Lap Swim

IMG_20141113_113810this is not ‘nam.  there are rules.

You may have noticed the lack of running talk here.  I haven’t run in almost 2 months due to some foot issues.  So I’ve been spending more time in the pool.  This means a lot of time at lap swim.

I’ve been told that lap swimming can be intimidating for non-swimmers.  I assume it’s like the one time I decided to go on a ride with the local cycling club.  I was stressed and felt like I was in everybody’s way the entire ride.  That is why it only happened once.

I like to think that swimmers are not like that group of cyclists.  But that is not always the case (see: here).

Once, I swam for a team in the Czech Republic.


That is (a very pale) me and my Czech coach, Jura, at a meet in Vienna.  And for posterity’s sake, here is Jura in his coaching uniform:


But before Jura saw me swimming one day and invited me to join the local club team, I swam during lap swim at the local pool.  The pool was next to my apartment and was actually really awesome.


Lap swim at this pool, however, was not awesome. Couples would make out in the middle of the pool, people swam on whatever side the lane they wanted to, and sometimes the guards just wouldn’t put lane lines in and people would swim both the long and short length of the pool, like this:


Total chaos.  (That picture is actually WAY more orderly than the pool ever was, because without lane lines nobody was swimming in a straight line.)

Imagine it’s a beautiful day and you head out on a run.  But every time you pass a bush or a parked car someone jumps out in front of you.  That is exactly what it was like.  And after colliding head on into the supple belly of yet another scantily clad octogenarian for the umpteenth time, I would be like, “WHAT IS HAPPENING!  THIS ISN’T THAT COMPLICATED!  DOESN’T ANYONE HERE FOLLOW THE RULES?!?!?”

swimming-skewed-downold czech men: i swim where i want

So many days I left the pool knowing that the only reason my heart rate went up at all during my “workout” was because I was about to get homicidal.

But those days are behind me.  Now I swim at an absolutely gorgeous Olympic-sized pool, where there are rules posted in English and established lane lines and I can converse with people outside of a simple “Excuse me”.

1237408_589180961134440_251501823_omy current pool

And yet lap lane strife continues.  And not just between experienced swimmers and new swimmers.  I watch new swimmers butt heads with other new swimmers every day. Figuratively and literally.  Lap swim strife abounds.

Sharing a lane with other people is easy.  It really is.  Sharing with people who aren’t the same speed as you is totally doable.  You just have to know the rules.

SO!  For everyone’s sake…


First things first: Where to swim

  • Splitting a lane–When there are only two people in a lane, you can “split” the lane.  That means you just stay on one side of the black line, that is your side of the lane.  Simple.  No reason for any conflict.


  • Circle Swimming— This happens when there are more than 2 people in a lane.  As the picture at the top of this post depicts, it means you always stay to right.  Much like you would if you were driving (in the US).


Odds are, if it’s at all crowded, you’re going to have to circle.  Just the way it goes.  And in my experience, circle swimming is where things begin to go downhill.  So…

Next: 5 Basic Rules for Circle Swimming

  1. If the lanes are marked by speed (slow, medium, fast), do the best you can to be honest about where you belong compared to the other swimmers in that lane.
  2. Swim on the right side of the lane (as mentioned above)
  3. Pass on the left (as you would driving or cycling)
  4. Give people space. Don’t push off the wall right in front of someone else who is about to turn and start a new lap, and don’t push off the wall right behind someone who just started a new lap. Give a person 5 seconds at least before you push off behind them. Personal space. Recognize.
  5. Be aware of your lane mates.

Rule #5 is really what it all comes down to.  When your head is in the water it’s easy to be oblivious to everything else around you.  But lanes can get crowded, and not everyone swims at the same speed.  You’re sharing the space with varying ability levels and should act accordingly.  Which brings us to…


  • If someone is about to pass you in the middle of the lane, just stay calm and keep swimming straight and to the right and leave it up to them to get around you.  And don’t be an asshat and speed up and race them as they pass.
  • If someone is on your feet when you come into the wall, or if you notice someone is catching you, just stop on the wall, in the corner, and let them pass you there.  It’s a lot easier than passing in the middle of the pool.
  • If you are the person passing someone, make sure no one else is heading down the lane in the other direction.  Avoid collisions.


Pretty straightforward.

There are certain situations that are, in the long run, unavoidable at lap swim (the lady with the breaststroke kick that takes up the entire lane, the old dude who crosses over onto your side every time he breathes…)  That is the nature of the beast.  It’s always a craps shoot.   Which leads to….

My biggest piece of advice: when you head into lap swim, be prepared to be flexible.  Pool’s is empty?  Awesome!  Killer workout exactly as you have planned.  One of those days when everyone decides to go to the pool at exactly the same time and there are 8 people in each short course lane, at least two of which are old ladies that don’t want to get their hair wet?  That sucks.  Do your best.  And next time you might have 4 lanes to yourself.  You just never know.

Stick to the rules, apologize when you run into someone, forgive others for their trespasses, and keep things in perspective.  It’s just one swim.  Everything will be fine.

DSC01496the beginning of what i believe to be some sort of water polo practice in CZ.  and yes, those are fins and snorkeling masks.  i don’t know.

awesome square-headed swimming diagram via