Which Swimming Stroke Gives You the Hardest Workout? Which Swimming Stroke Gives You the Hardest Workout?

Which Swimming Stroke Gives You the Hardest Workout?


If you're serious about swimming (or you're always pressed for time), you've probably wanted to know how to get the most out of every swimming session.

And one of the easiest ways to make a difference is to understand the basics: matching the right swimming stroke to the right type of workout.

So to keep things simple, we've looked at the four main strokes you'll use when you swim – and how they compare when it comes to a full hour of training.

4. Backstroke

If you think back to any of your most relaxing swimming sessions, you're probably thinking of the backstroke. And it's not just because it's the only stroke where you get to soak up the sun and admire the view.

The backstroke burns the lowest number of calories out of the four main strokes, at a rate of around 600 calories per hour for a person weighing 155 pounds. That puts it at about the same level as a slow run or a fast walk.

But while it's not the most intense way to swim, it is one of the best ways to improve your posture through swimming, and can even help you to strengthen your back and relieve some types of back pain.

3. Breaststroke

Along with backstroke, this is the only other swimming stroke that's thought of as 'relaxing'.

But when it comes down to the numbers, the breaststroke is surprisingly demanding.

When you swim in breaststroke, you can expect to burn around 740 calories per hour (about the same as a bike ride or skipping a rope). Unlike any of the other strokes, the breaststroke works your legs a lot harder – and the constant up and down motion adds an extra dimension of resistance compared to the more streamlined front crawl or backstroke.

2. Butterfly

To anyone who's not a professional swimmer, the butterfly is intimidating.

It's easily the hardest stroke to learn, and it requires some serious strength before you can start to match the speeds of the other strokes.

It's also one of the best calorie-burners, with a rate of around 820 calories per hour.

(That's about the same as rock climbing, or an average run.)

But because it's such a demanding way to swim, it's unlikely you'll be able to keep it up for a full hour. So unless you're trying to squeeze a high-intensity session into a short amount of time, it's probably not a good idea to focus solely on the butterfly. 

1. Front crawl

In terms of calories burnt, front crawl is tied in first position with the butterfly at a rate of 820 calories per hour (again, for a 155-pound person).

But there's a big difference when it comes to endurance. The front crawl is usually one of the first strokes a learning swimmer will start to master. And it's also a much more accessible stroke to get started with.

So while it might not be as taxing or intense as the butterfly, it's much easier to keep up a high calorie-burn rate for a full swimming session – and that means you're much more likely to be satisfied with the results. 

So what's the verdict?

If you're only worried about burning calories, stick to the front crawl.

If you're focusing on both calories and upper body strength, take the time to master the butterfly.

If you want a healthy balance of a low-impact workout with a decent calorie burn, go with the breaststroke.

And if you're just out for a casual swim with no time limits?

You can soak up some rays on your back all day. 



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