Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? (2023)

The debate of swimming vs running is a common one when it comes to talking about cardio exercise. They're both suitable for beginners, both offer great opportunities to improve cardio fitness, and if you're looking to lose weight healthily, they're both almost as good as each other.

However, there are some key differences between swimming vs running, so it's important to choose the right one for you, depending on your fitness levels, lifestyle, and ultimately how you like to exercise.

So, which should you choose? This depends on what you're looking to get out of the sport. Those looking for a low-impact exercise that stretches and flexes the body may find swimming to be the top choice. But it's important to put stress on the bones and joints to make them stronger, which is where running comes in.

There are many benefits of swimming and many benefits of running for women. Here, woman&home speaks to two certified personal trainers and swimming enthusiasts to weigh up swimming vs running in terms of weight loss, muscle gain, accessibility, and much more.

Swimming vs running

1. For burning calories

Running technically burns more calories than swimming, according to a review by Harvard University. It's one of the reasons why running for weight loss is so popular. According to the institution's research, a typical 155-pound (70kg) person burns:

  • 216 calories per 30 minutes, swimming generally
  • 288 calories per 30 minutes, running at 12 minutes per mile
  • 360 calories per 30 minutes, swimming vigorously
  • 450 calories per 30 minutes, running at 8 minutes per mile

However, how many calories running burns compared to swimming will be very individual. "It all depends on the person and effort they put into the sport though," warns Rachel MacPherson, certified personal trainer and fitness enthusiast. "People tend to burn more calories during activities they are new, or do not have efficiency in."

Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? (1)

(Video) Swimming vs. Running: Which Is The Best For You?

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2. For cardiovascular health

When it comes to improving your cardiovascular health, both swimming and running are great choices, says MacPherson. But swimming does have a slight advantage, she points out, according to research by the likes of Pursan University and the University of Belgrade.

"It may have some unique benefits, including the creation of new blood vessels. You can also typically swim for longer than you can run, due to the low-impact nature of swimming. Swimmers also tend to have better lung capacity than non-swimmers, which will boost overall cardiovascular health."

For a combination of the two, she suggests, one option is to try something like Fluid Running, where you combine the best of both worlds by running in the water using a floatation device.

3. For growing muscle

This depends on where you want to grow the muscle, says Mike Hamlin, a personal trainer specializing in exercise rehabilitation and weight loss. "If you want to build more muscle in your legs from cardio activity, I would suggest running and more specifically, sprinting. If you want more muscle in your upper body, I would suggest swimming."

In the debate of swimming vs running, he explains, "Running primarily focuses on the lower body, particularly the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. It can help tone and strengthen these muscles, but it may not provide much muscle growth unless you can load your legs enough with higher-intensity movements like sprinting."

While swimming is excellent for anyone looking to improve their strength and grow muscle in "the arms, shoulders, and back". Different strokes, such as freestyle, butterfly, or breaststroke will help with this too, as they target specific muscle groups, making for a diverse workout.

Contrary to popular belief, women need to grow muscle too. Given that one of the main symptoms of menopause is muscle loss, which in turn has an impact on mobility and comfort, it's essential to maintain a good routine for muscle maintenance throughout life.

4. For injury recovery

If you're recovering from an injury, it's best to opt for a low-risk, low-impact workout, so swimming is perfect. "Swimming is a non-weight-bearing exercise performed in a buoyant environment, reducing stress on the joints. The water's buoyancy supports the body, minimizing the impact on bones, tendons, and ligaments. This makes swimming an excellent choice for individuals with joint issues or a history of injuries," says Hamlin, who works with Everflex Fitness.

(Video) Swimming Vs Running: What Burns The Most Calories?

"In contrast, running involves repetitive impact forces that can put a strain on the joints, muscles, and bones. Overuse injuries, such as shin splints or stress fractures, are more common in running compared to swimming," he adds.

Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? (2)

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5. For injury prevention

Naturally, it's always best to try and prevent an injury before it happens. There's plenty of merit in heavy, weight-bearing exercises but if you're prone to aches, pains, or discomfort when you're working out, it may be a good idea to swap in some lighter exercises in your routine.

