Weight Loss” I kind of bristled. Why? Posts like this rub me the wrong way because they make it sound as if weight loss is the only good reason to do it.

What if swimming turned out to be great for our health but not great for weight loss?  Should we then ditch it?

But back to the five reasons. Here’s what the article says:

1. Burns calories

You can burn much more calories swimming than could while you walk or run. An average built person can easily burn 400-500 calories in a 60 minute session of moderate-intensity swimming.

2. Works out your muscles

The different strokes involved in swimming requires a good amount of muscle power. This gives your muscles a good workout every session. Those looking out for a muscle building workout should try high-intensity swimming as this can adequately stimulate your muscle growth.

3. Tones you out

Swimming no doubt exercises your whole body. When you swim your arms, shoulders, back, core, glutes and legs get a thorough workout thus toning them effectively.

4. Boosts metabolism

Any activity that burns calories and gets your heart rate up also boosts your metabolism. This makes swimming the perfect metabolism boosting activity. An active metabolism in turn aids fast weight loss.

5. Motivates you to try harder

The swimming attire usually requires you to strip down to bare minimal. This motivates you to train harder to look good in your swimwear.

I’m not going to quarrel with the first four things on the list.  It does burn calories, work out a variety of muscles, gives you a good total body workout, and as much as anything that gets your heart pumping it boosts the metabolism.

But that last reason? Really?  Swim suits are skimpy, so if you want to look good while you work out (see Sam’s post on looking cute while working out), you’ll be motivated to train really hard if you swim.  Strange logic.  In fact, emphasizing the minimalism of swim wear is more likely to discourage people who are body conscious from ever stepping onto the pool deck.

A bunch of good reasons to swim are missing from this list, and these aren’t all about weight loss.  Swimming is a non-impact activity, so it’s easier on the body than running.  It provides excellent cardio, so helps build a strong and healthy cardiovascular system. And that promotes endurance.  One of the things I love most about swimming is that feeling that I could go on forever.

I much prefer this post by Master’s swimmer Alex Kotisch: 9 Good Reasons Why You Should Get in the Pool. Among the reasons:

1. Heart Helper
Swimming provides unparalleled cardiovascular conditioning, provided you practice consistently and with good technique. While other forms of exercise may be more effective at elite levels (such as running or cycling), incorporating swimming into a cross-training routine and pushing yourself in practice will result in overall improved fitness.

2. Balance Your Build
Swimming builds longer, leaner muscles that complement the shorter denser muscles that develop from weight training. These “swimmer’s muscles” also help boost metabolism to keep calories burning longer.

3. Cross-training
Swimming not only boosts cardiovascular capacity while increasing muscle strength, but it also gives your body a break from higher-impact activities like basketball, running, and weightlifting. By creating a balanced workout routine, athletes avoid injury by allowing their body time to heal, while not forgoing daily training sessions.

4. Increased Flexibility
A heated pool relaxes muscles, increasing flexibility and enabling important stretching. Also, after intense lactic-acid-building endurance workouts (running, cycling, weights), an easy swim helps flush out toxins preventing muscle tightness and soreness the following day.

5. Strengthen Your Core
Swimming develops core body strength because it utilizes all the body’s muscles simultaneously. Although 70 percent of a swimmer’s effort comes from the upper body, kickboard and fin workouts can provide an excellent leg workout.

6. Endurance
Swimmers are able to swim longer than they can what they could sustain doing other activities. With the right technique, a swimmer will be able to train for longer periods of time than if he/she were running and, as a result, more calories are burned.

7. Adventure
Swimming has branched out from the darkened, indoor community pools of yesteryear. Many new health club chains offer clean lap pools, and local communities are finding renewed interest in outdoor facilities during the summer months. Seek out available natatoriums in your area ( and if you are able, locate a natural body of water (lake, ocean, pond, or quarry) and explore the joys of open-water swimming.

8. Social Outlet
Imagine meeting the man/woman of your dreams, and seeing what they look like without their clothes on for your first date! That’s one benefit, at least, of joining a Masters team or triathlon training group. In addition to the possibility of romance fueled by mutual interests, team programs offer peer motivation and professional coaching to provide you with increased performance results.

