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I don't want to be a lap swimming jerk
February 20, 2012 4:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm keen to add lap swimming to my fitness routine, but I haven't done it before and don't know the etiquette. Help me not commit any lap swimming faux pas.

I'm a strong swimmer and got my bronze cross back when I was a teenager, so I'm not concerned about drowning or anything. I plan on maybe attending some of their drop in adult lessons to clean up my strokes once I get in to the swing of things. I have a proper athletic bathing suit, a swim cap, and goggles, so I am fine for equipment too.

I just don't know what the protocol is. Do I need to wet myself down in the shower before I get in to the pool? (I see people doing this.) Do I wear flip flops in to the pool area? Do I bring a towel in to the pool area? Where do I put my towel while i am swimming? How do I politely "share a lane" with another swimmer? Is there anything else I should know about?
posted by gwenlister to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (27 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're overthinking this to the extreme. Do what's comfortable and what works for you.

Your bag and/or towel go at the head of the lane you're swimming in. If you want to share a lane, just ask.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:23 AM on February 20, 2012


Most pools require that you shower first. I'm surprised your pool doesn't have signs posted in the locker room to that effect.

Flip flops, dunno. Doesn't seem like a good idea because they are easy to trip in. I don't wear anything on my feet when I go into a pool area.

I do bring a towel, and put it away in one of the cubby holes designated for swimmers' belongings. Your pool may have a designated area, you could ask the lifeguard or another swimmer. I would not put them "at the head of the lane" because people could trip on them.

Sharing lanes: try to pick a lane with a swimmer who is going about as fast as you will be going. Sometimes lanes will actually be labelled slow, medium, and fast. If you can catch their eye, do let them know you will be sharing their lane. Sometimes people go around the lane in a circle, and sometimes one person takes one side of the lane to swim back and forth, and the other takes the other side. You may want to ask, or there may be rules posted.

I'm someone who hates having to give up a lane all to herself, and I don't think this question is overthinking it. I think the fact that you are thinking about sharing a lane in the best way possible makes it much less likely that you will annoy your lane partner. Too many times, I've enjoyed my swim until some knucklehead gets in my lane and proceeds to swim notably faster or slower than me, or hog the lane and require me to spend more time thinking about avoiding their flailing limbs than my swim.
posted by parrot_person at 4:36 AM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Actually I disagree with Brandon -- there is a sort of etiquette, and it's a good question to ask. Yes have a shower before you go in, ideally with soap and all so you are clean. Flip flops are not necessary in the pool area. Usually I would bring a towel in with me.

Lane sharing is the only tricky one. This will vary by pool, and by time of day within the same pool. Typically lanes will be designated fast/medium/slow in some form. Watch people for a few minutes and you will figure out which lanes are which. Also note which side of the lane people are swimming on -- it will not be in the middle of the lane, but off to one side, so that you can do the return trip down the other side, but sometimes this will alternate lane by lane, to prevent the possibility of interfering with someone swimming in an adjacent lane. The pool I used to swim at would have signage showing the current lane designations and which side to swim on. If in doubt, ask a guard. It's a valid question because sometimes the pool is set up for fitness/training with more fast lanes, and other times there are more slower lanes for more general use.

Overtaking/being overtaken is uncomfortable as it leads to splashing in other people's faces and the occasional unwanted contact and the lane speed designations are designed to minimize this. The thing to avoid doing is force someone to stop, because that screws up their flow, and swimming is kind of a zen aerobic thing that is very much about flow. Thus don't stop anyone to ask, just drop into the lane at a suitable gap and start going. If you are being overtaken regularly you should move to a slower lane, and likewise if you pass a lot of people, move to a faster lane. Passing is much easier at the start/end of the lane; if you are about to be passed, it is courteous to linger on the wall for a moment and let the other person by; likewise if you feel someone passing you in the middle of the pool, or if you are about to pass someone, give as much space as you can and don't splash or kick them. That's about it, I think.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:43 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should say this was a fairly high-occupancy pool at a university campus where one would always have to share a lane, often with four or five people. It might be different at a pool that's more casual or less fitness-oriented.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:46 AM on February 20, 2012


Yes, shower before you go in. Flip flops are up to you, but advisable if you want to protect against veruccas, athletes foot etc. Stow your gear somewhere dry, usually on a bench. Taking your towel in is fine, again, make sure it's somewhere dry.

