6 Tips for Surviving Sharing a Lane with a Public Swimmer

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer based out of Victoria, BC. In feeding his passion for swimming, he has developed YourSwimBook, a powerful log book and goal setting guide made specifically for swimmers. Sign up for the YourSwimBook newsletter (free) and get weekly motivational tips by clicking here.

Every so often you’ll miss a practice due to illness, injury, school-work, or you simply slept in (wink!). While you think you may have scooted by with a free pass, coach fires off an email outlining the practice, and also the public swimming schedule.


Before you can even think, “How would he know if I ever did it? I’ll just say I crushed it” he closes off the email with a foreboding, “Oh, and I’ll know if you did it or not.”

Fair enough!

You trudge down the pool deck, by the aqua-fit class in the shallow end, the CPR class giving mouth-to-mouth on some mannequins, and three different swimming lessons full of sugared-up kids, until you find the small section of the pool allocated to lap swimming.

Two whole lanes. Suddenly the six other swimmers in your lane at practice yesterday felt like an open water time trial.


Well, no fear. Here are six tips, strategies or tactics for making the most of the public swim experience–

1. Your head-up freestyle is going to AWESOME by the end your workout.

Admit it – your head-up freestyle isn’t that hot. In fact, some have even described it as “lukewarm” or “marginal.”(The answer is yes, we are going to do some serious air quoting today.) Good news is that swimming in a lane-full of public swimmers will provide you a great opportunity to work on this “drill.”

So while you are dodging, dipping, diving, and dodging between slower moving swimmers, you’ll have to keep your wits about you, your stick on the ice, and head up so that you navigate any errant missiles, err, swimmers.

2. Your backstroke trust issues will be tested. Repeatedly.

Competitive swimmers are circle-swimming robots. It is engrained in us – just watch most swimmers in a race at a meet – they have to consciously stay atop the black line, fighting every urge and habit screaming inside their brain, “There’s the flags! Angle left!

It’s what we do.

Part of what makes this possible is that we trust (mostly, anyways) that our fellow swimmers follow the same rules of the road. Hence we can blindly and swiftly swim that adorable upside-down stroke without worrying about crashing into the other people in our lane.

Whether it is because you are cruising up on those public swimmers so quickly, or because they are slaloming down the lane, or they are floaters (I’ll explain below), swimming backstroke is usually reduced to constant forward shoulder checking (rolling over your side to look up the lane), or turning on to your front completely and swimming into the wall on your front, your glorious and well formed backstroke turns into a jerky, tense shadow of itself.

3. Keep jargon to a minimum.

Anybody who is not a swimmer and has looked at a practice written out on a chalkboard would think they had stumbled across the chalkboard in MIT in the movie Good Will Hunting. We talk in our own little language when we are at the pool.

"Now carry the two..."

“Now carry the two…”

When a public swimmer floats up to you at the wall, and asks you if you are about to go, drop the typical, “On the red 60” and replace it with “In 7.3 seconds…and I plan on swimming faaaast.”

4. Assert dominance.

You know the type. Walks out onto the pool deck, does a couple stretches, takes a look at you, and strapping on their snorkel in a motion that could only suggest — “I can take this chump” — strides over towards the “faster/fastest” lane with his or her chest puffed out.

Well, guess what?

You are the alpha, beta, and omega. You are the king of this particular jungle. You are a highly trained, competitive athlete. It’s time to blast off a quick 25 so that they know who the boss is. (Realistically though, Tony Danza still is the boss.) Hopefully they see your majestic, dolphin like prowess and their bravado is dampened with a good old —  “Holy crap I want nothing to do with that.

Hear me roar, ye public swimmer. (And please remove your waterproof iPod from your ears and move to a speed-appropriate lane.)

5. Coping with Hair Asteroids.

While this is by no means limited to just public swimmers, errant hair seems a little grosser when you don’t actually know the people you are swimming in the lane with.

If a clump of hair appears out of the great blue yonder, flying towards you like an asteroid in space, and affixes itself to your fingers before bouncing off and hurtling into your face repeat the following to yourself as fast as possible until you have whipped the offending cluster of discarded hair from your fingertips – “Pretty sure it’s mine, pretty sure it’s mine, pretty sure it’s mine!”

To be honest, that probably won’t help, but it’ll distract you from the fact that a clump of somebody’s winter coat was just in and around your mouth.

6. Watch for floaters.

Every so often an elderly man will drift – key word being drift, here – into my lane. He’s got his snorkel on, and with his belly keeping him afloat he quite literally floats down the lane. Not swimming, not sculling, I am not even sure it could be termed treading water. Like a manatee caught in a current I can’t feel he drifts down the lane, before stopping five metres from the wall and turning around and doing it again.

To be fair though – having a swimmer like this in your lane can really teach you how to swerve a hard left , which is a helpful skill in crowded meet warm ups. Silver lining!

Can you think of any other challenges that swimming with public swimmers presents? List ‘em in the comments below!

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If you swim at the pool I frequent, you don’t have to share the lane. They have a one person per lane snobbery that is out of control.


I was once tackled by a fellow swimmer in my lane that objected to me going too fast. He didn’t do such a good job and I was able to wiggle my way out and still make the interval. Then the lifeguard stopped me and told me that the other two people in my lane had complained and that I shouldn’t swim so fast. I told him that I didn’t think it was fair that one of them had tackled me in the middle of the pool, and moreover, that they could move to a slower lane if they didn’t like my swimming. I even explained that I was in the lane first and they had gotten in later. I… Read more »


You could always suggest that the other swimmers swim faster.


At the pools I grew up swimming at, and am now currently coaching at (YMCA member fo’ life, yo….), there is a HUGE amount of one-person per lane Snobbery. I don’t know what people do to feel entitled to a lane all to themselves or what kind of privileges they think they’ve earned over the course of their lives, but that is how it has always been for me. I don’t know if it’s simply a product of where I’ve worked/swam my whole life, or even that it’s a regional things (here in the deep South), but even Masters groups I’ve worked with only stomach working 2 to a lane and then begin to feel ‘cramped’ and ‘rushed’ when more… Read more »


I like lanes to myself but I will share. I don’t have to go early morning anymore since I worked part time.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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