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The Best Way to Cut Calories: Swimming


This post was inspired by an old swimming friend that has more recently gotten involved in lifting weights and trying to transform his body. He is an extremely experienced and skilled swimmer so he has a lot of tools at his disposal. He does not enjoy running or biking as a means to burn calories but he is interested in cutting for the summer.

Cutting is a term used in the fitness industry, primarily among physique based competitions, that refers to a stage after bulking where you lower your caloric intake and increase your caloric deficits in order to lose fat. Through this process of lowering body fat percentage, the muscles that a person developed and strengthened during their bulking phase will be more defined, visible and prominent. It has a certain aesthetic effect.

Not exactly your typical lap swimmer (it's Alana)

Not exactly your typical lap swimmer (it’s Alana)

Mr. M (we will keep his identity a mystery) asked me if swimming was a suitable substitute for cutting and the answer is yes. Anything that helps you achieve your caloric deficit amongst a cutting phase, with proper diet and rest, is a proper form or substitute for the classic “cardio machines.” Most professionals have ellipticals, treadmills, steppers or even bikes in their home gyms. There are a few reasons why swimming does not receive attention on the same level. Those reasons are primarily seen as a disadvantage and therefore complicate the process. However, there are certain advantages as well if you are cutting for your own reasons and not trying to be like everyone else. Here are the reasons why people do not use swimming to lose fat:

1. Most people do not know how to swim. That’s true, believe it or not. Beyond that, many people that do know how to swim don’t know how to swim properly. The number of people that can swim the four competitive strokes and various other safety strokes properly is extremely small. Many bodybuilders are among this population and are not interested in learning how to swim. However, for Mr. M, this is not a concern and with strokes such as backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, and butterfly it is very easy to burn more calories than on a machine that plugs into the wall.

2. It is much harder to calculate burned calories while swimming. Machines that plug into walls have abilities to calculate these numbers, therefore making it extremely convenient for someone tracking these figures so strictly to hit their marks properly. This is not the case while swimming, as every stroke will burn a different amount of calories. Pacing yourself will also affect this greatly. Swimming a 100-yard freestyle on 55 seconds and following with a second 100 yard freestyle on 1 minutes and 15 seconds will result in different calculations that need to be made. If you are not extremely strict on your figures, then this is not an issue as you can estimate. You can also buy some new devices in the market that are waterproof and track your calories that are burned. Fit will be doing a post soon about these devices so keep an eye out for that.

3. It is generally more difficult to find a body of water, especially year round, that is safe. You can run and bike on land. You can run indoors in the winter no matter where you live. Finding a safe swimming spot is harder as it is a much more dangerous activity due to the medium of the water. In developing countries swimming is a luxury and something that the majority of the population does not know how to do. Overall, it is simply not as safe.

Despite these factors, I highly recommended Mr. M to swim in order to cut to achieve his goals. The best way is to use all the strokes that you know and incorporate them into a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. Switch up your strokes and change your pace consistently to challenge your body to work harder and burn more calories. Swimming for an hour at the same pace does not do much unless you somehow can maintain your full speed, or something close, for that whole time. I love to do 100 and 200 IMs (individual medley- butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, freestyle) with the 100s being all out and the 200s being at a steady pace. I will do 5-10 of each depending on how I feel with minimal rest in between. It makes me feel good, keep my skills fresh and avoids putting extra impact on my heavy flat feet.

If you are interested in specific questions related to swimming or cutting calories please leave a comment below. And look forward to more entries in the Best Way to Cut Calories series. Use this to stay hungry and fit!

