How to share a lane when lap swimming

If you happen to arrive at your pool for lap swim and find an empty lane, count yourself lucky and enjoy it while you can. As the sport of swimming (and especially triathlons) becomes more and more popular, you’ll probably find your pool getting more and more crowded during lap swim. This means at some point you’re going to have to share a lane.

Regardless if you’re the first one there and someone is joining you, or if you’re the one trying to join in an already occupied lane, sharing a lane is less fun than having a lane all to yourself. But, everyone paid the same amount of money to enjoy the pool. So, be a good pool citizen and don’t be a dick about sharing lanes.

There’s an etiquette to lane sharing that, once you know it and use it, can make everyone a lot happier. It’s not as good as having your own lane, nothing is, but it makes sharing a lane suck less. So, follow the lane-sharing tips I provide below, and I promise it will make the experience less awful for everyone.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think this advice applies equally to newbie lap swimmers and folks who have been swimming laps for a while and think they got this (spoiler: unless you are/were a competitive swimmer, you probably don’t “got this”…). I feel compelled to write this post because I’ve had three separate run-ins this week with folks who are regular swimmers at the pool I go to and who seem to be unaware of this etiquette to joining an already occupied lane. They’re not new to lap swimming, but they each violated one of the “don’t do this” bullets I’ve included below.

So, you, dear blog readers, get the joy of reading this blog post instead of my usual posts on writing and books…

My advice for joining an already occupied lane in a lap swimming pool:

It should go without saying, but if you are attempting to join a lane occupied by another person, it must mean that all the available lap swimming lanes are currently occupied by at least one person. If there is an empty lane, take it! If not, ideally try to find a lane with a lap swimmer who is swimming about the same speed as you. This will help immensely if the pool gets really crowded and you have to absorb a third swimmer into your lane and (horror!) begin circle swimming.

Once you’ve picked your lane to join, you have two options:

Option 1: If the person already swimming happens to stop at the wall, get their attention and let them know you’d like to share their lane. They may be in the middle of a set. So, they may not have time to stop and talk, but they will likely nod, spit out a few words of response, and move over to one side before resuming their workout. You can now jump in, take the other side, and start swimming.

If they don’t stop, or you can’t get their attention, don’t worry, just proceed to option 2…

Option 2: The person swimming may be in the middle of a long set, or just “in the zone.” Don’t worry, they aren’t (likely) ignoring you on purpose. Once you have all your gear on and are ready to get into the pool, wait for them to be headed toward you, then jump in and stand (or float vertically, holding onto the wall) at the end of the lane. This will make you visible to the other swimmer and they will either stop to acknowledge you and welcome you to the lane, or move over and just keep swimming. Either way, once they’ve made their turn at the wall and moved over, you’re free to start swimming, even if they didn’t stop to talk. (Note: you may want to give them a bit of room and wait a few seconds before you start swimming to space things out a bit so you’re not swimming right next to them.)

Now, a word of caution… For the love of the water PLEASE DO NOT do any of the following:

  • DO NOT jump in and start swimming toward someone who can’t see you. If you jump in and start swimming, and I’m not facing you, I can’t see you. If your body is horizontal in the water and so is mine, we’re both probably looking at the bottom of the pool which means that it’s harder to see you. Stay vertical at the end of the lane until you’re sure that the other swimmer sees you. If you don’t, you’re risking a head on collision at full speed and someone’s going to get hurt. Don’t do it.
  • In general, lap swimming rules specify NO DIVING. So, this one is simple. DON’T DIVE IN. I don’t care if you think it’s clear, or if you’re in the deep end, or if you’re a great diver. It doesn’t matter. The rule is “no diving” for a reason. If there is already someone in the lane, IT’S NOT SAFE. Diving in doesn’t alert the person in the water to your presence until you’re already in the water and swimming. You might miscalculate and accidentally dive on top of them. You might start swimming toward them and end up in a head on collision. Just DON’T DIVE IN. It’s simple.
  • Please try to avoid submerging a kick board vertically at the end of the lane and waving it back and forth to get the swimmer’s attention and make them stop swimming. For most competitive (and previously competitive) swimmers, this signals STOP! EMERGENCY! It gives them a minor fear-based adrenaline rush when they see that kick board waving. They expect you’re going to tell them to clear (get out of) the pool for an emergency. Joining a lane isn’t an emergency. Just follow Option 2 above and you’ll be fine. I promise. No kick board necessary.

One last word of advice… if all the lap lanes already have 2 people splitting the lane, you’re going to have to be patient and you’re probably going to have to circle swim (counter-clockwise, always, right-hand rule, like driving). Find a lane with a pair of swimmers that appear to be swimming about the same speed as you (this is critical for happy circle swimming), and wait until one or both of them have stopped. Let them know that you’d like to join them. Ask if they are comfortable circle swimming.

This is slightly more complicated to coordinate, so it’s better if you can be patient and wait for someone to stop swimming and talk to you. But, if you’re in a hurry, initiate Option 2. Getting into the lane and waiting patiently at the wall will let them know you’re there. Still wait for them to stop and coordinate before you try to start swimming. Even in this instance, you don’t need to resort to waving the kick board in the water unless it’s a real emergency.

And now… back to our regularly scheduled program of blog posts on books and writing. Hope this helped (or at least entertained) any lap swimmers who may be reading my blog. Now, if I could just find a way to send this to all the folks who swim laps at my local pool…

Advertisements