Can’t we all just get along? Lane Etiquette

By July 6, 2017Uncategorized

Can’t we all get just along?


As you pay anything from between £4-£6 for a public swim you get to rent a space in the pool for a certain period of time. For your entry fee you get to displace a similar amount of water to me, other Triathletes, the slow Breaststroker, the Olde English Backstroker and even the Sidestroker. Unfortunately, this amount of £ does not get you your own lane and somehow we all have to get along. I don’t think we are at the stage of the cyclist/car user and that whole debate but we do have a quite different array of abilities, arriving differently equipped (wanting to use different equipment at least) and needing to share a common lane space.


I have been moaned at for swimming too fast in the fast lane with Stuart Hayes since a regular fast ‘laner’ was now not quite fast enough to jump in and hang on. I’ve swum with & witnessed James Beckinsale and Gill Sanders being moaned at during her Olympic preparations for being too fast in the usual fast lane. There is a lot of common sense that gets left in the changing rooms by all (and I mean all of us) when it comes to public swimming and we are all guilty. Public session means exactly that and those slower and faster then you or I have paid to be there and while irritating as that might be they have as much right as you or I. When those goggles/blinkers go on and the reps start accumulating though the last thing you want is someone ruining that one good effort when it was all falling into place. An OW swimmer did not hesitate to moan at me for swimming a length of legs only in a warm up so they had to overtake me recently. Should I have moved lanes for a single length? Could the OW swimmer have been more tolerant? If I had been kicking Breaststroke and so becoming an obstacle and inconvenience to his swim I think fair point. I should have moved but more importantly I would have moved. All pools should have a Breaststroke lane for safety reasons.


Some pools are now offering double width lanes so that overtaking is easier and safer. There may be some logic to this but usually this large channel in the middle stays quite empty and we have one big lane operating at a certain pace. Since many pools are 6-8 lanes wide to offer double width reduces the number of lanes available. With more single lanes more ‘abilities’ could be catered for. In the larger 8 lanes pools with singles lanes set aside for perhaps half the pool even other strokes would now have a safe harbour. A slow, medium, fast and strokes lane would help cater for more swim abilities. But what is a slow lane? A fast lane? It varies doesn’t it? At masters Swim Meets in the warm-ups they are usually segregated by times, lane1 is for those usually repeating 75secs per 50m and advancing across the 8lanes of the pool to 40secs per 50m. Slow, medium and fast demarcations at the end of the lanes don’t help, as the unfortunate regular ‘fast lane’ swimmers found out when we encroached on their space. As conditions dictate, some days you might only be a medium swimmer. Maybe those Slow, Med and Fast signs should have some average times on them to help people figure out where they should be. For the new Speedo On platform we spent hours figuring out Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced paces for Adult swimmers not from a swim club background. It took days!


I have had discussions with pool operators pointing some of these findings out since I often hire pool time, a few lanes at a time, during public sessions and witness the carnage that goes on. Lifeguards could act if it does not take too much away from the important duties of observing the pool and help move swimmers up and down lanes to keep the harmony but its never caught on. Most lifeguards spend most of the day cleaning. Ultimately though my business is to help people swim faster which is why I hire lanes. If you are serious about your swim improvements please consider a Tri club, a Masters Team, a coaching organization with hired lanes. Discipline, protocol, a conductor at the end of the lanes orchestrating your fitness in a controlled and safe environment in a social and competitive arena (when appropriate) has to be worth the extra money. These sessions usually work out to be no more then double the cost of a regular pool entry so given how good a supervised swim session should be and how much of a waste of your time a public session could be budgeting for structured sessions is something to add to your annual Fitness Budget. If you work shifts or odd hours and structured team sessions just are not going to work, then here are some guidelines as to what kind of session might just work a little more effectively in a public session and how.


  • Either avoid single lengths on a strict interval or swim them to a more relaxed interval, perhaps use the rest needed waiting for space to dictate the pace of the next length. If you get caught and need to wait for some space pick up the pace on the next and aim to ‘catch up’ the swimmer in front. Really give them some space though, remember a good streamline off the wall will shut down a large gap on an average swimmer. If 3-4 are in front having just pushed off in succession while you rest and coming into the wall are 3-4 more then take that spot and swim steady to recover on this repeat. Too much rest will make the set redundant and leave you possibly cold while you wait around too long as the next group go by.


  • Use HR to measure recovery rather then time so the set is not quite so regimented to the clock, which is where a lot of frustration creeps in. You can be sure that the second you want to get going on a certain interval a chain of swimmers will appear from no where and disrupt your swim. Choose an appropriate distance/main set of repeats and allow your HR to recover by 30-40 BPM between swims or as appropriate to the training effect your coach is trying to create.


  • Avoid drills for part of any length and stick to a main set of full lengths of full stroke. Abrupt changes of pace within a busy lane really make you unpopular. If you have drills to do, change lanes and group them together at a later convenient time in your session. I like the idea, in an ideal swim environment, of starting lengths with a short block of technique work and finishing the remainder of a length with full stroke but this is not ideal in a busy lane. Similarly choose fast drills if you must to keep your average pace constant such as single fist clenched or 6 strokes with both clenched/6 normal hands to avoid abrupt changes in pace


  • Fartlek training is highly adaptable to the pool and can help create a long distance block of multi paced/multi effort swimming. Runners use it and there is no reason why it will not translate into a swimming main set. You can make use of a distance to swim steady and a shorted distance to swim fast or you could choose a number of strokes to swim strongly before doubling that number for an easy block. A water proof MP3 player with play list could also be set up to create different length tempos. Random up-tempo pace sections are good fun when you need to overtake, read on for more details on how to overtake safely. A strong fast overtaking maneuver will really spike the HR and allow a good training effect.


