The 5 Unwritten Rules of Open Lap Swimming

by SwimSwam 22

September 17th, 2016 International, Lifestyle, Masters

Courtesy of Claire Forrest

It’s the time of year when many people choose to make a fresh commitment to their fitness. For some, this means stepping up their swimming to a new level. For others, this means starting to swim for the first time. Regardless, if you’ve noticed a spike in the amount of swimmers at your pool during open swim, you’re not alone. Here are my five simple rules that swimmers of all abilities can follow to make open lap swim a more enjoyable experience for everyone:

5) Come to the pool expecting to circle swim.

Circle swimming is standard when lap swimming. In most places, that means staying to the right of the black line, switching sides when you make your turn. Yes, having a lane to yourself is awesome, but if you show up to the pool on a Saturday morning, expect that you will be circle swimming. If there are fewer than three people to your lane, you will probably split a lane, which is also a lucky break. Holding a grudge over not having your own lane won’t make other swimmers go away, in fact, they’ll still swim around you if you refuse to cooperate.

4) When it comes to claiming an empty lane, first come first serve!

A swimmer placing their equipment bag and water bottle in front of a lane is ancient swimmer code for marking territory. To the other swimmers, it says, “Hey, I intend to swim here!” So you can imagine it’s annoying to see your once empty lane snapped up before you’ve even put your goggles on. If you see someone who looks like they clearly intend to enter an empty lane, ask politely if you can please swim with them before jumping in. And if you lose out on an empty lane because you weren’t there first, remember the previous rule: circle swim rules the pool.

3) There is no shame in the slow lane.

This is coming from a swimmer that spent most of her competitive career training in the slow lane. Some lap pools divide their lanes into fast, medium, and slow lanes during open swim. Please select the lane for your ability honestly. Being in the slow lane does not mean you are a poor swimmer, and anyone who tries to make you feel otherwise is probably overcompensating in the fast lane. Most lap swimmers simply want to get a good workout in without making it more difficult for the other swimmers. Putting yourself in the correct lane for your speed makes this goal easier for everyone to achieve.

2) It doesn’t matter what you’ve swum before, we’re all at open swim.

If your lap pool isn’t divided into separate speed lanes, open swim can feel a bit like a crazy free for all. You might be an NCAA champion, but you still have to share a lane with anyone who shows up to the pool at the same time as you. Leave lots of room to be passed if need be, and be a polite passer. If you’re stopping at the wall, move as far to the side of the wall as possible. Remember, it’s just as scary to have a fast swimmer whip past you swimming butterfly as it is frustrating to be stuck behind a sidestroker. Be polite and do the best you can. It’s not the end of the world.

1) Treat others as you would like to be treated.

The golden rule applies to everything, even open swim! Be the lane mate you would like to swim with. Be patient, courteous, and acknowledge the other swimmers as they enter your lane and as they swim. It’s such a simple thing, but it will make swimming a good experience for us all.

Claire ForrestClaire Forrest is a recent graduate of Grinnell College with a degree in English. She is currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a freelance writer. The only competitive swimmer in her family, Claire went to her first swim meet at the age of eleven on a whim without even knowing what a swim cap was. She fell in love with the sport and never looked back. A S6 classified disabled swimmer for US Paralympics, Claire specialized in mid-distance freestyle and backstroke and made national and world rankings throughout her career. She was a 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Trials participant. Claire is passionate about integrating disability swimming into the larger swim community, having swum for able-bodied club teams and her college’s DIII team. She enjoyed both Paralympic and prominent integrated able-bodied meets equally for the many commonalities they share. Over 13 years after her first meet, she’s happy to report she now owns more swim caps than she can count.

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6 years ago

Great article. And if the fast lane is crammed with breaststroking frogs, that would be a good time to do some drills in the slow lane.
Take care not to splash the ladies.

6 years ago

Ask the lifeguards which day/time is the least busy, and try and go then.
I would suggest the last hour, when no new people are arriving.
Or an hour after Saturday morning opening time – the ambitious ones all show up at once, just for an hour, then leave. After that first hour, there’s a lull, and you can swim fast!

6 years ago

I was in the fast lane last weekend and was obviously faster than the other people in it so I couldn’t do the work out I wanted. My solution? I jumped into the slow lane with one other person and spend a half hour doing drills until there was only one person left in the fast lane (25Y pool) and then jumped back in with him. He was kind enough to stop at the walls to let me pass.

6 years ago

love the article. Just because you were or are a fast swimmer doesn’t mean your ego dictates your lane. With 6 500s on 6:00, I might jump into a slower lane then if I was doing sprints. Don’t worry about what people think, just swim

Bob Smith
6 years ago

This is kind of of a frivolous issue. I swim is a small health club pool with no lanes but three rows of markers lengthwise. To me it makes sense to swim between the markers so there are four lanes. I was informed that this is incorrect, you must swim Over the markers. In my opinion this may be dogma, but not pragmatic, especially because the rail with and steps using space, a guy in the far lane is essentially taking up half the pool. Thanks

5 years ago

6) water walking is not lap swimming. Bur, please, if you are going to water walk, do not wear your grubby gym shoes into our clean pool.

7) if you don’t want to get your head wet, don’t come to the pool. I have had water aerobics people complain about getting splashed from the lap swimmers. Very frustrating.

Reply to  pwb
5 years ago

Water walking does equate to lap swimming. Sorry you must share your lane with them. No lifeguard will let a patron into the pool with grubby gym shoes, they are shoes designed to be used in the pool.

Reply to  LWLG
5 years ago

Thank you for saying this! I recently had hip surgery and the ONLY exercise I could do was water walking and flutter kick with a board (with lots of breaks).. I was very nervous to use a lane during a lap swim, but was fortunate to find a small neighborhood pool with fairly low usage…I’m glad to know I was not using the space incorrectly, and would like to say that time in the water is important at EVERY fitness level and can sometimes be the only safe form of exercise for a person.

Reply to  pwb
5 years ago

Clean pool? It’s got sweat, pee, and spit from a hundred different people in it at any given time. Sure, try to wash your shoes before hopping in with them, but as a site where probably 90% of commenters habitually pee in the pool, do lap swimmers really have any kind of moral/hygienic high ground here?

Wendy V
5 years ago

8. Don’t push off right in front of a swimmer who is faster than you. You might get run over.
9. Don’t push off right behind a swimmer who is slower than you, then immediately expect to pass. Modify your interval to help keep things moving peacefully.
10. Change lanes only at the ends of the pool and yield to swimmers in motion. They can’t see you and don’t expect you to appear in the middle of the lane.
11. If someone is doing something annoying or against the rules, have a polite conversation before you get really angry. Involve the lifeguard if necessary.
12. Ask others in your lane if they would like to join… Read more »

Wendy V
5 years ago

13. When it’s crowded, save the 6x200s dolphin kick with fins for another day.