A lot of people dislike lane swimming, and I can’t say I blame them, it’s a necessary evil to share the same piece of water with others pounding up and down the lane, which can be frustrating for all involved as fast swimmers get held up and slower swimmers feel mobbed. If you’ve been swimming for a while, chances are you’ve either experienced, or been subject to the phenomenon of lane rage, where a swimmer becomes so agitated at having others interrupt their workout that they lash out at others. This is completely avoidable, so let’s dive into these murky waters to find the best way to avoid such unpleasantries and to help everyone have a great swim.
This should be the underlying message to take away from the article, you want your swim to be as enjoyable as possible, and you should want everybody else to enjoy your workout as much as possible. In the same way a good driver spends more time focusing on the behaviour of other drivers than on themselves, the same is true for swimming in close confines. Everybody’s trying to get the most out of their session, treat people as you’d expect to be treated yourself.
Communicate With Other Swimmers
If you find yourself at the end of the lane at the same time as your lane mate(s), make an effort to engage in some kind of conversation, even if it’s just asking if they want to go first. Even if you’re too gassed or simply don’t want to talk, acknowledging them with a nod can help. Adding a bit of humanity to the situation can help diffuse any potential tension or resentment.
Swim in an Appropriate Lane
This is the subject closest to my heart, people swimming in in the wrong lane. If you want to swim heads up breaststroke to keep your hair dry, that’s fine, it’s a free country, but please stay in the slow lane. Even if the fast lane is empty and you decide to hop in there instead to reduce the chance of getting splashed, when a faster swimmer gets in the fast lane, you’ll get splashed by them and also ruin their swim by slowing them down. Please swim in the lane that best reflects your ability, and if you absolutely must swim in the fast lane as the slow lane is chock full, move back down when appropriate. The same goes for Michael Phelps wannabes who decide that the fact the slow lane only contains one pensioner makes it perfect for a 400 IM.
Make Other Swimmers Aware of Your Presence
This can be as simple as dangling your legs in the water for a minute or two before you enter the lane while you sort out your goggles and hat, but will make others aware that there will soon be another swimmer joining them. Especially important if the swimmers have split the lane rather than swimming in a circular fashion. More than once I’ve been swimming along minding my own business and narrowly avoided a head on collision with someone who’s jumped into the lane without any notice.
If you see a swimmer waiting to start their swim, and the lane isn’t already a circle swim lane, stop for a moment at the end of the length to communicate what you want to happen next. Don’t just keep swimming up and down the middle of the lane.
Check before pushing off
All competitive swimmers have been there. In the middle of a fast 400M time trial, coming into the last 100M on track for a rapid time, when a swimmer who lowered themselves into the fast lane and spent 10 minutes doing his pre flight checks decides to gently push off and begin his warmup just as you approach for a tumble turn. Read the lane and check for other swimmers approaching before you push off, in the same way you look both ways before crossing the road.
Give way at the end of lengths
If a swimmer is directly behind you, they may inadvertently or otherwise give your feet a gentle tap. A light toe tap is generally considered to be a polite request to let them past at the end of the length. All it takes it to hold onto the wall at the end of that length for a second while they complete their turn, allowing you both to get on with your swim. Even if you don’t get a toe tap but sense a faster swimmer has been behind you for the majority of the length, giving way is polite and allows everyone to get on and enjoy their swim. Failure to do so will likely result in an aggressive overtake in a couple of length’s time and the evaporation of all goodwill.
Don’t rest in the middle of the lane
If you are taking a break at the end of the lane, stand to the side of the to allow others to tumble turn easily. If you stand in the middle of the lane having a chat, it becomes very difficult for others to continue swimming.
Consider moving down a lane for drillls/kick sets
This depends very much on how busy the lane is and the calibre of swimmers you’re sharing the water with, but if they’re doing sprints and you have 25M of sculling coming up, consider moving down a lane for a few minutes to avoid making enemies. This also goes for swimmers who find themselves fatiguing towards the end of a tough set. If you notice the swimmers in the slow lane are consistently moving faster than you, take the L and move yourself down.
Swim in the correct direction
Most pools will have a clockwise lane next to an anti-clockwise lane, next to a clockwise, alternating across the pool. This is to prevent swimmers from clashing arms and legs, especially prevalent when swimming breaststroke or fly. Pay attention to the direction of travel which is normally advertised at the end of each lane to avoid agitating/confusing others.
