Does Swimming Burn Belly Fat? (Here’s What to Expect!)


Getting rid of stubborn belly fat can be quite challenging, especially if you don’t know what workout regimen to follow. Swimming may be considered one of the most popular exercises for weight loss, but what you really want to know is whether it’s effective at slimming down the midsection specifically.

Swimming does burn belly fat, but not to the exclusion of other fat stores. The body burns any excess fat reserves for energy, regardless if it’s in the stomach or another anatomical area. This lowers an individual’s overall body fat percentage, not just the body fat percentage of the stomach.

The reasons why swimming fails to reduce belly fat specifically are not as complicated as you might think. We’ll go over these reasons in detail, along with what results you should realistically expect to see with swimming and how to go about achieving these results.

Why Swimming Doesn’t Preferentially Target Belly Fat

To fully understand why swimming doesn’t target belly fat above all else, it is first necessary to understand the fundamental principles of weight loss. We’ll review what a caloric deficit is and why it’s so important, as well as the myth of spot reduction. From there, we’ll tie these principles to the main question at hand.

Caloric Deficit: The Foundation of Fat Loss

Ridding your body of excess fat is a seemingly complicated topic, as there’s no shortage of opinions surrounding how to best approach this fitness goal. Whatever weight-loss method you choose to implement, the concept of the caloric deficit will inevitably lie at the core.

But what exactly is a caloric deficit, you may ask?

Put simply, a caloric deficit is a dietary situation where an individual consumes less calories than what their body uses up within an extended time interval.

Since the body does not have the number of calories it needs to support normal metabolic function, it must resort to another energy source within the body. Typically, this means burning through excess fat reserves instead. However, under some circumstances, when an individual is in a serious caloric deficit, the body may even burn through muscle reserves for energy.

There are two general ways to achieve a caloric deficit:

  1. Consuming Less Calories – Eating and drinking less calorically dense meals leaves the body without a sufficient amount of calories to perform normal metabolic functions.
  2. Increasing Activity Levels – Being more physically active results in a greater energy expenditure. Consequently, the body requires more calories to fuel its metabolism. If this increase in physical activity is not compensated with an appropriate increase in caloric intake, the body will be put into a caloric deficit.

Swimming certainly qualifies as an increase in activity level, which is why it is largely considered one of the best practices for establishing and sustaining a caloric deficit for weight loss purposes.

Once people grasp the concept of the caloric deficit, their minds immediately jump to the question of whether the fat loss that results from a caloric deficit can be intentionally targeted. This brings us to our next weight loss topic of spot reduction.

The Myth of “Spot Reduction”

Spot reduction has been controversial in the fitness industry for some time, as many workout gurus have conflicting thoughts on the matter. Before we delve too deep into this subject, however, let’s first define the meaning of spot reduction.

Spot reduction is the fitness misconception that an individual can burn fat in a particular body region by specifically exercising that targeted area.

For example, a believer of spot reduction would perform a high volume of ab exercises to lose weight around their midsection. The argument is that there’s a greater likelihood that the body will burn through fat reserves in the vicinity of the working muscle group—the abs in this case—as opposed to another area in the body—like the arms, for example.

Although this would seem to make sense in theory, the truth of the matter says otherwise. There have been multiple research studies done that debunk the theory of spot reduction.

In one study, 24 individuals exclusively performed exercises that targeted the abdominal muscles. After doing this program for six weeks, the researchers found no significant decrease in belly fat (source).

As further evidence, a different research study was conducted involving 104 individuals. The premise of this study was to analyze what would happen if the participants were to exercise only their non-dominant arm for 12 weeks total. The study results showed that fat loss was not concentrated in the non-dominant arm. Instead, fat loss was distributed throughout the body rather than one single spot (source).

If you still have lingering doubts about the truth of spot reduction, you can refer to Is It Possible to Target Fat Loss to Specific Body Parts? for additional academic studies.

Relating These Concepts Back to Swimming Weight Loss

With all this foundational weight loss information out of the way, we can finally get back to the question at hand.

We’ve already established that swimming does promote fat loss by helping to establish a caloric deficit. However, after having debunked the idea of spot reduction, we also know that swimming does not magically restrict fat loss solely to the midsection. If swimming does manage to put an individual into a caloric deficit, fat loss is generalized to the entire body, not just belly fat.

So if you want to reduce your waistline by swimming, you’ll have to burn a sufficient amount of calories to reach a lower overall body fat percentage. By the end of your weight loss journey, not only will your belly be trim, but your face, arms, back, and legs as well.

What to Realistically Expect if You’re Swimming to Lose Belly Fat

After learning that you cannot magically remove belly fat from the midsection, some of you may be disappointed right about now. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as the actual timeline for seeing weight loss results from swimming might be sooner than you think.