"Swimming is an excellent choice for anyone, but in terms of a low-impact workout, swimming has running beat," says MacPherson. "Running can be hard on your knees and hips as it's a high-impact sport. Many people believe running is a natural, easy skill you can pick up and do, but that's not entirely accurate. Issues with muscular imbalances and incorrect running patterns can cause overuse injuries and wear and tear over time."

If you are leaning towards running, it's important to learn proper form before making it central to your workout routine. "Running requires a lot of technique that's important to master before relying on it for all of your cardio work," she says. "Swimming offers a low-impact, less risky option that can be performed in conjunction or in place of running."

6. For reducing stress

Exercise is often listed as a preventative measure when learning how to deal with stress and avoid burnout. While it's not a cure-all and no activity can replace proper mental health aid, working out does have proven benefits for our minds.

But which one's better? There's no right answer here since it's all about what you enjoy most and what makes you feel best. As MacPherson explains, "Not only will you get an incredible cardiovascular workout, but you will also benefit from unique aspects of exercise, including anxiety relief, cognition boost, creation of new blood vessels, improved mood, and better immune system response."

(Video) Why Swimming Is Better Than Running

7. For beginners

"I typically love to recommend running to those who are new to exercise," says Hamlin. "More specifically, I will recommend either walking or doing a super-light jog to introduce a new client to this type of activity without stressing them out too much. Running is a great weight-bearing exercise that primarily works the lower body, helping to improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, and burn calories. It also requires minimal equipment and can be done almost anywhere."

Running is a good exercise to build a solid exercise habit, he explains, which is key for staying consistent if you're new to exercise. If the workout is hard to do, weather dependent, or has too many conflicting factors that may prevent you from going, you're unlikely to keep it up.

"Running helps to get someone doing small amounts of exercise with as little work involved as possible," he adds. "It's simple, put your shoes on and go outside. The pool can be great but you have to drive to one, change, shower, and get dressed again."

Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? (3)

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8. For cold weather

While not so important in the summer months, working out in cold weather is a reality we all have to face at some point. In this case, running is normally the better option. As it's a high-impact cardiovascular exercise, blood starts moving around the body at a quicker velocity, meaning you warm up faster than you would do swimming. It's also easy to wrap up warm when running, by opting for the best workout leggings over shorts or throwing on a sports sweater.

However, there are many benefits of cold water swimming. If the idea of ice swimming or wild swimming interests you and you're able to invest in the equipment and training, it's worth trying it out.

9. For budget-friendly exercise

This is a tough one since both swimming and running require particular kit items. For running, to get the most out of the activity, you'll need a pair of the best running shoes and a high-impact sports bra, but many of these are available for budget prices and you can run anywhere.

(Video) Why Swimming Is Making You Gain Weight

For swimming, you'll need a costume and very importantly, access to a pool or a wild swimming spot, which tend to be harder to come by. You'll also likely need to pay a fee to get into the pool or pond. If you live close to the beach and can swim in the sea, it's free, but you'll need a wetsuit in most cases or you won't be able to go in for very long.

For these reasons, running wins out.

Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? (4)

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is it better to swim or run to lose weight?

If you're looking to lose weight, swimming is the better sport. This is simply down to the calories burned, given that swimming is a low-impact but intense cardio workout that utilizes all the muscles in the body. This means that most people will burn more calories in the pool than pounding the pavements, which is essential if you're trying to get into a calorie deficit to lose weight.

As swimming is a low-impact sport, it's also likely to be one you'll be able to do more regularly. So over the course of a week, you'll be able to burn more calories. Naturally, this depends on the person, given the way we burn calories is highly individual and based on numerous factors - including age, height, current weight, activity levels, and even genetics.

However, exercise of any kind is an important tool in the weight loss process. The best exercise for losing weight will be the one you enjoy the most - whether that's running, swimming, strength training, hiking, or power walking. If you enjoy the way you're working out, you're more likely to do it more often. And as the saying goes, consistency is key.

