Torch Calories With This Simple 30-Minute Swim Workout

U.S. Masters Swimming
by U.S. Masters Swimming
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Torch Calories With This Simple 30-Minute Swim Workout

Swimming is the perfect workout if you want to quickly burn a ton of calories. Need proof? Ask athletes from other sports who become exhausted after only a few lengths of the pool.

There are many reasons swimming is a great workout for the mind and body. For example, it’s the only cardiovascular exercise that works your entire body while putting little to no pressure on your joints.

Don’t worry if you can’t swim much yet. Beginners can still do a good pool workout that provides a lot of health benefits. You can build endurance and lose weight while giving your body the best workout it’s ever had in as little as 30 minutes a day.

Pro Tip: Before you start swimming for exercise, have a qualified coach look at your stroke to ensure proper technique, which prevents overuse injuries. As with all sports: If something is painful, stop.


Start your workout slowly to give your muscles an opportunity to warm up. Focus on your technique: long, powerful strokes move you through the water at a steady pace. Depending on your swimming experience, you can either do a longer swim (400–500 yards) or break it up into shorter distances, with rest every few lengths. But make sure to start slow and build your pace throughout, which raises your heart rate and prepares you to swim fast.


A good kick set helps you continue to warm up while also getting your heart rate up. Some swimmers use kickboards, but you can just extend your arms in a streamlined position or kick on your back.

Your kick should start at the hip, not the knees, which means you’re using your entire leg to provide propulsion. Keep your kick narrow and steady. A large up-and-down motion slows you down as it creates drag and reduces the power you generate.



This is the focus of your workout. The set should allow you to maintain a high heart rate over an extended time, which allows you to burn maximum calories. (Compare it to the fat-burning qualities of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT)

Here’s a possible structure to follow:

  • Swim two lengths of the pool at a quick pace
  • Rest for 5–10 seconds
  • Repeat

Let’s say you can do a 50 (two lengths of a standard, 25-yard pool) in 45 seconds. Your interval would be 50–55 seconds, meaning you should get about 10–15 repeats in.

Once you build endurance, you can increase the distance or decrease the interval.



Swim an easy 300 yards, broken up by 50s or 100s. This step is important because your body needs a chance to recover from the main set. Your pace should be like what you did in the warmup, and you should focus on good technique so your body can repeat it more easily when it’s tired.

Want more workouts? U.S. Masters Swimming members have access to daily workouts designed especially for a range of swimmers by a USMS-certified coach.

Want to learn more? Check out USMS’ Masters Swimming 101 article series.

About the Author

U.S. Masters Swimming
U.S. Masters Swimming

U.S. Masters Swimming encourages adults to enjoy the health, fitness, and social benefits of swimming by providing more than 2,000 adult swimming programs and events across the country, including open water and pool competitions. USMS’s nearly 65,000 members range from age 18 to 99 and include swimmers of all ability levels. The nonprofit also trains and certifies coaches and provides online workouts, a bimonthly member magazine, monthly eNewsletters, and technique articles and videos at


42 responses to “Torch Calories With This Simple 30-Minute Swim Workout”

  1. Avatar David says:

    Nice article. Just this week, I hit the pool for the first time in years and relearned how good it can feel and how challenging laps can be. Your comments were spot on and I learned a few things to add to my mix.

  2. Avatar Rayne says:

    Bookmarking by commenting.

  3. Avatar Ed J Moylan says:

    Good article. I swim 3 times a week, a mile each time. I am a member of US Masters for many years, loved competing with my age group. Right now I’m swimming solo, used to be on a swim team with a coach.

  4. Avatar Rebecca Rhodes Skinner says:

    Wish the calories burned would be included in this article. I know it depends on weight, but a chart would be super nice!

    • Avatar jimL says:

      I think you’ll find that swimming expends more calories then can be accurately tracked because the water temperature will come into play and water absorbs a lot more heat then air (specific heat). Different pools are different temperatures.

      • Avatar Nenita Franck says:

        What is the best temp for the water for swimming laps? Ours is kept at 89*. Walking people seem to prefer it warmer but it seems too warm for me to swim laps.

        • Avatar jimL says:

          89 degrees F is very warm. Most competition pools are kept between 78-81. Figure surface temp of human skin is 84-86, you want the water to be cool when you jump in (to your chest). If you are doing a swimming workout correctly you will heat up and even sweat. Bottom line: I personally recommend you keep a lap pool under 84 degrees.

          • Avatar Nenita Franck says:

            Do you mean that you would heat up and sweat and expend more calories but will tire more easily and not swim as long?

