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can fat people swim

While I don’t necessarily remember my first time swimming as a child, I do always reflect on swimming as one of the times I’ve felt most free during my life. There is just something that feels so relaxing when you’re kicking your legs and using your arms to push you through the water.

I don’t remember when I started shying away from the pool or consciously making that decision, but I have spent a lot of time making up for it in the last few years. I love the water.

So, can fat people swim?

Yes, fat people absolutely can swim. There aren’t a lot of overweight competitive swimmers because surface area slows you down- but bigger people are great at recreational swimming. Body fat is really buoyant which keeps them afloat and most have the muscle strength and stamina to swim at least short distances.

Below, we’ll take a look at all the reasons that big people are great swimmers, as well as if there’s a weight that is “too big” for swimming. I’ll also go over a few tips for the overweight swimmer and some of the benefits.

Can Fat People Swim?

Yes, fat people can swim, and most of them swim very well even if they’ve been out of practice for a few years. While you don’t see a lot of competitive swimmers who are overweight, the average bigger man or plus-size woman floats easily and swims as long as they’re able to move their arms and kick their feet while in the water.

That being said, people with bigger bodies like me have a little more surface area and a greater resistance from the water around them. While you won’t have to work as hard to keep afloat as a thinner person, you might need a little more strength to actually get your body to move through the water.

This generally isn’t an issue though, since most fat people are strong, too! This is especially true for bigger people who are active- all that moving around really builds muscle strength over time since you’re lifting extra weight compared to the average person.

Can You Swim if You’re Obese?

According to the CDC, the normal range for BMI is between 18.5 and 25. Anything between 25-30 is considered overweight, while a BMI greater than 30 is considered obese.

Obesity alone is not something that will stop you from swimming. That being said, it’s important that you know your own skill level when it comes to swimming and that you avoid overexerting yourself, especially if you’re swimming in an ocean or a lake and are away from the shoreline.

With a larger body, you will need more muscle strength to move through the water since swimming is not about floating alone- it’s also about being able to move through the water. Some people find that physical exertion is a lot, especially if they are swimming for longer periods of time.

Fortunately, swimming is a physical activity and like any physical activity, from kayaking and paddleboarding to dancing or hiking, it’s going to get a lot easier the more often you are doing it because you build stamina. Even if you are considered obese, it’s fairly easy to build your swimming skills and stamina slowly over time.

If you do have a higher BMI and are worried about physical exertion, don’t swim alone. You could even wear a life jacket if you’re swimming where you can’t touch until you get used to treading the water. It’s also important to pay attention to your body. If it gets too hard to swim, just float where you are until your breathing rate calms and you’re ready to keep swimming.

Can You Be Too Fat to Swim?

No, you can’t really be too fat to swim. Swimming is one of those outdoor recreational activities that you can do regardless of your body weight because there isn’t any type of special equipment that’s needed. All you need is some swim trunks or a bikini and some water.

That being said, it is possible to have poor enough health or be in poor enough physical condition that you are unable to swim. Even though swimming doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the joints, it does put a lot of pressure on the body. You’ll feel lighter when in the water, so certain movements are easier, but there’s also a lot of strength required to push your body through the water around you.

With larger people, too much physical exertion can even make it harder for them to breathe. If you have any health conditions or aren’t sure you are physically fit enough to start swimming, start slow or talk to your doctor if you aren’t sure your health conditions will allow you to swim.

Can You Swim Competitively if You’re Overweight?

While I can’t say that I’ve tuned into every Olympics competition over the last few years, I’m fairly positive that there aren’t a lot of overweight Olympic athletes. There are exceptions to this though, particularly because your weight doesn’t always affect how physically fit you are or what you are capable of.

That being said, swimming is one of those sports where the physical space that your body takes up really does matter. While adding a few pounds isn’t going to affect someone’s swimming ability, especially if they’ve been training for something like the Olympics, being 50-100 pounds or more overweight could make a difference.