"It all depends on your preferences and accessibility as well as your fitness level and health. If you love running, you should definitely be running if you can and vice versa. Consistency and enjoyment are crucial to creating a lifelong activity habit," notes MacPherson.

(Video) How Does Swimming Change Your Body?

How to choose the best sport for you

  • Do you have access to a pool? This is the biggest question to ask yourself when choosing between swimming vs running. If you don't have a pool local to you, Hamlin says, the traveling element can lead to a "lot of random excuses and skipping of workouts instead."
  • What are your goals? This will hugely impact the sport you choose. Think about what your goals are with changing up your routine to include more swimming or running. For example, if you're looking to improve bone strength in the lead-up to menopause, jogging or running may be a better fit.
  • Are you dealing with an injury? If you're recovering from an injury of any kind, it's important to seek professional guidance. However, if it's a lower-body injury then swimming may be the better option. If it's an upper-body issue, running is likely to stress out the injury less than swimming.
  • What's your lifestyle like? As noted by Hamlin, there's a lot more that goes into swimming than running. If you only have a limited time to exercise before work, for instance, there's less to do with running to get moving.

Swimming vs running: the verdict

Whether you choose swimming vs running will ultimately come down to your personal preference. What's most important is that you are doing some kind of cardiovascular exercise to boost your physical and mental health, and both activities tick this box.

If you're not sure which one you prefer, include a bit of both in your routine. For example, you could start doing walking as a workout with a day of swimming alongside it every week and progress into running - or vice versa.

As always, if you're thinking about making serious changes to your diet and/or exercise routine, it's best to consult a health practitioner first.


Swimming vs running: Which is the better workout for you? ›

Swimming requires you to use many muscles in your body, which makes it an excellent full-body workout. Running, while great for your lower body, doesn't work the muscles in your back, chest, arms, or shoulders to the same extent that swimming does.

Is it better to swim or run to lose weight? ›

Simply put, you'll burn more calories swimming compared to running the same distance. Swimming is a full body workout, which results in more calories burned. When it comes to running, you must maintain a certain speed and consistent cardiovascular exertion to burn comparable calories.

Is there any exercise better than swimming? ›

Swimming is a great way to tone muscles all over your body every time you go, but lifting weights at the gym is the best way to focus on building muscle if this is part of your weight loss goal.

Does swimming burn belly fat? ›

Swimming cardio is one of the most effective ways to lose weight including your belly fat. This requires you to keep swimming for 15-20 minutes at the time while maintaining your heart rate levels in the particular zone that we call – fat burning zone.

Is jogging and swimming a good form of exercise? ›

Both jogging and swimming are excellent forms of exercise and can provide numerous benefits to the body. However, which one is better depends on the individual's goals, preferences, and physical ability. In terms of calorie burn, jogging and swimming can both be effective ways to burn calories.

Is 30 minutes of swimming a day enough to lose weight? ›

Swimming at a moderate pace for 30 minutes burns around 250 calories. Do that four times a week, and in a month, you'll lose a little more than a pound. But every body is different, and research suggests that some people lose more or less weight than others—even when they do the same amount of exercise.

Is 20 minutes of swimming enough? ›

Swimming times for cardio workouts

You still need to start with at least 20 minutes but it has to be a consistent heart pumping uninterrupted 20 minutes to have any benefits of the cardio workout.

How many laps in a pool is 1 mile? ›

If you want to swim exactly a mile in a 25-meter pool, you'll need to swim 64.3736 lengths. Many lifeguards tell patrons to either round down to 64 lengths or up to 66 to keep things simple. Swimming exactly a mile in a 50-meter pool means completing 32.1868 lengths.

How long should I swim to lose weight? ›

As long as you maintain a healthy diet alongside your swimming regime, spending just 30 minutes 3 times a week in the pool will help you stay fit. For the best results, it's important to stay consistent with your swimming routine. With a consistent water workout, you should begin seeing weight loss within 30 days.

