What is the Best Swimming Stroke for Weight Loss?

What is the Best Swimming Stroke for Weight Loss?

Brandon Reynolds ·


Swimming is a great way to have fun and get fit at the same time. But if you’re hitting the lap pool more than the lazy river, it’s a good idea to know which is the best swimming stroke for weight loss before you get started. 

Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is one of the most beneficial exercises, right behind walking and running. In fact, for some people, it’s better than either of those, as swimming is easier on your joints and can reduce exercise-related wear and tear. Plus, not only does swimming get you moving in a low-intensity environment, but you have a variety of strokes to try, ranging from the doggy paddle to the butterfly. 1

Swimming burns calories and builds muscle thanks to the propulsive forces you exert on the environment around you. (In this case, water). Unlike air, which is easy to move through, swimming requires that every movement costs extra energy as you kick, splash, and drag through the water. 1 2

When you swim, the energy you exert increases with your speed and stroke difficulty. Moreover, each type of stroke helps strengthen different parts of your body. This makes swimming – and changing up your swimming routine – great for your body. And the benefits of swimming are profound, as studies have found that regular swimming exercise can: 3

  • Help reduce body fat and lose weight
  • Build muscle and cardiovascular endurance
  • Increase physical strength and flexibility
  • Lower fat levels in the blood
  • Provide low-intensity training for those with bad joints
  • Reintroduce the body to physical exercise after injuries like broken bones

But when it comes to getting fit, which is the best swimming stroke for weight loss?

Best Swimming Strokes for Weight Loss

How much weight you lose depends on a variety of factors, including how fast you swim, how long you swim, your starting weight, and of course, your swimming stroke. As such, each swimming stroke produces different results for different people. 

To show the variation and still answer our question, we used the calorie burn calculator at CaloriesBurnedHQ.com. The calculator notes that it uses average metabolic rates, which means not everyone will see these results. Moreover, the authors add that how long you swim burns more calories than how fast you swim. 

For each stroke, we ran two calculations and assumed that the person was swimming laps in an enclosed environment (i.e., a 50-meter lap pool):*

  • 150-pound individual swimming for 60 minutes
  • 250-pound individual swimming for 60 minutes

*Note: We did not include distance in our calculations, as the distance varies with speed and stroke. By leaving the “distance” box blank, we get a general but inexact answer. 

Backstroke (or Back Crawl)


Using the backstroke promotes muscle strengthening in your chest and midsection to keep yourself afloat, while your pecs, thighs, and glutes (buttocks) do the heavy lifting to slice through the water. Typically, the backstroke is a minor calorie-intensive swimming exercise, though it’s an excellent exercise for those who prefer swimming longer over faster. 4

Average Calories Burned per 60 Minutes:

  • 150-pound individual: 343
  • 250-pound individual: 572


The breaststroke is king when it comes to lower body strength, as the propulsion mechanism of this stroke requires swimmers to kick their legs to determine the stroke’s rhythm, while their arms and chest help them glide, guide, and push forward faster. As such, the breaststroke primary engages muscles in the: 4

  • Upper chest and shoulders
  • Mid-back
  • Front of the thighs
  • Front and back of the calves 

That said, it’s the second-lowest calorie burner on the list, as it requires relatively few muscle groups to maintain a rhythm. 

Average Calories Burned per 60 Minutes:

  • 150-pound individual: 379
  • 250-pound individual: 631

Front Crawl 

The front crawl, popularly referred to as the “freestyle” stroke, works your hands, feet, and hips. A front crawl is essentially an adult doggy paddle: you use your hands as paddles, feet as fins, and arms and legs to propel forward. As such, freestyle swimmers often build up their upper body, including their shoulders, neck, arms, and back. They also activate the muscles in the front of their thighs to power their kicks. 4

Average Calories Burned per 60 Minutes:

  • 150-pound individual: 414
  • 250-pound individual: 691

Butterfly Stroke


The butterfly stroke relies mainly on your arms and shoulders to propel your body up through the water. That said, it’s also the most comprehensive stroke for muscle engagement – and the highest calorie-burner of all the swimming strokes. And while butterfliers often cover less distance per stroke, the high-intensity motions use muscles from head to toe. This includes muscles in your shoulders, arms, and neck, plus your: 4

  • Back
  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Thighs
  • Calves

Average Calories Burned per 60 Minutes:

  • 150-pound individual: 986
  • 250-pound individual: 1643

So, What is the Best Swimming Stroke for Weight Loss?

As you can see from the calorie burned estimates, both a 150-pound and a 250-pound individual will burn almost double the total calories with the butterfly stroke than the breaststroke, backstroke, or front crawl. The butterfly stroke also engages the most muscles for a single swimming stroke, using groups from head to toe and back again for a full-body workout. 

However, as the most intensive stroke, you may be limited in how long you can maintain your pace – especially at first. As such, the best swimming stroke for weight loss may be a combination of strokes, at least until you build up your stamina: the butterfly for heavy calorie burn, with another stroke serving as your “break” period to keep you in the water for longer. 

And keep in mind that swimming alone won’t be your key to weight loss. Your diet can make or break even the most calorie-expensive exercises. As such, to maximize your weight loss, cut out those delicious, fattening sugars and fats and stock up on fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, and fish. Your body – and your mind – will thank you! 5

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  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28497283/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31807901/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4625655/
  4. https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/a-look-at-swimmer-muscles-by-stroke/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471136/