Stick to your side
We know what it’s like, you’re 2K into a swim set and your mind starts to wander. You’re not paying attention in the same way as you were at the start of the set, and as you start thinking about what you’ll have for dinner you begin to migrate away from the rope. Before you know it you’re squeezing another swimmer against the opposite lane rope as you swim down the middle of the lane. While it happens to the best of us sometimes, it’s worth continually checking your proximity to the black line to ensure you’re swimming to the side of it rather than on top of it. This is especially prevalent in swimmers who can only breathe to one side, as they won’t be as aware of their proximity to the lane rope.
Only swim backstroke if you’re proficient
As triathletes few of us will swim backstroke with any regularity, but it’s a good choice for swimming down as it loosens out the shoulders from the repetitive action of freestyle swimming. However if sharing a lane with others think carefully before you start breaking out backstroke, as it takes considerable practice to stay swimming in a straight line. If you swim backstroke and collide with someone swimming freestyle the other way, this will result in a painful head on (sometimes quite literally) collision, and it’s unlikely it will be the other swimmer’s fault.
Put your ego in a box
One of the frustrations of swimming is how those who are young and very fit can flounder in the pool, and find themselves passed by people three times their age who they would leave for dead in other sports. Suck it up, and allow faster swimmers to overtake you. If a faster swimmer appears alongside you, back off a little bit to allow them to make the pass, rather than surging forwards in an effort to prevent them getting past you. The swimmer overtaking you is probably sprinting to get the pass made before a swimmer coming the opposite way hits them, back off momentarily and let them get on with their swim, you’d expect someone else to do the same for you.
Give the swimmer in front space
If you’re getting ready for a fast set and a swimmer you’re sharing the lane with is 3 seconds per 100 slower than you, give them a lot of space ahead of you in the pool before you start your set so you don’t immediately end up on their feet. It’s not rocket science but you’d be surprised how many people do just this. Equally, don’t try to draft another swimmer you don’t know. This is generally considered to be rude and an invasion of space, likely resulting in some choice words.
Consider splitting the lane
If there are only two of you in the lane, consider communicating and splitting it down the middle, sticking to one side each. This is generally the best option if there are only two of you in the lane, as it allows you to enjoy your swim without having to worry about where you are relative to other swimmers, giving you more time to ponder that crossword clue which stumped you over breakfast. The less chances you have to cross paths with another swimmer, the lower the risk of lane rage. Make sure you keep an eye out for other swimmers arriving though, as you’ll have to switch to a circle swim.
Keep Your Hands to Yourself
There is no excuse to make bodily contact with another swimmer in the pool, with the exception of a light toe tap to ask someone to let you past. Many people feel incredibly self conscious in a swimsuit, and the last thing they want is a stranger putting a hand on their shoulder, no matter how well meaning. The same goes for tapping someone at the wall because you want to talk to them, and if you would even consider grabbing someone’s feet or brushing them “accidentally”, please never go near a swimming pool again. If you do clip or brush someone accidentally, make a point of apologising at the earliest opportunity.
If you are swimming with close friends then the rules are slightly different here and something like a fist bump may be perfectly acceptable, but it’s unlikely anyone, especially a member of the opposite sex, wants a near naked hug. Even if you don’t have any ulterior motives, it’s creepy as hell.
Butterfly is acceptable
Contentious I know, but those who want to swim fly have to train somewhere, and there aren’t butterfly specific pools or lanes. Many see it as an anti-social stroke due to the splash created from an effective fly kick, but as long as someone isn’t tearing up the middle of a lane with aggressive fly, we should live and let live. Asking someone to swim a different stroke will not go down well.
Don’t be a dick
You won’t be able to get the swim you want to every week due to other swimmers who are slowing you down or otherwise interfering with your set, this is a fact of life and unless you rent a lane or swim in a private pool, you’re going to have to put up with other swimmers. If someone is swimming very fast and is in the fast lane, they’re well within their rights. If someone is swimming slowly in the slow lane, they’re well within their rights. If somebody’s swimming is really irritating you and interfering with your set, just try talking to them between lengths, they may be unaware of the impact their actions are having and you should be able to find a compromise.
Just like driving or cycling on the roads, nobody wants to have to slow down for others, but a bit of consideration and patience goes a long way to a positive swimming environment. If you swim at the same time each week you’ll slowly get to know the swimmers you share a lane with. Make an effort to learn their swimming patterns and do what you can to ensure a harmonious environment for everyone to swim in. If it all gets a bit much, consider joining a swimming/triathlon club where things are better regulated and rules enforced. You’ll also have the bonus of coached feedback and other swimmers to train with.