Can I swim everyday as a workout? ›

Can You Swim Every Day? Absolutely! You can swim seven days a week, 365 days a year – many people do this! The key is moderating your intensity and duration so your body is fresh for each workout.

Why am I not losing weight from swimming? ›

Why Some People Gain Weight Swimming. If you're a swimmer, you're probably very familiar with post-swim hunger! While swimming does burn a lot of calories, you may be overestimating the amount of calories you burn during each workout. As a result, you may overeat and put your body in a calorie surplus!

Do you get ripped from swimming? ›

If you're wondering: does swimming build muscle, then the short answer is yes, but you may need to include other types of training if you're looking to get 'ripped', and learn about your muscle fiber types, too.

How many laps should I swim? ›

Doing Laps to Get in a Good Workout

For beginners, 20 to 30 laps within 30 minutes is often an achievable and effective goal. If you're at a more intermediate level, strive for 40 to 50 laps during the same time period, and shoot for 60 laps or more if you're an advanced swimmer.

How many times should I swim a week to lose weight? ›

The frequency of swimming for weight loss is the same as other cardiovascular exercises, so aim for four to five days a week for the best results, according to Jamie Hickey, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with Truism Fitness.

Which swimming stroke burns the most fat? ›

According to Swimming.org, butterfly is the top of the calorie-burn list, burning around 450 calories per 30 minutes of swimming. Although the hardest to learn, butterfly works all muscles in your body, providing a intense workout.

How many laps should I swim to lose weight? ›

Tip. Increase the number of laps you swim in 30 minutes to at least 67 to maximize your fat-burning potential.

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds by swimming? ›

It is not only possible, but highly probable that the weight will come off if you stick to a regular pool exercise routine. You may lose 20 pounds in three months if you are persistent. By making swimming a part of your regular exercise routine, you not only lose the weight but you keep it off as well.

What will happen if you start swimming 30 minutes every day? ›

keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body. builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. helps you maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart and lungs. tones muscles and builds strength.

How many days a week should a person swim? ›

Great for general wellbeing.

Just 30 minutes of swimming three times a week alongside a balanced, healthy diet and lifestyle is one of the best ways to stay fit and healthy and maintain a positive mental outlook.

Is doing laps in a pool a good workout? ›

Everyone likes a bargain, and lap swimming is a good deal when it comes to exercise. Swimming is a remarkably effective workout because it combines three important types of exercise in one: aerobics, stretching, and strengthening. “Simply keeping yourself afloat activates the core muscles in your back and abdomen.

How many hours of swimming do you need to get good at it? ›

Here's what to expect time-wise: For adults who learn at a normal rate and don't have any fear of water, around 20-25 hours of private lessons is usually sufficient to gain basic swimming skills. That translates to about a year of one 30 minute lesson per week.

Why do I weigh more after swimming? ›

“Your skin is the largest organ in the body and absorbs fluid easily,” says Dr. Keith Kantor, a leading nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking (NAMED) program. “After a swim or a shower, your body can absorb 1 to 3 cups of water, increasing your true weight by a few pounds.”

How many miles is 10 laps in a pool? ›

25 Yard pool (Short Course)
Miles and Triathlon DistanceYardsLaps
¼ mile (Sprint Distance)about 500 yards10 Laps
½ mileabout 800 yards16 Laps
1 mile (Olympic Distance)about 1700 yards34 Laps
1.2 miles (Half Ironman Distance)about 2000 yards40 Laps
4 more rows
Dec 19, 2022

Is one lap of the pool equal to 2 lengths? ›

Some people think a “lap” is two lengths of the pool. They are wrong. In an Olympic-size 50-meter pool, one lap is 50 meters. In an American short-course 25-yard pool, a lap is 25 yards.

What should I eat after swimming to lose weight? ›

Foods such as white meat, low-fat chocolate, eggs, and veggies should decorate our after-swim menu. We should also consider high carbohydrate content foods. Often, after swim class or practice, glycogen in our muscles gets depleted. Consequently, it needs to be refilled to regain energy fast enough.

