After completing a few grueling swimming sessions, it’s only natural to wonder how long it will take before you see any prominent changes in your appearance. Everyone wants to look and feel fit, but the problem is that this transformation process does take time.
You can see results as soon as 6 to 8 weeks with a consistent swimming regimen. This timeline may vary depending on your starting body fat percentage, diet, training frequency, training intensity, and workout plan.
Of course, the timeline of your swimming results is entirely dependent on what your end goals are. For some people, a satisfactory result would be losing five pounds. For others, defined abs would be the only result that they would be happy with.
Below, we’ll discuss why you should expect to see results around the 6 to 8 week mark. Following that, we’ll analyze the individual factors that either accelerate or delay your expected results timeline.
Why Most People See Results After 6-8 Weeks of Swimming
There are several underlying reasons as to why it takes 6 to 8 weeks for swimming results to show. Keep in mind that everybody’s body is different, so no two individuals will react to the abrupt stimulus of swimming in the exact same way.
Hundreds of Extra Calories Burned Each Week
One of the main drivers of change in a swimmer’s physical appearance is the additional calories burned with each workout session.
Swimming is an extremely efficient aerobic activity, forcing the body to use up oxygen as fuel for prolonged periods of time. Over the course of a hour-long swimming session, one can expect to burn in the range of 400 to 700 calories (source). These calories can slowly add up if you swim multiple times a week, resulting in a caloric deficit.
For those of you that do not know, caloric deficit is a fancy phrase that describes a diet where an individual consumes less calories than what their body uses up each day. When someone has put themself in a caloric deficit, their body must resort to breaking down fat stores for energy. If a person is in a severe caloric deficit, nearby muscle stores may even be broken down to fuel normal metabolic function.
There are two ways a person can achieve a caloric deficit:
- Eating and Drinking Less – By reducing caloric intake, the body has less calories available to fuel bodily functions, forcing the breakdown of nearby fat stores instead.
- Raising Physical Activity – By upping physical activity, the body must use up more calories to support bodily function. If a person consumes the same amount of calories as they did before, the body will not have energy available to support normal metabolic functionalities, resulting in the breakdown of fat stores.
The caloric deficit is the central principle from which all weight loss is built around. However, it takes time for a sustained caloric deficit to shed weight from the body. It’s recommended that a person aim for a caloric deficit of ~500 calories, to maximize fat loss while optimizing muscle retention (source).
One pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories (source). In theory, a swimmer that maintains a daily caloric deficit of ~500 calories should lose about one pound of fat per week. Most people do not swim seven days a week, so this is why it takes about six to eight weeks for noticeable weight loss results to show up.
New Training Stimuli Supports Muscle Growth
Furthermore, swimming has the potential to add significant amounts of muscle mass, particularly for individuals who aren’t conditioned to the resistances presented by swimming. Although swimming is largely known for its muscle toning rather than muscle bulking, this does not mean you cannot pack on serious amounts of muscle mass.
Muscle growth, otherwise known as muscle hypertrophy, occurs when muscle fibers are damaged through physical activity. When the body mends these damaged muscle fibers, the muscle comes back bigger than before to be better equipped for any future mechanical stresses (source).
Depending on what your current level of muscle conditioning may be, the resistance presented by the water may be enough to tear your muscle fibers and stimulate serious muscle growth.
If you’re a seasoned weightlifter, however, the muscle growth that you experience from swimming will be negligible relative to someone who’s not as physically active. In this case, your muscle will already be accustomed to bearing extreme weight loads, so the resistance presented by water will be minimal by comparison.
Regardless of where your specific level of muscle conditioning, muscle growth does not simply happen overnight. It takes days and weeks of constant physical stress followed by proper recovery in order for muscle hypertrophy to occur.
Again, this is why you should expect to see serious results around the six-to-eight week mark. One week of swimming isn’t enough of a stimulus to pack on considerable muscle size.
Swimming May Spur People on to Other Physical Activities
Another major reason why swimming can gradually transform someone’s physique within the span of six to eight weeks are the other notable, healthy lifestyle habits that result from consistent physical activity.
Often times, there’s a domino effect once a person embarks on their fitness journey. Once they make one lifestyle change, they slowly integrate additional healthy habits to support their long term fitness goals. This is mainly because of the positive effects that swimming can have on a person’s cognitive and behavioral patterns.
For example, swimming has been shown to reduce the prevalence of depression and anxiety by promoting the release of endorphins (source). As a quick reference, endorphins are the chemicals that minimize the perception of pain and promote feelings of positivity. This may seem like a trivial change in cognitive thinking, but this change in mindset can be enough for a person to completely revamp the way they live their life.
Swimming can spur on lifestyle changes such as daily morning walks, better nutritional choices, and experimentation with other forms of physical activity, like lifting or running. All of these small changes add up, leading to a fitter, healthier-looking version of you.
Needless to say, it takes time to naturally integrate these lifestyle changes. The results of these lifestyle changes typically don’t come into fruition until the six-to-eight week mark.
Factors that Impact How Fast You See Results from Swimming
Although we’ve been referring to the six-to-eight week expected results mark throughout this article, it should be noted that not everyone fits within this average timeline. Some individuals see results sooner than six weeks, while other individuals see results long after eight weeks. Unfortunately, some people may never see results from their swimming efforts at all.
In the subsequent sections, we’ll talk about the various factors as to why this is, so that you can have a better understanding of what swimming results to expect for yourself.
Starting Body Fat Percentage
Those that have a higher starting body fat percentage at the start of their swimming journey tend to notice results quicker than those that already have a relatively normal body fat percentage.
Heavier individuals burn more calories than lighter individuals when performing the same exercise at the same intensity. This is because it takes additional energy for a heavier person to function in order to compensate for the additional weight being moved around (source).
