10 Swimming Workouts That Burn Major Calories

Updated: Nov. 19, 2019

Swimming is a low-impact, high-cardio workout that burns calories and tones muscles; incorporate these moves to kick your workout up a notch.

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Graphic of different types of swimming exercises.
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The pool is for more than swimming

The weather is warming up, which makes it the perfect time to hit the pool for a workout. Whether you’re trying to focus on your legs, your arms, or your abs, there are plenty of different swim workouts that will strengthen your entire body.

Graphic of woman doing a rocket/push-off in a pool.
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If you are in a relatively shallow pool (about three to four feet), try a series of ten explosive squat jumps off the bottom of the pool with your hands over your head. “The water offers resistance on the way up and softens the landing on the way down,” says Misty Hyman, swim instructor and Olympic gold medalist based in Phoenix, Arizona. “You can increase strength in your legs, glutes, and abdominals without straining your joints.” Do the moves quickly to increase your heart rate, adding an extra cardiovascular boost to your workout. Want to give your glutes an extra boost? Try these butt exercises that really work.

Graphic of woman doing pull buoy presses in a pool.
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Pull buoy presses

To incorporate your core into your swimming workouts, try a pull buoy, a buoyant tool that goes between your legs to help keep the legs afloat. “I recommend squeezing the buoy between the legs to engage the inner thigh muscles,” says Hyman. “Squeeze the glutes and the abs too, as if you are planking while swimming, trying to keep your body in a straight line. It’s OK for the body to rotate as you swim, as if you are rolling from side to side, but keep the body on one axis as it rotates.”

Graphic of woman doing kickboard kicks in a pool.
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Kickboard kicks

Using a kickboard helps you target your leg muscles during your swimming workouts. With your upper body on the kickboard, you can isolate your legs and focus on developing the kick. “Sometimes while swimming with your arms, it’s easy to forget about your legs,” says Hyman. “With a board, you can make sure you’re giving your legs a workout.” For more leg-strengtheners, try these easy exercises to make your legs strong.

Woman swimming laps in a pool.
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High-intensity laps

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a popular training style that you can incorporate it into your water workouts, too. It involves short bursts of timed exercise followed by shorter bursts of rest. “Since it’s difficult to monitor the clock while swimming, transfer the work period to a distance that you swim,” says Kim Franklin, USA Triathlon Level I certified coach, and ACE-certified personal trainer in Baltimore, Maryland. “For example you might do an 8 x 50 yard set, wherein you go all out the first 25 yards, and then take it nice and easy for the second 25.”

Graphic of woman doing jump outs in a pool.
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Jump outs

“Jump outs are a fun way to mix things up and add dry-land strength elements to your pool workout,” says Franklin. “The dynamic movement of getting out of the pool will provide added cardiovascular work and the exercise done on deck will strengthen joints and work new muscles.” Try doing sets where you alternate swimming 50 yards with getting out of the pool and doing a dry-land exercise. (Choose from a range of body-weight exercises, such as push-ups, squats, or crunches.) Start with five to eight repetitions and increase the reps as you become more fit. For some body-weight exercise options, try these plank exercises that will transform your abs.

Graphic of women water jogging in a pool.
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Water jogging

If you enjoy being in the water, but don’t like to swim laps, try a water jogging workout. “Water jogging isn’t just rehab for runners,” says Franklin. “It’s a great workout for anyone and provides all the cardio you need without the hard impact on your joints.” Get your upper body and abs involved by wearing water webs on your hands to push and pull the water, or try holding aquatic dumbbells in your hands, Franklin suggests. For another fun water workout option, try mermaid school.

Graphic of a woman towel skiing in a pool.
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Towel skiing

Stand upright in the water and do a cross-country ski move down the length of the pool, scissoring your arms and legs similar to the movement of cross-country skiing. “To crank up the exercise, I grab two hand towels from the gym and hold one in each hand so it creates a drag as it moves throughout the water,” says Kim Evans, water fitness specialist at Spring Lake Fitness and Aquatic Center in Spring Lake, Michigan. “Adding that resistance really gives the arms—and especially the biceps—a tough workout.”

Graphic of women doing kickboard "L" sits in a pool
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Kickboard “L” Sit

This swim workout move hits the hip flexors and transverse abdominals. In the shallow end, sit in an “L”-shape with your back straight and your legs 90 degrees in front of you. The kickboard should be under your arms in front of you, like a table-top. You can push it underwater and rest it on the legs. “You have to lean slightly forward from the hips, over the board, but keep your back long,” says Evans. “Then kick your legs. You are trying to kick the feet to the surface, and the kick will move you backwards down the pool. If you are doing it with good form, you will feel it right away.”