Is it better to swim in the morning or evening for weight loss? ›

Not only will a swim in the morning before breakfast burn more fat, but it will raise your body's metabolism for the rest of the day – so you burn more calories, faster, throughout the day (even while sitting at your desk).

How long do I have to swim to lose 10 pounds? ›

Combined with a healthy, well-balanced diet, individuals who commit themselves to a regular swimming routine should be able to lose weight. With that goal in mind, spending 60 minutes a day, 4 to 6 days a week in the pool should yield results. If you are new to swimming, start slowly.

What to do after swimming? ›

Shower immediately after you get out of the pool/sea

Any residual chlorine or salt that might be sitting on your skin needs to be removed, and a shower with a mild body cleanser helps do just that. This also helps restore the skin's pH levels back to normal and cancel the effects of the pool/sea water.

What is swimmers hair? ›

Swimmer's hair is hair that has become dry, damaged, and even discolored due to extended exposure to the ocean or the chemicals in most pools. While this condition can come about from extended time spent in the ocean, it is far more common to happen to those who spend large amounts of time in classic pools.

Will I get abs if I swim everyday? ›

More than anything, however, swimming consistently exercises the core muscles and enables your abs to aid in overall stability and body control. Simply put, core muscles like abs, hips, and lower back are completely engaged when you're swimming.

What is the best swim stroke for exercise? ›

1st place: Butterfly

It's most effective all round stroke for toning and building muscles. It helps with upper body strength, toning your chest, stomach, arms (particularly your triceps) and your back muscles. It helps to increase your flexibility, suppleness and stretches out the body to improve posture.

How much weight can I lose swimming 5 days a week? ›

How Much Weight Can We Lose by Swimming 5 Days a Week? Swimming burns more calories than many other cardiovascular exercises. Just by swimming 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and taking a healthy diet, one can lose roughly 250 to 600 grams.

Is it better to swim if you are fat? ›

Body fat affects swimming speed in a number of ways. Because fat is less dense than other body constituents, increasing body fat tends to make you more buoyant, which can lift you higher in the water, reduce drag and perhaps make you faster.

What physique does swimming give you? ›

Broad shoulders with defined abs, lats, and triceps are the physical features earned by swimmers' frequent time in the pool. Above-average height, a long torso and upper limbs are other noticeable characteristics of the best swimmers. Many of these features can be acquired with a focused and dedicated swim regimen.

Will I get skinny if I swim? ›

Swimming helps you lose weight in just the same manner as any other form of exercise – it burns calories. A calorie is simply a unit that represents the amount of energy in food and when we're swimming laps our muscles require this energy (or calories) to power us through the water.

What is the best swimming style to lose weight? ›

Butterfly – this stroke has been shown to burn the most calories with on average 400-500 burnt in a 30min session. It is excellent for toning muscles, especially in the arms, chest, and back.

How long should I walk in a pool to lose weight? ›

“Pool-walking workouts can be as long or short as you like, but 20–45 minutes is a good length of time to get your heart rate up and in the zone that allows you to work on cardiovascular health,” says Evans.

Is walking in a pool good exercise? ›

The bottom line. Walking in water is an excellent cardio and resistance training exercise option. It can help strengthen and tone many muscle groups, while burning calories and being gentle on your bones and joints.

Can you get a six pack from swimming? ›

As you have heard, with its various strokes and many exercises, swimming will help you to work your abs in an optimal way. The good news is that all strokes will do the job.

How many yards should you swim for a good workout? ›

As you gain more confidence and endurance, the workouts will come. A good beginner workout could be just 20 mins of work, swimming around 900-1000 total yds/m. Give yourself time to work on your breathing, getting comfortable in the pool, and building your endurance.

