How to join lap swimmers without making a splash. A primer on the social graces applied to swimming laps.
Someone recently asked what the proper etiquette is for swimming laps. What a great question! I am sure this is not the only answer, but here is a primer on the social graces applied to swimming laps.
Be considerate to others swimming with you…
What does this mean?
Don’t bother the lifeguard
The lifeguard is there for everyone’s safety. Please do not ask the lifeguard to criticize your stroke, find you a lane, watch your stuff, or otherwise distract them from doing their job, especially during busy times. If you want to discuss stroke mechanics or the latest concert, arrange to meet them when someone else is lifeguarding.
Look for an open lane.
This should be your first choice, but it isn’t without considerations. Most of the time, you will be able to tell which lanes are “fast” and which are “slow” by watching the swimmers in each lane. For the most part, “fast” swimmers avoid the end lanes but otherwise group together in one half of the pool. If more than one lane is open, then pick a lane closer to your swim pace (ie if you are “fast,” or closer to “fast” than “slow,” pick a lane near the other “fast” swimmers). If they are all open you won’t know where the “fast” swimmers normally congregate, so ask the lifeguard.
Pick the open lane most appropriate for your pace. Why is this important if the pool is wide open? Sometimes, those “fast” swimmers will come in after you start. Being creatures of habit, they will fill “their” lanes on either side of you and the last “fast” swimmer is likely to join you!
If all the lanes are full
If no empty lanes are to be had, you will need to decide whether to share a lane or wait until someone is done swimming. If you would rather wait, stay on the pool deck and stretch/warm up away from any specific lane. It is your choice to wait, so please give the swimmers their space, and no, you should not “claim” a lane by placing your stuff at the end of your chosen lane or hovering nearby. (This would be like standing over a restaurant table waiting for the current occupants to finish dining.)
While it may seem unfair, people willing to share a lane may get in while you are waiting, and in a busy pool, you may never get a lane to yourself. Learn to share a lane, and you’ll spend your time exercising rather than waiting.
Sharing a lane
When you share a lane, ask or otherwise let the other person(p) know you’re joining them. You have already identified whether the other swimmer(p) are faster or slower than yourself, so pick a lane close to your own pace. When you join, let the other swimmer decide whether you will split the lane (each of you swims on one side) or swim in “circles” (each of you swims up on one side and back on the other). If you are the third (or more) swimmer, expect to swim in “circles”. If someone joins you, you get to decide.
Be aware of where the other swimmers are in the lane.
Look up (relatively speaking) rather than straight to the bottom of the pool. Head-on collisions really hurt, and even minor tangles really disturb your experience. Since you are (hopefully) swimming in a lane with someone who swims at a similar pace, start 5-10 seconds after the other swimmer.
If you find yourself swimming up on the leading swimmer, you might accidentally touch their feet, which is a signal that you are there and want to pass. If you get touched on the foot, the person behind you probably wants to pass you (usually at the end of the lane). If you find yourself in a lane with a much faster swimmer, let them get around you easily.
If you stop to rest, move to the corner of the lane where you approach the wall rather than hang on the poolside in the middle of the lane. It makes it easier for those still swimming to get around you. Don’t hang from the lane lines in the middle of the pool (I am a former lifeguard) because nobody is expecting you to stop there.
It takes the full lane to do butterfly, breaststroke, or elementary backstroke (probably sidestroke too). If you’re going to swim these strokes, try to do it during non-peak times when you are more likely to get a lane to yourself. Also be aware of your stroke extending into adjacent lanes. It’s no fun getting kicked by a breaststroker.
If you share a lane with the same person most of the time, you’ll understand their normal workouts. Try to sync-up so you aren’t doing sprints while your partner is kicking only to switch five minutes later and do kick drills while (p)he is sprinting.
Smile and be friendly, but don’t be too chatty. You’ll find the occasional person who hates to share a lane, but mostly people are there for a workout. Save socializing for when you’re out of the pool, because there might be someone waiting for you to finish. Locker room etiquette is another article.
Remember, some days, you will be the “other swimmer.”
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