You can expect to see noticeable fat loss results from swimming as soon as six to eight weeks. This timeline can be accelerated or decelerated, depending on your diet. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to be in a daily caloric deficit of around 500 calories through regular swimming and a reduced caloric intake.

For those of you that don’t know, a pound of fat is 3500 calories (source). So, by maintaining a daily caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories, you should lose ~1 lb of fat per week.

It can be difficult to notice a pound or two of fat loss, which is why many beginning swimmers mistakenly believe they’re not making any progress within the first two weeks. However, it’s much easier to perceive a loss of six to eight pounds of fat. This is the reason why you should expect to see noticeable belly fat loss around the six-to-eight week mark if you’re genuinely maintaining a caloric deficit of 500 calories.

To see additional factors that can help to slim down your stomach in a more timely manner, check out Average Time It Takes to See Results from Swimming (Solved!) for further information.

You should also keep in mind that it will become more and more difficult to strip belly fat as you lose more and more weight. This is because a lighter, smaller body requires less energy to sustain normal metabolic function.

So if you do meet some resistance along your weight loss journey, don’t get discouraged! You may have to recalibrate your diet and revamp your swimming regimen to strip the stubborn belly fat from your midsection. If you continue down this path long enough, you may even reach a low enough body fat percentage to see your abs!

If you’re curious as to exactly how regular swimming leads to abs, click over to Can Swimming Give You Abs? (Here’s What to Expect).

How to Slim Down Your Midsection by Swimming

To attain a lean, streamlined midsection purely through swimming, you have to be smart about how you structure your training program. Otherwise, you may hit a weight loss plateau and grow frustrated with your lack of progress.

If burning belly fat is your main priority, you should follow a swimming regimen that’s focused on calorie burning above all else. This way, you’ll put yourself in enough of a caloric deficit to start lowering your body fat percentage. Following a swimming regimen geared more toward performance and speed may be beneficial, but it’s not optimized toward your personal goals.

As a swimming novice, it isn’t always easy to know where to start. I’ve been there myself, and I ended up making several mistakes before stumbling on the right swimming program for me.

To help you get trending in the right direction, I’ve crafted a free swimming program specifically tailored toward weight loss so that you can make real progress on getting rid of that stubborn belly fat.

Warm-Up

Before starting any workout, it’s always a smart idea to warm up to prevent injury. This warm-up should not be overly complicated. Devoting five to ten minutes specifically toward dynamic stretching and raising your body temperature is more than sufficient.

A combination of any of the dynamic movements below will increase your mobility and get you prepared for the cool temperature of the pool:

  • walking laps
  • arm swings
  • lunges
  • knee pulls

After these land-based movements, swim a couple of laps in the pool at a slow, steady pace to get comfortable in the water.

Swimming Regimen

Once you’re officially warmed up, it’s time to start the actual workout itself! Heading into the session, you should have an exercise plan for the day to keep you accountable. A lack of structure makes it that much more tempting to bail at the first sign of difficulty.

This sample 4-day swimming regimen is a good place to start for those venturing into new and unfamiliar territory.

DAY 1 (Aerobic)DAY 2 (Technique)DAY 3 (Speed)DAY 4 (Aerobic)
SWIMMING DISTANCE400m100m50m400m
VOLUME3 sets9 sets12 sets3 sets
INTENSITY LEVEL65%50-60%100%65%
RECOVERY2 minutes1 minute1 minute2 minutes

This free swimming program originates from another HydroPursuit article Can You Get in Shape Just By Swimming (Here’s What to Expect). Additional information about how to follow this sample program can be found there.

By no means is this supposed to be the end-all, be-all of swimming plans. This is merely meant to set the foundation for your swimming. As you progress, you should springboard off of this workout plan and experiment with alternative swimming program structures to find out what works best for you.

This program is optimized for calorie burning because it forces you to increase your training frequency, intensity, and workout length from what you would normally do on your own. As all of these training variables increase, so does your potential for calorie burning.

Without this workout plan to encourage you to push your boundaries, there’s a much greater likelihood for you to lose your sense of self-discipline and subconsciously reduce your workload. If you truly want to continue to lose weight, you must sustain a high level of physical exertion to ensure that your body burns a high volume of calories.

Although this program does offer your workouts some structure, it also offers a measure of flexibility. Since this program is only four days per week, you can mix in rest days to fit your particular schedule. You can also change certain aspects of the program, like what swimming stroke you want to concentrate on for the day.

Ultimately, this compromise of structure and flexibility will accelerate the process of burning that belly fat away by keeping you accountable and motivating you to work harder.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, swimming cannot magically melt belly fat to the exclusion of all other fat reserves in your body. The only way to reduce belly fat through swimming is to decrease your overall body fat percentage by using up enough energy to put yourself in a caloric deficit.

All content written by HydroPursuit is for informational purposes only. The material found on this site is not intended to replace professional medical advice, treatment, or diagnosis. Consult with an accredited health care provider prior to initiating a new health care regimen.

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Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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