Is Swimming Better Than Running For Cardio Fitness?

Many people find cardio a bit of a boring way to get fit, particularly things like the treadmill or stationary bike at the gym. One of the real keys to getting fitter in the long term is finding something you actually enjoy doing, as you’re far more likely to stick to your workout schedule if you’re actually having fun.

Running seems to be one form of cardio that people seem to love or hate. Some take to it quickly and really develop a passion for pounding the pavement, while others dread their run and look for any excuse to avoid it. One popular alternative to running is swimming – it’s a great full-body workout, is easy on the joints and it can be a lot of fun. But the question is often asked – is swimming better than running as a cardiovascular workout?

The first thing to address is what shape you’re currently in. If you’re obese or reasonably overweight, running can put a lot of stress on the joints. Ankles, knees and hips can become painful pretty quickly if you run too long, so in this case, swimming is a great option for an impact-free workout.

Swimming also works the entire body, which can make it a very time-efficient way to strengthen your muscles and joints while improving your cardiovascular health. Your arms and shoulders will get a great workout, the twisting and turning will work your core, and you’ll be using your legs to help propel you through the water.

Of course, the real advantage running has over swimming is accessibility. Anywhere, at any time, you can pull on your running shoes and head out for a jog. It’s not always easy to get access to a pool to go for a swim, and it’s certainly the more expensive option of the two if you’re planning on training regularly. Generally, there are fewer people competing for the same space too, so running gives you more space to do your own thing.

In terms of calorie burn and cardio benefits, there’s not really a lot to choose between the two. Both swimming and running challenge the body in different ways, but the overall energy expenditure over an hour is fairly similar.

So in terms of which is better, it’s really a personal preference! Ideally, you should be challenging your body in different ways, so why not try incorporating both in your schedule?


  • Updated May 26, 2020
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