The reason comes down to the surface area of your body. Moving through the water isn’t like when you are walking and only have air resisting you. Water has greater resistance, so the greater the surface area of your body, the more you will have to work to move it through the water.

Surface area matters a lot when it comes to the speed necessary for competitive swimming. In fact, it’s even pretty common for Olympic swimmers to shave their body hair before a serious competition. Their surface area matters that much!

That being said, swimming technique has a lot to do with it as well. As you can see from this video, there’s less resistance when you keep your body horizontal in the water.

Is It Hard to Swim if You’re Fat?

Well, yes and no. It really depends on factors like how much experience you have swimming, the amount of physical activity that you do regularly, and your overall stamina. Swimming is a little bit of work, but it also has a pretty easy learning curve for those who do want to give it a try, whether you’re swimming for relaxation or exercise.

That being said, you will probably feel sore or tired after swimming. It is a physical activity that requires work. Something I found in my earlier days of swimming as an adult was that using fins really helped me push myself through the water, and it also saved some of the work on my shoulders (they were so sore the first few times until I got the hang of using my feet).

Another challenge that some larger people have is being able to swim down in the water. If you are trying to dive to the bottom of a deep pool or lake, your fat is going to resist you because it is so buoyant. This is the reason that fat people who scuba dive need extra weights to keep them down under the water.

Can You Swim for Exercise?

Yes, you can absolutely swim for exercise. In fact, people who have a lot of extra weight find that swimming is one of the safest ways to ease into physical activity, especially if they are more sedentary.

The major benefit comes from having all the water surrounding your joints. I don’t know about you, but for me specifically, anything that involves jogging or jumping or basically impact can leave areas like my knees and ankles incredibly sore.

This comes from the impact because even when you’re carrying around more body fat and muscles, the actual strength and thickness of your bones doesn’t really change. Fat people are especially prone to workout injuries for this reason.

Swimming is something that takes away the risk of workout injuries from the physical force you are putting on joints. It cushions the joints and there’s a significantly lower risk of injury.

Another major benefit of swimming is that you’re a lot less likely to overheat while working out, especially if the water is cool. We tend to sweat more when we’re bigger, so this is something I really appreciate. It helps with blood pressure too, which could be another obstacle that people who are overweight face when they try to work out.

That being said, it’s okay to swim and not try to exercise as well. For me, swimming is something that I really enjoy for relaxation- the physical benefits are really just a bonus.

Benefits of Swimming When You’re Overweight

We already discussed a few of the benefits in the last section, so I’ll keep mentioning those briefly. Swimming really is a great exercise for people who are overweight because it protects the joints, helps regulate blood pressure, and keeps you cool, all struggles that the bigger man or woman has to deal with when it comes to exercise.

Of course, like all types of physical activity, there are physical benefits. Swimming can help you build lean muscle, improve flexibility, and even lose weight if you use it as a part of lifestyle changes. That aside, there are benefits that don’t really have to do with your physical body either.

As I mentioned earlier, swimming is something that I’ve always loved doing since I was a kid. It’s also one of those activities like roller skating that I seemed to give up as I got older and heavier.

That being said, there’s nothing quite like pulling yourself through the water or swimming down and just hearing nothing all around you. I find it incredibly relaxing and it can even be fun when you swim with friends. As we know, having fun and being able to relax both help when it comes to mental health and managing the stresses of day-to-day life.

I also really love that swimming is something that isn’t too hard to learn. When you’re overweight, fat floats so you can figure out to stay on top of the water fairly easily. From there, it’s basically learning how to best move your body through the water.

Final Word

To answer the question, “Can fat people swim?”, the answer is a resounding, yes. While there are a few obstacles when it comes to physical activity, swimming is actually one of the safest activities you can do as far as the health of your joints because it significantly reduces the risk of damaging them from the impact of running or working out.

Let’s be real, it’s not uncommon for the average person with a bigger body to shy away from the beach, especially if they struggle with confidence. That being said, there’s no reason really that you shouldn’t get out there and start swimming unless you have a health condition that prevents it. Even then, swimming is something that’s fairly easy to get started with a little at a time.

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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