Swimming vs. Running: Calories Burned, Fat Burn, Benefits

If you want to exercise but are looking for something other than going to the gym, swimming and running are both excellent options. They target your cardio health and burn calories in the process. Both can also give you the benefits of being outdoors and getting a good dose of vitamin D in the process.

Swimming boosts your heart rate while strengthening and toning both your upper and lower body. It is an all-in-one exercise that burns calories as well. The biggest benefit to swimming is that it is low impact, so it works for high-end athletes and those who are simply trying to get fit but need to care for their joints. Low impact is also great for those recovering from injury or surgery.

Running has its benefits as well. It tones the lower body, burns calories, works the cardio, and prevents bone loss. It’s a little tougher on the body, but you can do it almost anywhere.

So, if both swimming and running are good then which is best for you? Should you be diving into a pool or hitting the great outdoors for a run? Keep reading to understand the benefits of both and then decide which is best for you.

Hitting the Road or the Pool for Calorie Burn

Every second of the day, your body is burning calories. When you do exercise, the number of calories burned increases. Several factors come into play when calculating how much your body will burn. Each person will be slightly different based on factors such as weight and the intensity of the workout.

While we can’t estimate for each individual, there are ways to get a fairly accurate calorie burn count. Harvard Medical School bases this count on body weight and 30 minutes of exercise. They list it as follows:

Activity – 30 minutes 125 lbs   155 lbs 185 lbs
Swimming, gentle pace 180 calories   223 calories 266 calories
Swimming, brisk pace 300 calories   372 calories 444 calories
Running, 5 mph 240 calories   298 calories 355 calories
Running, 7.5 mph 375 calories   465 calories 555 calories

There are many options online for calorie calculators that can find the count that is more precise for you. Various online counters and apps are great for tracking and calculating your exercise counts.

Swimming or Running to Burn Fat

Swimming or Running to Burn Fat

There are a few factors between running and swimming to consider concerning how much fat you burn doing the activity. Interval training is one of them. When you do interval training, it burns more calories while reducing body and belly fat. Interval training is short hits or bursts of robust exercise with low-intensity recovery times in between. You can do this type of workout whether you are running or swimming. The amount of fat you burn is based on how intense the exercise is and directly correlates to your heart rate. The sprints you can do with running and swimming means doing repeated sprints with short rests in between will burn both calories and fat. But how do we know which exercise is going to be more effective? Assess the following:

  • How intense the exercise is
  • How high you can elevate your heart rate during exercise and how long it stays elevated
  • How long is the workout

If all is equal in these areas when comparing swimming and running, both are good options for burning fat.

Comparing the Benefits of Swimming and Running


  • Swimming is a great exercise that is easy on your joints. They reduce stress on joints, which is a significant plus when choosing an exercise. The fact that there is no impact is helpful if you are recovering from injury or surgery. Swimming is also ideal if you have health issues such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, or joint replacement. Swimming is a good exercise that can reduce stiffness and joint soreness as well.
  • It is a safe way to exercise if you are recovering from an injury or surgery, especially in the lower extremities. Water is buoyant, so it offers support for weak and recovering muscles and joints. There are no impact issues that you get with gym workouts or running. You can still get a great workout, but you don’t have to worry about the impact on fragile joints.
  • Swimming offers lots of variety when looking to burn calories. While the number of swimming strokes is many, you can also switch up your swimming workouts by adding resistance. Using an aqua belt or weights on your wrists and ankles increases the intensity of a pool workout.
  • Swimming is a full-body workout. This exercise targets every area of your body when you are working out in the pool. Your back, arms, shoulders, legs, and chest are all going to get used and can be targeted with particular strokes. 


  • Running is going to give you a high-calorie burn. The faster and longer you run, the more calories you burn. If you add interval training and put walking or a light jog in between, the run becomes a high-calorie and fat-burning workout. Using a 2 to 1 interval ratio is a great way to start. Run quickly for 2 minutes and then settle for a walk or jog for 1 minute. If you repeat this pattern for 30 minutes, it will up your calorie burn.
  • Because running is a weight-bearing exercise, it can increase bone density, which isn’t something you can achieve with swimming because the buoyancy counteracts the weight-bearing effects of the exercise. Running, jogging, walking, and even hiking are great for bone-building as you are always working against the power of gravity.
  • You can run almost anywhere. You don’t need a track to run. Tie up your laces and find a safe road or sidewalk to run. Unlike other exercises that require equipment or a pool, all you need is the outdoors, a treadmill, or a track, and you can begin your exercise. It is easy to start with nothing but good running shoes and the right clothes.

How to Decide Which Activity is Right for You

How to Decide Which Activity is Right for You

Deciding on whether you want to begin swimming or running as your main exercise will depend on personal preferences. They are both great cardiovascular exercises and allow you to soak in that vitamin D if you are outside doing them. However, there are factors to consider, such as enjoyment, health issues, accessibility, and lifestyle. Here are some things to consider when deciding which exercise is best for you.

  1. Is joint pain an issue for you? If you suffer from medical issues, such as arthritis, obesity, or have a history of joint replacement, then swimming is better than running. It offers less stress on the joints and is a gentle way to exercise while getting your cardio workout. The buoyancy of water won’t aggravate sore areas.
  2. Is your focus on whole-body training or just lower body? If you want to strengthen and tone the upper body, then swimming is better than running. You get a full-body workout and can even target the upper body with various strokes. Running won’t give you that ability to do upper body training in the same way.
  3. Do you need to increase your bone health? If bone health is a priority, then running can be a good activity of choice. The weight-bearing will help you build stronger bones.
  4. What can you access? If you don’t have accessibility to a pool, then that is an issue. You can run almost anywhere, as long as the road is safe and away from large amounts of traffic.
  5. Are you recovering from a lower-body injury or surgery? If this is the case, then swimming is the way to do things for the time being. Joint issues can be made worse with running simply because of the impact that comes with the activity. Swimming reduces that impact threat.
  6. Do you have any issues with upper-body injuries? These can be aggravated by swimming since the repetitive movements in strokes can irritate them.

Making the Decision

Whether you choose to take on running or swimming as your aerobic exercise, you will benefit from some good cardio, which is central to maintaining both your physical and mental well-being. You will burn calories, increase your cardiovascular fitness and strengthen and tone muscles.

If you are able, doing both is a great option, and doing cross-training will add variety to your weekly routine and target different areas and benefits. If you need to be mindful of an injury or are healing or require specific health directed exercise, choose the one that makes sure you don’t reinjure or exacerbate an existing injury. Always talk to your doctor before starting any exercise to make sure you can do it safely and with the most health benefits possible.

Appliance Reviewer