How many laps should I swim in 1 hour? ›

Beginner: 20-30 laps (500-750 yards/meters) Intermediate: 35-50 laps (875 – 1250 yards/meters) Advanced: 60 laps (1500 yards/meters) Elite: 75 laps or more (1875 yards/meters)

How much weight can I lose swimming 1 day a week? ›

This should allow you to lose about a pound a week. So, if your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is 2,000 calories and you burn 300 calories from a swim workout, you will need to eat 1,800 calories per day to achieve a 500-calorie deficit. Once you know your calorie goals, it's time to start swimming.

What does swimming 3 times a week do to your body? ›

Just 30 minutes of swimming 3 times a week can increase your energy levels by increasing your metabolic rate. This means that it trains your body so that it can digest food quicker and use the calories faster, meaning you will feel less sluggish.

Can swimming tone your arms? ›

But Arms Can Be Toned by Swimming

Even if reducing underarm fat isn't one of your related goals, swimming can be a good way to add some tone and definition to your arms. The reason this can happen is because of the force exerted as you use your arms to propel yourself through the water.

Will swimming 3 times a week tone me up? ›

In fact, a 2015 study in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation found that women who swam three times a week shed more fat around their waists and hips compared to those who walked three times a week. Another big benefit: Water-based workouts are low-impact, so they tend to be easier on your hips, knees, and feet.

Can swimming reduce love handles? ›

Burns Huge Calories

Good news for those who want to rid themselves of those stubborn love handles: swimming is perfect to really burn those calories. To lose weight, you have to be on a caloric deficit, which means caloric output has to be greater than your input.

Does swimming help arthritis? ›

Swimming can be a good choice of exercise if you have arthritis because it: stimulates blood circulation and can reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain. helps to maintain and build strength and cardiovascular fitness. can help make your joints more flexible and.

Will I lose weight if I swim everyday? ›

As long as you maintain a healthy diet alongside your swimming regime, spending just 30 minutes 3 times a week in the pool will help you stay fit. For the best results, it's important to stay consistent with your swimming routine. With a consistent water workout, you should begin seeing weight loss within 30 days.

Can I lose weight just by swimming? ›

Swimming can be a great form of aerobic exercise, providing you with many physical and mental health benefits. Like walking or running, swimming burns calories, so swimming can help you lose weight provided your diet also supports weight loss.

What exercise burns the most belly fat in the pool? ›

Swimming Laps

One of the best pool exercises is good old-fashioned lap swimming. "I'm prejudiced," says Heggy, "but I would recommend you take swimming lessons and actually learn how to swim. And then you can incorporate that as a really fun low-impact workout… to burn as many calories as you want."

How many miles should I swim to lose weight? ›

How much do you have to swim to lose weight? Swimming at a somewhat casual pace—about 50 yards a minute—burns about 625 calories per hour. Kick that up to a high-level recreational athlete, where you're swimming 75 yards in a minute, and you'll burn a little more than 750 calories an hour.

How many laps in the pool is a good workout? ›

Doing Laps to Get in a Good Workout

For beginners, 20 to 30 laps within 30 minutes is often an achievable and effective goal. If you're at a more intermediate level, strive for 40 to 50 laps during the same time period, and shoot for 60 laps or more if you're an advanced swimmer.

How many miles is 50 laps in a pool? ›

If you're swimming in an Olympic pool (50 meters long), a true mile is equal to 16.1 laps. If you're swimming in a short-course pool (25 meters long) a metric mile is equal to 32.2 laps. If you're swimming in a 25-yard pool, a metric mile is 35.2 laps.

How many times a week should I swim to tone up? ›

The frequency of swimming for weight loss is the same as other cardiovascular exercises, so aim for four to five days a week for the best results, according to Jamie Hickey, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with Truism Fitness.


1. What Will Happen If You Start Swimming 30 Minutes Every Day
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2. How to Get a STRONG Swimmer Body!
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3. Swansea half marathon | Ironman triathlon training | Swim, Bike, Run, Stu
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4. Swimming Vs Cycling Vs Running: What Burns The Most Calories?
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5. Swimming vs Running | Which Is Better for You?
6. Swimming For Weight Loss | Swim Tips For Losing Weight
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