And finally, the last reason is: weight loss.

9. Weight Loss
“People who consistently swim strenuously enough to be out of breath when they finish and elevate their heart rate do burn calories and lose weight,” says Jane Moore, M.D., a physician and active swimmer from Tacoma, Washington. “The key is to push yourself a bit.”

“Putting on a swimsuit and appearing in public should also motivate one to shed a few pounds,” says Kris Houchens, head coach of the YMCA Indianapolis SwimFit Masters.

Again, there’s that ridiculous comment about having to appear in public in your swim suit.  Ugh. I’m all for promoting the other reasons to swim, but highlighting the horror of looking “unsightly” in a swim suit is, as I said before, much more likely to discourage people from taking a dip than it is to encourage them to work harder in the pool. We need to get people to the pool first.

I swim because it makes me feel energized and strong. I love the rhythm of my breathing when I swim, and the feeling of gliding through the water. I also find it a very meditative activity. I’ve blogged about that before.  Also, though I’m not the fastest swimmer in the pool, I am faster than a lot of people, and that makes me feel good.  It’s also amazing to take it out to the open water in the summer.

So for all the great reasons to swim, dive in! The water is fine!

15 thoughts on “Why Swim?

  1. You’re absolutely right that the last reasons cited in both lists in favor of swimming are in fact deterrents to swimming! Grrrrr! Messages like this keep perpetuating the corrosive myth that the shapes of our bodies are entirely matters of our own making, matters entirely under our control (if we simply chose to pay enough time to them). Argh. And also they underscore the view that the bodies we approach the pool with are not acceptable as they are for the purpose of swimming. Again– WRONG.

    I just restarted swimming at my local ymca and also Walden Pond when I can get there. I loooove the feeling– kind of like a seal gliding through the water. I’m doing it as therapy for a fractured ankle, but it may catch on as a regular part of my activity. Next step is to take some lessons to make my strokes more efficient, and who knows where it will lead…

      1. I’ve thought about the aqua bike events. Probably no more tris– I tried 2 of them and the running just didn’t suit me. But never say never…

      2. Catherine, I found that running only “suited me” when I finally committed to doing it regularly and increasing my time/distance really gradually. Somewhere along the way I started to love it (and I used to hate it). But it took time. I wonder if that’s what my experience with the bike will be? I’m starting to wonder whether, in fact, I like biking, I just don’t have much interest in fast biking.

  2. I am not a very social person, and I dread getting sucked into the group exercise scene even though the classes themselves are beneficial. Give me goggles and my face in the water any day. I’m much more likely to get in a long, effective workout if I’m doing something I enjoy. Even if a person is uncomfortable with how he or she looks in a swimsuit, which I agree is a counterproductive notion, swimming is so meditative that everyone else is looking at the bottom of the pool, anyway.

  3. I don’t see any of my reasons there, which is that I like swimming because it’s like a guaranteed hour where it’s just me submerged in water and nothing else. I always get out of the pool feeling refreshed and calm. The focus on weight loss is really coming at the expense of the best parts of swimming IMHO.

  4. Swimming is my favourite exercise. It’s cardio, strength, toning and meditation all at once. I usually swim 3-5 times a week in my local 50m pool, but it’s been shut for 6 weeks for the Commonwealth Games and I have missed it so much. At most, I’ve managed twice a week at the next nearest pool, and I’m suffering for it. One week to go until it reopens – I can’t wait.

  5. You’re reminding me to go sea swim before it gets too cold here. I ran a lot better when I was swimming more regularly and I don’t believe that was a coincidence.
    Terrific swimming pic there.

  6. Back in December, I was swimming one or two days a week as part of my fitness efforts. A woman challenged me to swim 100 miles in 2014. She would donate $2 for every mile to the charity I am the Executive Director for.

    today was mile 97!!!

  7. I hate to hear that people avoid the pool because they are worried about how they look in a swimsuit. For me, going to the pool and seeing other people in their swimsuits is often reassuring, even inspiring. None of us have flawless bodies. None of us look like swimsuit models. And yet there we are, using our bodies to do fun things, great things. I see photoshopped bodies in ads, but I see real bodies at the pool, and real bodies are beautiful and powerful.

Comments are closed.