          • Avatar jimL says:

            Swimming in a warm pool (86+ degrees) will just promote lethargy. You won’t get that “spark” when you work hard enough to get your pulse to the aerobic threshold. In pools above 86 degrees your (and everyone else’s) muscles relax…ALL their muscles in their body, ewwww.

            Doing a swimming workout in 89 degree water would be similar to running or biking in 95+ degree air (not a scientific calculation). It’s just not healthy. The only recognized disability that is benefited by warm water (86+) is fibromyalgia. Even arthritis benefits from cooler water as it helps reduce the swelling. Swimming in 80-84 degree water will “motivate” you to move, but be warm enough for you to “fight” hypo-thermia and cool enough to prevent hyper-thermia.

            Many recreational swimmer laugh when they see fitness and competitive swimming drinking while in the pool. You are sweating, the pool water is washing the sweat away (hence the need to chlorination standards)…and if you have the option, you don’t want to drink pool water.

      • Avatar Cathy Raiser says:

        Do you expend more calories in a cool, or warm pool? I read an article once that indicated that exercising in cold water causes one to “shut down ” the metabolism, and slow weight loss. Sounds backwards, but that was the message. Wonder what others have heard.

  5. Avatar Mary Clifford says:

    I’ll soon to be 88 yrs old and I swim half mile almost everday (Weather permitting). Over 70 miles in large pool since Feb this yr. Lifetime activity since 5 yrs old. Love it – keeping me young.

  6. Avatar Dreva Rutherford says:

    I’m not a good swimmer at all, but this summer I found out my local indoor pool has a “slow lane” for walkers. I finally found an exercise I love! Since I have arthritis in my knees and hips walking on a hard surface always results in pain while in the water- no pain!

  7. Avatar JDVinWV says:

    This is great, thanks, we just got our lap pool this week (currentless, but with a harness) so this is great timing. I’m re-learning to swim though, it’s been roughly 20 years since I last swam for exercise so I’m going to have to ease back into it.

  8. Avatar Laura peck says:

    I lost 165lbs and have kept it off for
    three years and my go to exercise has been swimming. Now I do strength training in addition to swimming but when I first started swimming was all I could do. It also keeps me going when I hurt to much to do anything else. I am 55 years old and this is the first time in my life I have kept off that much weight.

    • Avatar Cathy Raiser says:

      If it’s not too personal, may I ask how you’re dealing with loose skin? Does the swimming seem to help? I am losing weight and am getting loose all over! Look ok in clothes, but you could not pay me to go out in public in a sleeveless top. I am a pretty young appearing 60 y/o, but my arms are hideous. Congratulations on your fantastic weight loss!

      • Avatar Faye Allen says:

        Hi Cathy, I’m also 60 y/o and twenty years ago, I lost 135 pounds. My loose skin was shocking. I could only afford to have the 7 pounds of skin removed from my abdomen, and other than that I was stuck with myself and the damage I had done. I went 20 years without ever going in public with my shameful, hideous arms. Until last year. One of our hottest summers on record and I suffered in 3/4 sleeves all summer long so that no one else would have to see my ugly arms. NEVER EVER AGAIN. This summer, even hotter than last summer, I went in public with bare arms. No one cared. NO ONE. I was free from the worst critic in the world – myself. I encourage you to love yourself (including your arms) enough to wear short sleeves or no sleeves, and feel the freedom of accepting yourself exactly the way you are today. With much care from one formerly obese women to another.

    • Avatar Kate Paullin says:

      @disqus_TSQbCKD07T:disqus, that’s awesome! Congrats!

    • Avatar Rochelle Wilson says:

      I’m 55 too…post menapause & I have rheumatoid arthritis. I love to work out, once I make it to the gym! I need to lose 100 pounds, and I’m thinking of starting laps, instead of the elliptical machine. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  9. Avatar jimL says:

    The tip provided in the warm-up description is perfect. So many people hold their breath when swimming. Holding your breath takes more energy then exhaling (relaxing).

  10. Avatar sld says:

    I struggle with the breathing when I swim (not the breath holding)….but rather just the ability to slow my crawl down enough that I don’t end up winded at the end of each length. So the part where you begin doing sprints is out of my league.

    Still haven’t found the correct form despite watching about every Youtube video about efficient technique and catch. I am guessing that is the source of the issue since when I am not yet winded (read as the first length) the crawl is an easy one for me.

    • Avatar Brian Madine says:

      If you are actually “holding” your breath, you shouldn’t be. You need to breathe out under the water, so you’re ready to inhale quickly when your head turns (not lifts) out of the water on the start of a new stroke. There’s not enough time to exhale and inhale when taking a stroke.

