SwimSwam Mysteries: Do They Swim on the Other Side of the Road in England?

This is a revival of an old piece, originally posted in July of 2010, that has never been more appropriate than headed into the upcoming Olympics. Check out Gemma Spofforth giving us the breakdown of how to properly warmup in London.

The Case

One of the biggest sins you can commit at your local health club is the sin of misdirection. That is, the sin of swimming on the wrong side of the lane. If you want to see a 50-something year old man in a Speedo really angry, swim on the wrong side of the lane.

In the United States, we drive on the right side of the road, and we swim on the right side of the lane. But, if you are traveling to the UK, for business, pleasure, or competition, you might be wondering what side of the lane to swim on so as to avoid the wrath of a British counterpart.

As most of our readership comes from the United States, and as most of our readership does not regularly attend major international meets, I’ll assume that this mystery is, in fact, a mystery to most of us.

The Source

Who better to go to about this issue than Ms. Gemma Spofforth, who recently completed her final season of NCAA eligibility by leading the Florida Gators to the National Championship? She was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, England (any wonder she became a swimmer?) and is a member of the British National Team. She swam her college years in the United States, and as a major international star, she has had the opportunity to swim in many countries. All of this combines to make her an expert on lane-sharing practices around the world.

The Verdict

So I asked Gemma which way they swim in the  UK. Her response threw me for a loop: “We swim anti-clockwise in the odd lanes and clockwise in the even lanes.” Nice of her to write it in terms of a clock, because as a backstroker her “lefts” and “rights” would be backwards. For those of us who swim predominantly on our stomachs, this means right side in odd lanes and left side in even lanes.

I thought she was messing with me, because I couldn’t think of a good reason to swim in different directions in different lanes, so I asked her if she was being real or if she was yanking my chain.

“No they do it so that when you swim next to someone you are swimming in the same direction as them so you dont break arms!!” she told me.

Now there’s a novel idea that would go over big, especially in neighborhood summer-leage pools that are often not Olympic-sized. Basically, whenever you are swimming next to a swimmer in the lane next to you, you are swimming in the same direction as them. That way, when you take a big butterfly stroke, you’re not going to sword fight with your arms. More of a visual person? here’s a diagram.

Circle Swimming in the UK: Counter-Clockwise in Odd lanes, Clockwise in even lanes

Circle Swimming in the UK: Counter-Clockwise in Odd lanes, Clockwise in even lanes

I think it’s an awesome system, and I wonder why it hasn’t caught on more here in the States. It’s definitely something I’m going to implement at my practices, as an added bonus is that it prevents swimmers from getting into really bad habits of circle swimming during races. As an example, I had my kids swim an “Empire Practice” the other day, where they swim on the left side of the lane, and circle swimming was so drilled into their brains that most of them struggled with it.

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Michael Koonin
6 months ago

All countries should circle the same way. FINA should make a rule.It must be chaos warming up at an international meet

Des Cairns
11 years ago

In australia we just swim clockwise.

Reply to  Des Cairns
1 year ago

Yea, I didn’t realise swimming any other way existed until seeing this lmao

11 years ago

I don’t think this would be good for a breaststroker because then when you’re next to another breaststroker and you both do a kick at the same time it wouldn’t feel too good. Although butterfly sword fights aren’t fun either.

11 years ago

I’ve always swum this way (in the US) except opposite.

11 years ago

I grew up in Ontario and my whole swimming career we circle swam this way. I remember the first time we went to a meet in the US and we started going the opposite way in lane the meet directory freaked out and made us stop.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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