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  • November 13, 2018

Burning Calories through Water Exercise

In many instances activities associated with a pool or other water environment are associated with fun or a leisurely activity. Rarely will activities in a pool be construed as strenuous or contributing significantly to energy expenditure or calories burned. Nothing could be further from the truth! For an average size person running a mile on land in 5 minutes (quite a feat) they would expend about 20 kilocalories (kcals) per minute. When swimmers specialized in long distance events swim at speeds during a 10 kilometer event they expand about 17 (female) to 24 (male) kcals per minute.

When skilled male swimmers are measured are measured for energy expenditure while performing their competitive strokes, maximal rates of energy expenditure reach 60 kcals per minute. When you consider a 4 minute run takes about 25 kcals per minute (kcal.min) it's no wonder swimmers represent some of the fittest athletes on earth. Therefore, competitive swimming easily reaches and perhaps exceed rates of kcals typically expended by a very small percentage of folks exercising on land. However, you don't have to be a skilled swimmer to benefit from the pool's impressive rates of energy expenditure. When individuals in a pool run in place they can experience a rate of energy expenditure of 3-6 kcals per minute based on stepping cadence. These values match the rate of energy expenditures of folks walking between 2-4 miles per hour on land. Also, when performing continuous and interval-style aerobic routines in water one can expect 3.2 to 4.6 kcals per minute. Examples of kcal expenditure comparisons of different exercise modalities are presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Kilocalorie Expenditure

Exercise ModeKilocalorie Expenditure
Aquatic Callisthenic Exercise5.7 - 6.5 kcal.min
Aerobic Dance6.2 - 6.6 kcal.min
Land Circuit Training5.1 - 6.1 kcal.min
Land Step Aerobics6.7 - 7.7 kcal.min
Land Running 11 min mile8. kcal.min
Land Running 9 min mile11.4 kcal.min
Land Walking normal pace4.7 kcal.min
Deep Water Walking8.8 kcal.min
Deep Water Running11.5 kcal.min

Despite the soothing effects of water immersion and the therapeutic impact it has on overall well-being, don't be fooled by the relaxing environment. You can experience a level of calorie burning that will rival and perhaps exceed anything you could ever attain on land.

This article was written by our scholar partner, Dennis Dolny, Ph.D., Department Head, Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Department, Utah State University as part of an aquatic treatise, Water Immersion Works®: Research-Based Health Benefits of Aquatic Immersion and Activity.

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