Swimming and running are both effective forms of cardio, which make them effective for weight loss. Balanced with resistance training, which boosts your metabolism to help you burn more calories at rest, calorie-torching cardio is an integral part of any weight-loss routine. (Try this fat-burning workout plan for the perfect balance.) But between the two, swimming and running, which cardio workout will give you the best weight-loss results? There are a few factors to consider, but it ultimately comes down to — surprise! — which one you like better. Let us explain.
Running Burns More Calories
"The most important thing for weight loss and maintenance of weight loss is consistency and convenience," said Cindy Dallow, PhD, a sports dietitian and USA Triathlon-certified triathlon coach. That means that both swimming and running can help you lose weight if you're eating a healthy diet. (This two-week clean eating plan can help you out with that.) That said, Cindy told POPSUGAR that running will likely give you more of a calorie burn (and faster results) than swimming, simply because running requires more energy to move forward. "With swimming, there is more 'glide' and possibly less effort put forth, reducing the intensity of the activity, which reduces the number of calories burned," she explained.
Running also tends to be more convenient for people, Cindy said. You just need shoes and a road, whereas swimming requires, well, water, plus a swimsuit. On the other hand, if you have injuries or conditions that make it tough to run, especially related to your knees, ankles, or feet, swimming is a great low-impact choice.
Still, you really can't go wrong either way. "I would recommend whichever form of exercise you're more likely to stick with," Cindy told POPSUGAR. "Some people love running but hate swimming and vice versa." Weight loss requires consistency, and if you actually like the exercise you're doing, you're much more likely to stick with it and see results.
Do High-Intensity Swimming and Running Intervals
Either way, if weight loss is your goal, Cindy said that the intensity of the exercise is key. "Many people swim or run the same intensity level, usually a low intensity, every time they go," she said. "That's good for cardiovascular health, but won't produce much weight loss." If you want to burn body fat, she recommended adding short, fast intervals into your swimming or running session at least twice a week. That way, you're incorporating elements of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which helps you burn more calories in the same amount of time. Here's a swimming interval circuit and a running interval workout to get you started. (And for running in particular, take these four must-have tips to kick weight loss into higher gear.)
So, swimming vs. running? When it comes to weight loss, Cindy said, "Neither is better than the other. It's what a person will stick with in the long term that matters most."