Fitness Makeover: Swimming to Lose Weight

Terry Stanford is a 31-year-old family man from Memphis, Tenn. Terry's letter got my attention because although he had a specific question regarding recommended breathing patterns for more efficient swimming, he also indicated he was mainly exercising to lose weight.

Now, either some of you are too bashful about broaching the subject, or everyone else reading this column is as lean as they want to be. But something tells me Terry hit a pretty universal (if unspoken) truth here, which is that all of us have been faced with the goal of shedding a few pounds even though we work out regularly.

Why is it that we diligently go to the gym, or hit the track, or dive in the pool, day after day, yet we just can't seem to rid ourselves of those remaining few fanny packs or saddlebags of extra poundage?

Aside from the obvious age-old list of Weight-loss Commandments (Lower your carb intake! Less fat! Burn more calories than you eat!) the answer may lie in the type and intensity of your workout routine, and not just the amount of exercise you do on a regular basis.

Having graduated from college at 175 pounds, Terry has since seen the 200-pound barrier before slimming back down to a current 193. Given his parents medical history and his own battles with weight gain, Terry knows that weight control is important to stay healthy, and a recent personal assessment indicated his ideal weight was 180 pounds (he's 5'10). The trouble is that he can't seem to lose the remaining (baker's) dozen.

Terry writes that he has been a budding triathlete for some time now, having been inspired by a co-worker who has shared some success stories with him. His current early-morning routine:

  • Swim 800 meters: 2 to 3 times a week
  • Run 3 miles: 1 to 2 times a week
  • Bike 14 miles: 1 to 2 times a week
  • Weights: Once a week

With two sons aged 4 and 1 1/2, Terry's training time is understandably limited. He admits that if he doesn't train at 5:30 a.m. so that he can be in the office by 7, he misses his only opportunity to work out. Well right there, he deserves kudos from me, because being in the office by 7 (much less waking up at 5 a.m. to train) is something I quite literally dream about!

His regimen of different sports needs little overhauling. I have long been a proponent of diverse cross-training, and Terry has his triathlon bases covered. However, I would suggest that he bump his running to three times a week and try hitting the weights at least once more than his current once-weekly commitment.

Given that his height and build is similar to mine (Im 59, 170 pounds), I recommend that Terry increase his running because I agree with the widely held belief that its the best form of exercise for weight loss.

On a personal note, I lose more weight running than swimming because the latter is an easier sport for me (Ive been doing it a lot longer). For someone like Terry, swimming may be harder physically than running, but a three- or four-mile jog will still burn more calories than what he is currently capable of doing in the pool, which is a half-mile swim, at threshold level.

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