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by Katy Bergen

December 24, 2019

Calorie expenditure depends on many factors

How many calories you burn while swimming depends upon a multitude of factors.

Calorie expenditure in the pool relies on factors you can't immediately control, such as metabolism and weight, and factors you can, such as a workout's intensity or what strokes it includes.

There are many fancy gadgets and calorie-counter calculators out there to help swimmers estimate how many calories they’re torching in the pool, but most experts agree that you should treat these estimates as just that—an educated guess.

Since the formulas used in exercise equipment and fitness-tracking devices vary from company to company, people who treat calorie-tracking devices as gospel run the risk of dramatically overestimating their calorie expenditure, writes Gina Kolata for The New York Times.

Still, these estimates can serve as general guides to how many calories can be burned through various swimming activities, even if it's not possible to pinpoint exact expenditures.

Harvard Health estimates the calories burned by a 155-pound person engaging in moderate swimming activities to be roughly 223 calories per 30 minutes. Calorie expenditure can jump to 372 calories in the same timeframe for vigorous swimming.

A 185-pound person might burn 226 and 444 calories through moderate and vigorous swimming activity in the same time period.

According to, butterfly tops the list for calorie burning at roughly 450 calories per 30 minutes. But the stroke is the most difficult to maintain, making it the least practical choice to burn the most total calories over the course of a workout.

Freestyle ranks second for calorie-burning potential compared to the other strokes at roughly 300 calories per 30 minutes of swimming. That's followed by backstroke and breaststroke.

Although calculating exact calorie expenditure might be impossible, remember these general guidelines if you’re using swimming to lose weight.

Keep the intensity. The more intense a workout, the more calories you’ll typically burn. Incorporate high-intensity interval training into your workouts to ensure you burn calories long after you leave the pool, in addition to more moderate sets that you can participate in for longer.

Seek out variety: Train multiple muscle groups by switching up strokes and sets. Adding variety challenges your body and elevates the heart rate so you can burn more calories.

Watch your caloric intake. No amount of exercise can overcompensate for eating more calories than you burn when it comes to weight loss goals. Focus on eating healthy, balanced meals and getting proper nutrition, and avoid using calorie-counter estimations as a reason to overindulge.


  • Technique and Training