  • No wall open turns are on option to stay out of trouble at the wall. Rather then get caught up in the mass of bodies resting along the wall you could if it is clear & no one is about to push off perform a roll turn into the wall but not touch it and swim away from it. This will avoid the temptation to stop, rest, chat, moan or procrastinate the rest of the session with the others hanging around.


  • Avoid paddles as they invariably will clip someone accidentally and lead to some kind of argument or if necessary keep to the small so that they do not protrude from outside of the hand too much. The soft mitts many manufacturers offer are of use at this time despite performing a much different swimming sensation, they are a lot safer to use in a busy public session.


  • Get your kick set done in a lower lane at the end of your session to keep clear of other swimmers and avoid Breaststroke kick. Breaststroke kick is the most violent and powerful of all the kicks. Most people do not realize how wide their kick is on Breaststroke, which leads to many issues.



The following will also apply to a structured team session and help everyone stay safe and keep the lane harmony to its fullest if some or all could be incorporated.


  1. Never suddenly stop in midstream unless it’s an emergency, it’s extremely disturbing for anyone immediately behind you. If you do suffer from cramp or lose your goggles, try to turn sideways and move to one side of the lane quickly so that anyone behind can still continue to swim past you without interference. The swimmer behind you can only base their swim movements (i.e. plans to overtake etc) on what they expect you to do and where they expect you to be. Sudden deviations from this will cause problems and lead to crashes.


  1. Overtaking: just like in a car always check behind you before pulling out to make sure you are not inconveniencing anyone who might also be trying to overtake you. Pick your spot for overtaking carefully, if we divide the length of the pool into thirds I would suggest the following:


Overtaking in the first two thirds of the length: you should move into the middle of the lane checking there are no oncoming swimmers in front. After a gentle and polite tap of the person’s feet in front move around them quickly. It is your responsibility to get around the person in front safely and quickly the swimmer in front should not have to change their swim to accommodate you. Slowing down a fraction if it is you being overtaken I am sure would be appreciated from the person doing the overtaking. With this in mind, as mentioned, the person in front should not attempt to help the person behind by moving around or getting out of the way. The person behind cannot anticipate these unexpected movements.


Overtaking into the wall, i.e. the last 3rd of the length: It should be a natural movement for any swimmer to move towards to the centre of the lane as they approach the wall from about the flags in to execute their turn centrally. This will aid a smooth movement to the opposite side of the pool for the next length. From this you can see overtaking at this point can be quite hazardous. If you plan to overtake someone in this area it is best to ease back a fraction, allow them the centre line and you should stay towards the side of the lane that you had been swimming up. As they move to the centre and push off to the opposite lane side you will turn and push off into the centre of the lane immediately setting you up to remain centre of the lane for your overtaking attempt in the first third of the next length. At this point you can see it’s important to check behind to be sure no one is attempting to overtake you.


  1. Intervals: 5second gaps are designed to allow you to swim your own swim without immediately gaining a tow from the swimmer in front if you push off too soon. Please be accurate with this, don’t be a drag queen. 10 sec gaps if possible would ensure you get your best-unaided swim with no draft from the person in front. If you do swim on someone’s feet you really are not putting in an individual effort. You would be vilified on the bike for doing this for too long so try not to let it become a habit in the pool. Leading a lane means you are working harder then those following. You get more out of the session than those following and will reap more from the time put into the session.


  1. If lane one swims clockwise, then lane two should swim anti clockwise and so on across the pool. This way you both lanes travel in the same direction when you are closest to each other side by side. This will help reduce crashing arms from any oncoming swimmers in the next lane whose hand trajectory is a little lower and wide. Not adhered to on the continent but crammed into our small 25m pools compared to the multitude of 50m pools there with our narrower lanes perhaps it is a good thing that we are a little more careful. Regardless of swimming clockwise or anticlockwise stay over to the side of the lane, keep the ‘middle’ lane of the lane free for overtaking.


6 Finish at the wall. Stopping short 2metres at the end of each set in the shallow end due to someone being in the way is a lot of missed distance each year. Swim through the offending gutter clutter blocking your swim finish, they will soon get the message. (Be careful/polite in those public sessions) Even if just one metre is lost with each finish it could be 30-40m each session. Try not to be one of those resting too long on the wall. Hanging on the wall at either end cluttering up people’s space to turn wins no friends


Being courteous to your fellow swimmers will go a long way. Also to your coach – If late, it is polite to get in at the back of the lane and proceed with the current set, slowly getting warmed up until you are ready to resume your normal position further up the lane. Ask your coach what the set is rather then jump in sneakily and follow hoping to figure it out. It is courteous and will stop you swimming into the back of the person in front when they start to unexpectedly kick and you did not notice. Bring two sets of goggles with you so that if there are any leaks, then swap them. Try not to sit there for 10 minutes fixing them. This infuriates coaches. Shower ahead of time; wear Flip-flops on poolside and swim hats in the water. This would be a great help to allow pool operators to start using fewer chemicals. We would all benefit from this and you’re more than likely going to race in a swim cap anyway aren’t you.






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