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Busy Pool? Lap Swim Etiquette for Sharing Lanes

2016/7/21 10:45:16

It seems that every sport has its own code of etiquette that even the newcomers are supposed to know from day one.

Seems unfair, doesn't it?

Swimming is among those sports, though the "rules" are pretty easy to pick up. If you're looking to start swimming for fitness, or if you're training for your first triathlon or open water swim, it's likely you will go to a public pool for a workout, and you won't be the only one there.

A pool full of lap swimmers going at a steady pace is a beautiful thing, but it can be intimidating if you're interested in jumping in and joining.

If there's an empty lane for you, that's easy. But that's not always the case, and if enough swimmers show up, you may need to learn how to share your lane anyway.

Here are some common lap swimming rules that are good to know for the next time you head to the pool for a workout.

More: Swimming for Beginners

Joining the Chaos

Though you may occasionally find an empty lane that's all your own, oftentimes you will show up at the pool for your swim and see that each lane has one or more swimmers already going.

This doesn't mean you're out of luck. A single lane can accommodate several swimmers (just go watch a swim team practice) provided they all go at a comparable pace. Take a minute to observe each of the lanes and get a sense of which one you match up with best. Some pools designate slow lanes and fast lanes, but seeing the swimmers that are already going is an even better gauge.

If you're ready to pick a lane and start swimming, make sure everyone in that lane is aware that you're going to join them. Sit by the edge of the pool and wait for them to finish a set, or wave a kickboard underwater to get their attention, or jump in and stand in the corner of the lane until they acknowledge you're joining them.

More: How to Master the Flip Turn

At that point, it's worth it to have a quick discussion about how you're going to swim in concert—either by splitting the lane (if there are just two of you) or by swimming in circles (if there are two or more).

Splitting the Lane: In this scenario, one of you swims on one side of the lane and one of you swims on the other. If you're splitting the lane, you stay in your half no matter what.

Circle Swim: Much like traffic on a road, always swim on the right side of the lane. This means swimming on one side of the lane going down and the other side of the lane coming back. Swimmers move in a counterclockwise circle, hence the name.

Some pools require splitting lanes if there are just two and going to a circle if there are more than two. Other pools require circling lanes even if you're by yourself. Whatever the case, make sure everyone in your lane is on the same page before you get started.

More: Your Guide to Freestyle Swimming

Splitting the Lane 101

If you're swimming freestyle in your own lane, the line at the bottom of the pool is the ultimate guide to navigating in a straight line. But if you're splitting the lane with another swimmer, that line isn't quite as helpful.

One of the other ways to keep track of your placement in the lane—and to avoid any painful head-on collisions with your lane mate—is to keep your eyes on the lane line while you're breathing. If you're a bilateral breather, this means using every other breath (or every six strokes) to also check to make sure you're snug against the edge of the lane where you should be.

More: What Is Bilateral Breathing?

If you prefer to breathe every other stroke, make sure you're breathing on the side closest to the edge of the lane so you can constantly monitor to make sure you're not straying into oncoming traffic.

Circle Swimming 101

While it's ideal to find swimmers who are about the same speed as you if you're circling the lane, this isn't always possible. This could lead to some issues that you need to know the solution to.

Giving space: If a swimmer is faster than you, make sure you don't start another lap just as he is coming up behind you. If you start about 5 seconds behind a faster swimmer, you will probably never run into each other during your workout.

If you're at a comparable pace with your lane mates, make sure there is plenty of space between everyone. If you do this correctly, you will barely even notice anyone in your lane.

Passing: If a faster swimmer is coming up on you and touches your feet, that's an indication that they want to pass. Swim to the next wall, then stop and let them go ahead of you.

More: 7 Steps to Successful Swimming


Don't feel like you are forced to keep up with the flow of your lane. If you need to stop and rest, you may do so. But be mindful of the other swimmers in your lane when you decide to take a break, particularly if you're swimming circles.

  • The best place to stop is in the corner of the lane at the wall. If you're doing circles, it's most likely that the swimmers will do a flip turn, then push off and angle to the right to keep going. From the vantage point at the end of the lane, that leaves a sliver of space in the bottom-right corner of the lane for you to rest if needed.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the lane. That is not expected and can lead to swimmers running into you. The best way to be a good lane mate is to be a predictable one, so rest at the walls.


The bottom line is, it's possible to join a lane with other swimmers and get your workout in without bothering anybody you're sharing the lane with. In fact, that's what you should strive for.

Be aware of the other swimmers, don't get in their way and make sure you get in the workout you desire. That will make for a fulfilling and drama-free day at your local pool.

More: Natalie Coughlin's Freestyle Tips

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