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Written by hungryandfit


Comments (22 comments)

  • March 6, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    […] long time ago, I started this series about alternate forms of “cardio” and suggested swimming. It was a pretty popular post and we got tons of questions about how to incorporate it into […]

  • February 17, 2014 at 7:16 am

    […] Wednesday: Yoga and Swim […]

  • August 14, 2013 at 7:42 am

    […] The Best Way to Cut Calories: Swimming […]

  • July 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Hi there! I know this is somewhat off topic but
    I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site?
    I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve
    had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    • July 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      This is in fact a WordPress.com based site. WordPress.com has had problems with information leaks lately and they have hired a security company to help with the problem. We personally have not had any problems due to our use of filters and luck. WordPress.org is supposedly better and Tumblr is another option. Let us know if you have any other questions.

  • July 15, 2013 at 7:17 am

    […] The Best Way to Cut Calories: Swimming […]

  • June 30, 2013 at 8:07 am

    […] The Best Way to Cut Calories: Swimming […]

  • June 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Me, Myself and I.

    • July 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Thanks for the support! We really enjoy your work as well!

  • June 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    I loved your post. I’ve been swimming, I mean learning how to properly swim with the freestyle stroke. It’s been a challenge, but I have been having tiny break through s more and more. Getting my breathing down is my last challenge. If you have any tips or any drills that would help, I’d love to read them! :)

    • July 21, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      My biggest tip is to take everything one small step at a time and slow down. Master one tiny piece of an aspect before moving onto a new drill. I’ll be making a YouTube series in the near future to help everyone learn how to swim properly. It doesn’t make me happy when I get a new student or client that had a bad teacher that led them to developing improper muscle memory in the first place. We want to avoid that.

      Make sure you choose the right side to breathe to first. If your left shoulder is stronger, use that to stabilize your head as you breathe to your right. Keep your head resting on your shoulder as you breathe so it doesn’t sink too far into the water. Absolutely do not pick that head up to the front in any way. Just roll your head onto that shoulder and take as much time as you need to breathe. It’s pointless to execute that energy consuming motion and not actually get your oxygen.

      The best drills are progressive. Get something buoyant that you can hold onto and use it to support that stabilizing arm that you are using to support your head when you breathe. Once you can kick comfortably to the other side of the pool without getting uncomfortable or thrown off then start adding one arm and find the proper timing for your side breathe. Let me know if you need help finding that timing. Good luck!

  • June 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I keep meaning to learn how to swim it is so ta-boo in the African American community. I do want to learn for all the reasons you mentioned above. I need to find an instructor with PLENTY of patience. lol

    • July 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      Every swim teacher and instructor should have plenty of patience or they shouldn’t be doing what they are doing! Let me know what area you are in and I will try to find you the best place to learn to swim. Unless you want to come out to Boulder and learn from the best ;) Or I can teach you online!

  • Randy Powell
    June 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    I just spent my lunchtime catching up on posts you guys put up while we were up on Mt. Abel and I’m so happy you used the li’l Alana swimming photo. Enthusiasm started young in that girl! And, Alana, your mindfulness post is my favorite post so far.

  • June 24, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I have to take on a 1/2 mile swim this Sunday for my triathlon! Cannot wait!!

  • Marga
    June 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I love the underwater picture of Alana!

  • andy
    June 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Hey, can you post some swim workouts? 1, 1.5, 2 hr workouts for beginner to intermediates? I like the IM switch up. I use to swim but haven’t for an number of years. I have gone a few times doing 500m, free and breast switch every 100m, then a 3-5 minute rest. started at 20 laps (50 m pool) now at 30 …. I think its time to actually begin working and it would be nice to hear your suggestions. Thanks! -Andy

    • July 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      Do you know how to do proper flip turns? How do you feel about all four strokes? It seems free and breast aren’t an issue but I need to make sure you’re still okay with fly and back before I can give you a proper workout! A good workout for one person might not be great for everyone else and I want to give you the best for you!

      • andy
        July 24, 2013 at 4:44 pm

        Yea I have been mia for a bit. Although I hardly bothered with the flips ever, yes I can nail them in every turn if I wanted. Im experienced with all four strokes. Yesterday I swam 200 free, 100 IM, 200 free for 2000M. It would be nice to have something to wet the kickboard to and push myself to achieve.

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