Swimming makes you fat??

Today I want to write something about swimming. To start, I LOVE swimming, always have and always will. My mom called me a water rat when I was young (in a loving way of course). On holidays I could spend hours in de pool, playing, swimming, doing water ‘acrobatics’. Later on in life, I started speed-swimming when I had my knee injury and couldn’t do normal sports out of the water. I was actually not bad, but stopped due to time and motivational problems.

Last year, when I started my weightloss and getting fit journey, I started swimming once or twice a week before work. I did it for 45 minutes and then felt really accomplished. Until I read an article with the title ‘swimming makes you fat’. I was like: What?? I thought I was being very good by swimming, it’s easy on the joints for a very obese person, but if it makes you fat then why should I do it? I read the article and did some of my own research and found the following:cust_bg_87_1399620442455

Swimming on itself doesn’t make you fat, BUT: most people who go swimming to lose weight, do it in a slow pace and because of the weightlessness you actually don’t really get your heart rate up so you don’t burn more than when you sit at your desk. The problem is that people THINK they had a great workout, and tend to eat more to compensate the calories they never burned, so they can actually gain weight.

I wanted to see if this was true, so I bought a heartrate monitor that could get wet and works in pool water. I measured my heartrate during my 45 minutes in the pool and guess what, I didn’t even get into the first zone on the monitor. I was shocked, I thought I had some great workouts in the water, meanwhile I could’ve just laid in my bed (ok, I admit, I’m a lazy person). So instead of quitting swimming, I changed my routine. I did some reading and read a lot about HIIT (high intensity interval training). I did the following: I started with 5 minutes higher tempo swimming, the kind that will raise your heartrate to level 1. Then I did 30 minutes of HIIT. Normally you use the clock for HIIT, like 30 seconds fast and 30 seconds slow, but that’s kind of difficult in the pool. I chose to swim my fastest (the type that will leave you out of breath) from one side to the other and then swim medium speed back to my starting point then did this until 30 minutes were finished. After 30 minutes I did a 10 minute cooling down swim. This way, I burned about 300-400 kcal during this 45 minutes.

Currently I don’t swim anymore as weightlifting and climbing takes all of my time. I do think swimming can be a great cardio workout for very obese people or people who have injuries (and the elderly), because it’s easy on the joints, tendons and muscles. What you need to remind yourself of (if you want it to be a workout), is that it’s only a real workout when you raise your pace and get a bit out of breath. Personally, I’ve stepped away from the cardio-only view and started weightlifting to aid my weightloss. You can read about it in this post. I also wrote something on how to start weightlifting in this post. As you all know, exercise is great, but if you don’t control what you put in your mouth, it won’t make you lose weight: you can’t outtrain a bad diet!

19 thoughts on “Swimming makes you fat??

  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing! I just started incorporating swimming as part of my workout routine, so I’m wondering: does swimming help build strength, because it’s a form of resistance training?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! I think swimming can be an excellent way of exercising, but I don’t think I can consider it resistance training. I know you have to move through the water, but the amount of resistance doesn’t create as much of a muscle growth impuls as weightlifting does. Nevertheless it will create some kind of strength if you do it often and with enough speed/effort. Did you know that most speed swimming athletes train more outside the pool than inside?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am about to take swimming lessons as part of my getting “fit and healthy” routine, and this entry made me think, if I can still consider it as part of my getting “fit” routine or for survival since I am a backpacker.. Thanks for the info anyway.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lessons are really great and I think learning how to swim is very important for safety. In the Netherlands almost every child learns how to swim when they’re around 5 years old, because we have so much water around and in our country. I surely think swimming can be a great workout, but I can imagine lessons are more focused on technique and not so much on swimming fast to get a workout. So I’m not sure of how to see your time in the water, what I do know is that you learn better and faster when you practice more, so extra pool-time besides the lessons and focusing on speed should get you a great workout. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting take, though I probably need to disagree with the “swimming makes you fat” premise (activity never makes you fat, it’s the crap you do when not active that makes you fat), at least on what I have found in my training. Doing triathlons probably accounts for most of this, but my swim work raises my heart rate quite a bit (as you saw with your HIIT experiment). Agreed that during a warm up or cool down split my HR remains firmly in Z1, as it should, I easily hit Z3 during speed work, and find that I lose weight in the days after a good speed workout. As you stated, it’s all about the effort and type of training you are doing in the pool. If you walk or bike at a leisurely pace you won’t burn many calories either (and remember…it’s not about the calories, it’s about the TYPE of calories you are eating … a 500 calorie Big Mac is much different than 500 calories of spinach). Weight is lost in the kitchen, not the gym.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally agree with you as I think swimming can be a great workout. I’ve seen (and spoke to) many people in the pool when I was still swimming. Most of them did it to lose weight and get fit, but went swimming in such a low pace. If I do walking instead of running, I still burn quite some calories during 45 minutes. If I swim slow instead of speedy, I burn next to zero extra cals. The whole idea of ‘swimming makes you fat’ is based on what happens in the kitchen, because people think they burned a lot, they go and eat more. I totally agree with you on the big Mac/spinach thing, as you know I’ve also written a post about nutrition. Thanks for your reply, always appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post. Enjoying your blog. I recently posted on my blog about a year long research project where 200 people performed one hour of exercise daily many with a trainer. You would think they would lose tons of weight. Women lost of ave of 3 pounds and men about 4. It was a well designed projdct too. There are so many other factors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your reply! I went to your blog and downloaded 2 of the articles you talk about (the one that inactiveness kills more and this one you’re talking about). Definitely going to read them! Thank you! I guess this effect I’m talking about is also talked about in the research: people over estimate what they’ve burned and eat more.


      • I have used three different heart rate monitors in work outs and all give diff calories burned info. It’s just such an inexact science. I really think it’s best to adopt healthy eating and exercise and forget about weight but I check myself three or four times a day.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Losing weight in NYC and commented:
    Of all the activities one can do to be active, I have really taken to swimming. Its been a recent realization, that swimming alone will not help me lose weight or tone my body the way I like. I want to get better at swimming, I want to lose weight and I want to be more athletic. To achieve those goals, I know I will need more than the daily hour of swimming, but more importantly I will need a plan. This post, reflects some of my sentiments. The author explains what she means by the title of her post. She is not trying to imply swimming makes you fat. She is only pointing out what one needs to keep in mind when one takes up swimming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is great info! My chosen exercise is bellydance, and I’ve read similar articles about it. It’s great for strength and toning, but it won’t increase your calorie burn unless you do intense shimmy drills for at least 30 min. A lot of people assume that because their muscles are sore, they’ve earned some extra calories, but that’s not generally the case.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Swimming will definitely help you lose weight, if done correctly. I have to say that professional swimmers do have a higher body fat percentage than non-swimmers, but it certainly does not make you fat. Look at all the lean swimmers out there; your body simply wants you to be warm and since water tends to be cooler, it will leave a bit more fat on you than it would if you were a body builder. This is beyond weight loss, this is more about professionals and amateur athletes such as olympians.


  8. Pingback: Learning from my mistakes. | Losing weight in NYC

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