Swimming has a higher total calorie burn than weightlifting.
When beginning a weight loss routine, the first form of exercise most people look to is cardio. Cardiovascular training, including running and swimming, is fairly calorie-intensive, burning a higher number of calories per minute than weight-training or bodybuilding. While this high calorie burn may make cardio seem like the better choice for weight loss, the matter isn't quite so clear cut.
Bodybuilding workouts are typically shorter than cardio sessions such as running and swimming, burning less calories. However, the most lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.
Battle of the Burn
Per hour, lifting weights burns around 365 calories for a 160-pound person and 545 calories for a 240-pound person, according to the Mayo Clinic. The same 160-pound person would burn 423 calories swimming, 606 calories running at 5 miles per hour and 861 calories running at 8 miles per hour. A 240-pound person would burn 632 calories in the pool, 905 calories on a 5 mile-per-hour run or 1,286 calories on an 8 mile-per-hour run.
Continuous Activity Versus Rest
Running and swimming are both cardiovascular exercises. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardio is any activity that is continuous or intermittent. In essence, when you are partaking in cardiovascular training, you're moving the whole time and therefore constantly burning more calories than you would just sitting down at rest. Bodybuilding, on the other hand, incorporates rest periods, where the idea is to do as little as possible to maximize recovery between sets. While this is needed, it also results in a lower calorie burn.
Consider The Bodybuilding Advantage
A typical 45- to 60-minute bodybuilding-style session may not burn as many calories as 45 minutes of running or swimming. However, those who have more muscle actually burn more calories when they are at rest than lighter, slimmer individuals, so your bodybuilding training could help you burn extra calories between sessions. Lifting weights also has the potential to create more metabolic stimulation and a higher calorie burn than cardio, as the intensities are higher and you place more strain on the muscles, notes coach Doug Dupont of Breaking Muscle.
All About Intensity
If you're lifting weights at a moderate intensity, you're likely to burn less calories than the same amount of moderate-intensity running or swimming. That being said, the calorie burn, regardless of activity, comes down to intensity. To increase calorie burn in either a weight training or cardio session, you need to increase your effort level. You can do this by lifting heavier, cutting down rest times, pushing yourself harder on bodybuilding sessions, upping your speed on a run or swim and incorporating sprint intervals.