Sometimes lanes will have specific 'swim in a clockwise direction' or 'swim in an anti-clockwise direction', so check before you set off which side you will be swimming on. Check before you do your turns whether someone is right up behind you and let them swim in front of you at the turn. Err on the side of caution about your speed.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 4:47 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an occasional exercise swimmer, the above advice is pretty good if you swim at the platonic ideal of a pool. :)

In my experience, few people actually pay attention to lane speeds, much as people don't move out of the passing lanes on the highway. Rinse off, wear sandals as you please, set your board/fins/etc at the head of the lane, and get in whatever lane has the fewest people. If you can, get the other person's attention and ask if they prefer circle swimming or to pick a side; often people do have a preference. With more than two people, circle swim, in accordance with local convention. Pay attention to the gap between you and the person following you. If they get close, stop and let them pass. When you stop, squeeze yourself into the corner of the lane, and let them flip/turn in the middle of the lane wall. If you catch them and can't move into another lane, stop, and let arrange your timing such that you leave the wall just before they arrive, putting them just behind you. Then you catch them and repeat. Yeah, it breaks the flow. Sharing is like that.

You're already a step ahead if you're worrying about etiquette. Be conscientious and you'll be fine.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 4:50 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it's a great question too, not over-thinky. Shower first. Wear your flipflops but stow them where someone getting out of the pool won't trip. Watch for a few minutes to determine your best access. While swimming, maintain an awareness of other swimmers. Pace yourself according to your fellow swimmers. At my pool, that's what works best, adjusting as you go to accommodate the traffic.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:52 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should say this was a fairly high-occupancy pool at a university campus where one would always have to share a lane, often with four or five people. It might be different at a pool that's more casual or less fitness-oriented.

Hmm, this brings up a good point. At the local Aquatic Center, just getting in someone's lane would not fly, at all. You ask, either waiting until they take a break or until they're at the end where you're standing. No one says no. But I live in small southern town where politeness is prized and go to a community pool. The etiquette at the pool seems based on that community at large, so take that consideration if you're worried about how to act.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:56 AM on February 20, 2012


PercussivePaul's pool is like the one I go to (busy enough that I get kicked in the face at least every few weeks), and that's good advice. Communicating about passing someone at the end of a lane is usually raising eyebrows and nodding, if there's a question, or a "go ahead!" hand gesture.

If you're swimming breaststroke or something with limbs taking more than half a lane, be conscious when passing someone who's going in the other direction. (I do a few butterfly kicks or go arms-only.) One accidental, light bump off someone is fine in a busy pool - if you hit them hard, stop to apologise and see that they're ok if the lane's quiet enough, and if you hit them more than once, change stroke or technique!

The most frustrating things in my pool, other than people with poor personal hygiene who haven't showered: people who are oblivious to being slower than the lane and won't either stop to be passed or change to the slower lane, people who suddenly stop or stand up mid-lane, people who can't swim in a straight line, people who suddenly kick off (from rest or just starting) right as I reach the wall to turn, and the fuckers who stretch themselves across the pool wall while resting.

Seriously, you've asked this and you sound really polite, so you sound like a dream to share a lane with. Ask the lifeguard or reception if you're in doubt, and they'll probably love you for it too.
posted by carbide at 5:00 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


people who are oblivious to being slower than the lane

As a fairly slow swimmer I would add that the opposite is just as infuriating. If you're a fast swimmer (sounds like you are) and find yourself in a slower lane, just slow down! Stopping to let you pass every single lap soon becomes ridiculous. If the lanes have no assigned speeds, it's trickier.
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:18 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't do the backstroke in a shared lane - there is an older man at the gym where I swim, he will only do the backstroke, rendering him unable to see anyone sharing his lane (even after it is acknowledged that someone is sharing his lane) and will kick or hit them with his hand. He has kicked me from the next lane over!
posted by pinky at 5:24 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't get annoyed about the older guy doing backstroke in a shared lane, ifs that's all they'll do they probably lack the ability to swim strongly on their front. Whilst contacting you is the last thing they want to do, they're not doing it on purpose and deserve as much of a work out as you do.
posted by Ness at 5:34 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a fairly slow swimmer I would add that the opposite is just as infuriating. If you're a fast swimmer (sounds like you are) and find yourself in a slower lane, just slow down!

It's not always easy to do! I've been behind people who essentially forced me and those behind me to stop and tread water while I waited for them to gain few yards on me -- when the lanes were marked! And people seem to consider it a judgement when you swim faster, no matter how you point out that there's a lane just right for them.

