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Pool Etiquette for Lap Swimmers

Understanding rules about choosing and sharing lanes, passing other swimmers and more can prepare you for a safe, enjoyable workout
Written by 
Sharon Liao
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

If you’re up for trying lap swimming (good choice—it’s both a cardiovascular and strength-building workout), but have never tried it before, jumping into the pool can seem intimidating. There’s a pool etiquette that in-the-know swimmers follow whether they are butterflying up and back or simply using their kickboard—an unspoken set of rules that helps everyone can get the most out of their time in the water.

Don’t worry—though these expectations may be new to you now, they’re fairly simple and easy to remember. And worthwhile—knowing pool etiquette can help you avoid a collision and keep your rhythm. Here are answers to common questions people in your shoes often have. Read them all, then jump on in!


Q. Which lane should I choose?

Before hopping into any open lane, determine if they are designated for certain speeds. Some pools use signs to mark ‘slow,’ ‘medium’ and ‘fast.’ At others, it may just be known to those who visit regularly; check with the lifeguard to see if speedy swimmers gather in a specific section. Then choose the lane that matches with the pace you plan on maintaining for most of your workout. For example, if you’re a strong swimmer but plan on doing a slower routine—say, practicing stroke drills—you may need to pick a more moderate lane than usual.

Q. What if all of the lanes are occupied?

Still pick the lane that matches your pace, but sit on the wall or wait in the corner of the lane until space frees up. When the other swimmer pauses, ask how he or she would like to share the space: You may, for example, want to split it in two with each person staying on one side no matter which direction he or she is going.

Another option is “circle swimming,” which is required if there are three or more people sharing a lane. In this practice, traffic goes in a counter-clockwise pattern: Swim down the right side of the lane (the black line painted on the bottom of the pool is a good divider to abide by). When you’re near the wall, move toward the center of the lane to turn (flip-turn or not), push off with your feet and head back on the opposite side. Joining an existing circle swim? Think of it as merging into a lane of traffic: Allow plenty of room between yourself and the other swimmers so you won’t interrupt the flow.

Q. When should I push off of the wall?

Pushing off right in front of another person is a no-no since you’ll likely slow them down as you try to get going. Whether you’re just joining into a circle swim or resuming from a rest, make sure there’s enough distance between yourself and any other swimmer before pushing off of the wall. Remember that people in motion have the right of way, so you may need to wait for someone to pass before you start your lap.

Q. When should I pass someone?

If you’re behind a slower swimmer, don’t trail close to his or her feet for an extended period of time (just like you wouldn’t tailgate in a car). Instead, swim around them. To pass, first make sure there’s plenty of room and no one is approaching on the opposite side. Next, gently tap his or her feet once as a signal that you’re close behind before speeding up and swimming in the middle of the lane to move ahead. As soon as you’re a comfortable distance in front, move back to the right and settle back into your normal pace.

Q. How should I handle a faster swimmer behind me?

You should get a signal from the person behind you that he or she needs to move ahead. As the swimmer is passing you, avoid speeding up or stopping altogether—simply slow down a little bit and allow that person to get around you. If you’re close to finishing a lap when you sense an order change, pause at the wall and let the faster person go ahead.

Q. What if I want to take a break and rest?

Only take breathers when you reach the wall; pausing in the middle of a lap may interrupt other swimmers. To avoid getting in the way, stand at either corner of the lane so that the center of the wall is open for turning. If you’re in the deep end, hang on the wall, but don’t cling to the lane line itself—too much weight may cause damage to the line.

Reference(s) 
Stanford Athletics
About the author 
Sharon Liao is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition and fitness. She contributes to many print and online publications, including Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens and Fitness.