  11. Avatar Janet Brown says:

    How can this workout be modified for time rather than distance? I really need a variation of this for my new Endless Pool. I’m getting ready for knee replacement surgery and have a physical therapy routine, but I also need to loose weight. I can keep pace with the top current, but not for long.

    • Avatar Darcey says:

      By now you will have had the knee replacement. Was it one knee or both? Are you happy with it?
      I have arthritis in knees/hip/back, so I considered an Endless Pool, but my therapy place is letting me continue there on an elective basis indefinitely [I pay monthly], and I have access to equipment in the water, so I decided not to spend the big bucks on an EP. As of now I am just having the gel injections, which work pretty well. I was told knee replacement would bring me back to 85% use, but I think the shots do that much. Still, some days when out of the water I move the wrong way and am out of commission for days.If knee replacements would end all that I’d go for it. But I’m afraid it would be knees but still need back surgery. So at this point, what do you recommend?

  12. Avatar Anne_Frank_98007 says:

    Ever since I broke my ankle and a pipe when through the same leg, I have not been able to do laps, so I have adapted High Intensity Interval Training exercise routines into my water aerobics every day and use the side of the pool steps for planks and other maneuvers
    I cannot do on land…a daily circuit is about 1500+ calories burned in 60 sets of 50 seconds on and 10 second transition/rest.

  13. I am not a fast swimmer and this workout would take me 45 minutes to an hour. Seems like a good structure and method, though.

  14. Avatar Jenifer Twiss says:

    It’s sad that MyFitnessPal is allowing their website to use false advertising for weight loss. “Student Stuns Doctors with Crazy Method to Melt Fat”. Friends, if it sounds too good to be true then it needs to be validated. Use Snopes or other sites to check the validity.

  15. Avatar Keely Dawn says:

    I’m just commenting to bookmark this. As of now I don’t have access to a pool, but I used to swim competitively and miss the water like crazy. I’ve gained nearly 30lbs since I graduated high school, and lost most of my muscle mass… this girl needs to get back in the water.

  16. Avatar Becki Martin says:

    Hi. New to group and needing inspiration to swim more for health and well being. So glad I found you guys today!

  17. Avatar Anne Thomasson Geraci says:

    Good article, and swimming is a great workout, but you can really change it up more. I’ll do a few sets of laps (slow, medium, fast), then lunges, or jump lunges or standing in place jumps, then I’ll get water weights and “run”, then back to laps,repeat. At least for me, keeps me from getting bored. I’m an ex-runner who loves boot camp style workout but can’t do them on dry land because of arthritis in my hip.

  18. Avatar FLONG says:

    I am a long distance runner and have finished a couple of sprint triathlons. However, swimming is so difficult for me. I try to calm down and relax while swimming, but I find it difficult to find a rhythm where I am breathing at relax rate where I don’t sink. I have taken swimming lessons as an adult (before I did my first triathlon) and we could never figure out why I am further below the water line than I should be. If I hold my breath I rise to the top where I should be, but of course that isn’t conducive to swimming. Any ideas on how to combat the breathing vs. sinking issue?

    • Avatar Veronica Arita says:

      I’m on a masters team and another lady on our team has the same problem you do because she is so muscular that she isn’t buoyant so she uses neoprene shorts like the material you would find in a wet suit to help her float. Hope that helps.

      • Avatar FLONG says:

        Great idea! Thanks for sharing. Now, it’s a matter of finding some to wear. Amazon, here I come! 🙂 Thanks again Veronica!

        • Avatar Veronica Arita says:

          No problem! I only wish I had your problem I am so buoyant I can’t stay down on the bottom long lol. Have fun shopping! 🙂

    • Avatar Kevin Cozad says:

      Hi Flong, You might try a Finis Swimmers Snorkel. It will allow you to focus on your breathing and stroke. I use it in my workouts and it allows me to swim farther and relaxed. Of course, you’ll finish your workout without it.

      • Avatar FLONG says:

        Thanks, Kevin. I have seen a person swim with one before. Now I know more behind it. Question. What do you mean by “Of course, you’ll finish your workout without it?” I am a novice here so any light you could shed would be helpful. Thanks!

        • Avatar Kevin Cozad says:

          I like to practice my stroke and breathing without the snorkel at the end of my workout – working toward good form and technique.

  19. Avatar Alice Craft-Tribett says:

    how about a swim workout with aquasize moves? i am not up to the swim laps
    yet……but walk the pool (forward, backward, sideways, etc.) i also do what
    i believe to be strengthening exerices at the pool ends with the pool weights.
    could use a good routine for that if you could.

  20. Thanks for sharing the informational post. It is known to everybody that swimming is called the perfect workout for the body. But after reading your post people will able to know more of its benefits like burning too much calories and other health benefits.

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