Swim Training: Pool Etiquette 101

Professional triathlete Sara McLarty gives some basic rules to follow next time you make a trip to your local pool.

Written by: Sara McLarty

Gone are the days when you can just show up at your local water hole, hop in and splash around for a few minutes. Today, lane space at the better swimming pools is a rare commodity. Teams, programs, groups and camps are forced to compete with each other for legroom and elbow room.

The facility managers walk a tight line between making a profit and trying to please every client. Unfortunately, they are dealing with a fixed amount of supply—they can’t just fly in some extra lanes when demand is at a peak. For example, the National Training Center pool in Clermont, Fla., is open between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. When the pool is set up short-course, we have 23 lanes and a shallow end. But it drops down to eight lanes in the summer when long course is the default format. Between 6 a.m., when my Masters group starts, and 7 p.m., when the last swim team group finishes, almost every lane is booked, sometimes months in advance. On the flip side, our management has a standing pledge that two lanes will always be open for regular members.

Unless you live in a tiny town with a huge pool, you have probably experienced the limited pool space problem firsthand. What is worse than walking out to swim practice and finding the pool a white, frothy mess of other swimmers—two or more in each lane? Some are going slow, some fast, some are kicking, maybe some have a snorkel and aren’t even stopping at the wall. All you want is to get in the water and complete a workout before your lunch break is over. What is a triathlete to do?

The following basics of swimming pool etiquette are  universal (OK, American—I’ll touch on some international points a little later) for swimming laps. Unless a sign at the pool specifies different rules, stick to the these:

Choosing a Lane

As you walk out on the pool deck, take a quick glance at all the swimmers in the pool. Make a mental note of the speed at which they are swimming. Compare their pace to how you are going to swim and look for a good match. Use your best judgment so both you and the other swimmers will have a pleasant workout. Some pools post signs on the wall that describe the pace in each lane (“Slow,” “Medium,” “Fast”).

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