The American Council on Exercise has tool that approximates the amount of calories burned for certain physical activities. It confirms the notion that heavier individuals do in fact burn more calories than lighter individuals when swimming with the same relative intensity for identical periods of time.
For example, this calorie counter tool estimates that a 150 lb person will burn 238 calories in half an hour of swimming, whereas a 200 lb person will burn 317 calories in half an hour of swimming (source). A 79 calorie difference is rather significant when compounded over time!
This reasoning can also be used to explain why weight loss gradually slows down as you lose more and more weight. Unless other training variables are intensified, your weight loss will eventually hit a plateau.
Diet and Nutrition
It should come as no surprise that diet and nutrition play a critical factor in how fast you’ll see results from swimming, especially in regards to weight loss.
As aforementioned, creating and sustaining a caloric deficit is the main driver of weight loss. It can only be done through proper diet or rigorous exercise. If an individual is consuming more calories than what their body expends daily, losing weight simply won’t be attainable. To shed body fat, it’s necessary to reduce caloric intake to force the body into a state of metabolic breakdown, otherwise known as a catabolic state.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to outwork a poor diet. You can swim on a daily basis, but you won’t see any positive changes in your physical appearance if you replace these burned calories with another calorically dense meal.
To use an analogy, you can think of your body as a car and the food you eat as fuel. When you take your car for a couple spins around town, you’ll need to refuel so that you can drive the next few days afterward. If you don’t drive the car around, you won’t need to keep fueling it up as often. Under these circumstances, fueling up the car will only result in the excess fuel leaking out onto the ground.
This same concept can be applied to your diet. You should only consume as much as you need to keep fueling yourself for the next bout of exercise. Any excess calories that are consumed won’t leak out onto the ground like with your car, but they will get stored as fat in your body.
In summary, monitoring your caloric intake is absolutely critical to achieving the body you desire.
Another important variable to factor into how fast you’ll see results from swimming is training frequency. Put simply, the more often you train, the more calories you’ll burn.
Typically, people slowly work themselves into a swimming routine by hitting the lap pool once or twice a week at the onset. As their body adapts to the new training stimulus, they begin to up their training frequency to three or four times a week. Once a solid training frequency has been established, this is where the changes in physical appearance really manifest.
Swimmers see the fastest results when they swim five to six times per week, allowing their body a day or two of recovery. However, a consistent training frequency of two to three times per week can achieve results in the long term, it just takes a bit of extra time for these changes to appear.
Similar to training frequency, training intensity is equally crucial to how quickly you’ll see the positive physical effects of swimming. Showing up to the pool is only half the battle. Actually completing your swimming workout and pushing your personal boundaries is what really drives change.
At first, it’s acceptable to keep a casual pace while your body is still in the adjustment period. After a few swim sessions, then you should start to up the ante by:
- extending your workout time
- swimming at faster speeds
- swimming longer distances
Any of the options above will result in a more physically demanding, highly intense workout. You should view your training intensity as a measure of your efficiency with the workout time you have. You should be trying to cram in as much physical work as humanly possible within the little window of time that you have to swim. Otherwise, you’re leaving the door open for a lack of results.
With that being said, it’s important to know the difference between exhaustion and injury. Some beginners confuse the two and end up further exacerbating any preexisting injuries suffered during their workout. Injuries are the number one way to hamper swimming results. Ultimately, it’s better to take some time off swimming if an injury does happen to pop up.
Structure of Training Program
Lastly, the makeup of your training program will have a tremendous effect on how quickly (or how slowly) your results will come to fruition.
If you’re committing to swimming on a weekly basis for the first time, it’s likely that you’re going to make mistakes with the structure of your workout plan. Often times, beginning swimmers conduct the same workout week after week without implementing any alterations to their routine. It’s far better to diversify a swimming program by incorporating various strokes, alternative rest periods, and contrasting points of emphasis for each individual workout.
The problem is that properly incorporating all of these variables into a single program can be a challenge. Rather than improvising, it’s recommended that you search for a swimming plan formulated by instructors that already have in-depth experience in this area. This way, you can maximize training intensity without becoming too fatigued.
Sadly, finding an effective swim workout plan is a lot easier said than done, since most instructors charge a fee to relent access to such programs. To make it easier on you, I created a beginner swim workout plan that’s completely free.
If you’re interested in following this swim workout plan, click over to Can You Get in Shape Just By Swimming? (Here’s What to Expect) for further details.
What Should You Do If You Don’t See Results?
If you have been swimming for several weeks now and have yet to see results, it may be time to reevaluate and reassess your situation to break out of this fitness plateau.
Analyzing each and every one of the variables listed above is the very first step you should take to force change. In most cases, the people that fail to see results are lagging in one or more of these variables.
A prime example of this is a poor diet. Even if a person manages to swim three to four times per week with relatively high intensity, it matters little if their diet is in shambles. To make progress, nutrition is the first lifestyle habit you should address, as diet is largely considered to be more critical than exercise in achieving a lean physical stature.
If diet isn’t the issue, you should take the time to conduct an unbiased assessment of your training frequency, training intensity, and training program. Any underlying faults in these areas can set back your swimming results by weeks, or even months.
Talking with an experienced swimmer is also a smart idea, since they can bring a fresh perspective to the table and help you to identify any places where you’ve gone astray. It’s easy to overlook certain aspects of fitness when you’re the person that’s being scrutinized.
The thing that you shouldn’t do is stop swimming! If anything, you should swim with a greater vigor to edge closer to your goals. Whether it be shedding excess weight or toning up the muscles, swimming has the capacity to give you the physique you’re looking for. With hard work and patience, the swimming results will come in due time.