And I say this as someone who went from glacially slow to moderately fast in public swim. (I was still glacially slow at adult team workouts.)

Now I'm back at slow again.
posted by jgirl at 5:34 AM on February 20, 2012


As a fairly slow swimmer I would add that the opposite is just as infuriating. If you're a fast swimmer (sounds like you are) and find yourself in a slower lane, just slow down! Stopping to let you pass every single lap soon becomes ridiculous. If the lanes have no assigned speeds, it's trickier.

Oh, absolutely. If I'm the faster one and the lane's quiet enough, I usually try to put as much distance between us so that it's happening every ten laps, say, and I watch out for a better-paced lane to shift into. Slowing down for the whole session is a waste of a swim for me, but there's usually a polite way for everyone to get their desired pace without being uncomfortable.
posted by carbide at 5:43 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recommend flip flops.. I got a nasty case of cellulitis at the Y one time. You don't want that.
posted by j03 at 5:51 AM on February 20, 2012


Your profile says you are in New Brunswick. In my experience in public pools in Ontario and Quebec, you do not ask to join the lane because it is a rare day when there aren't way more people than lanes available--sharing lanes is expected and in my experience (if everyone is swimming considerately) it doesn't get congested until you have 5 or more swimmers in the lane. Lanes are divided slow/medium/fast and sometimes there is a water running lane which you can swim in only if there are no water runners around. If a lane is empty when you arrive, you can ignore the speed rating until someone else gets into the lane--stay flexible.
If you're sharing, enter the pool after someone does their turn and try to maintain even spacing with other swimmers, and leave lots of room for people to turn if you take a break at the end of the pool. Only jerks do the butterfly in a shared lane. Backstroke is fine if you can keep in a straight line.

But as the others have said, the fact that you actually care about etiquette means you won't be the biggest problem at the pool.
posted by cardboard at 6:04 AM on February 20, 2012


Just chiming in that you might want to call ahead about the "adult drop-in lessons". When I was a lifeguard at a YMCA, those classes were geared towards adults with no swimming ability. They were using kickboards and noodles to stay afloat and working on overcoming a fear of the water. YMMV, but at my YMCA, if someone with bronze cross-level ability had showed up at that class, it probably would be at least a little bit awkward for most involved.
posted by halseyaa at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2012


Definitely call and ask about the drop-in class. I think it's a great idea but you want to get something out of it. What you want is someone to look at your stroke, offer you tips and advice and maybe help you come up with a starter workout.

At my pool, there are anywhere from 1 to 6 lanes for lap swimming. When there's six lanes there are two for each speed. It's great. Uncrowded and easy for people to sort themselves. When there are 3 or fewer lanes, things get more stupid. When that happens, most people just look for a lane with 1 person and then they "split" the lane. One person stays on the right, the other on the left. I find that it's best to alternate so that you are reaching the opposite wall when they are coming in. Basically, giving you each the most space to do your return.

If I get in someone's lane, I usually wait to get acknowledged and maybe say, "Care if we split the lane?" And if I'm the third then I see if it can get acknowledged by the other two, "Care if we circle swim?" Some people are newbies and I have to explain how that works.

When circle swimming, you need to time yourself so that you're not crawling up on someone or getting crawled up on. If you need a rest break at the wall, get out of the way, position yourself at one of the lane corners. If someone is coming in for the turn, stay well out of the way and don't try to beat them off the wall, wait until they go and give yourself room and then go.

Shower before you get in the pool. Put your towel wherever other people are putting theirs. Wear flipflops if they make you comfortable (I do). And don't be afraid to talk to people or admit you're a newbie. Have fun!
posted by amanda at 7:57 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I swim a few times a week at my local Y.

I think the best thing to do would be to talk to the lifeguard on duty for a minute about the best lane for you to swim in, and possibly just stop by the pool for a few minutes with no intention of swimming to see how it works. You should be able to figure out what other people do with their things once you enter the pool area.

Even within a lane set up by speed, people's speeds will vary. I'd advise you to be mindful of how fast other people are going, and if someone is a little bit faster than you and on your heels, let them pass you at the next wall.

Some sources on swimming etiquette say that a tap on your heel means that the tapper wants you to let them pass at the next wall, but I've never observed this in practice and I've never done it. You may want to ask a lifeguard about this.

Also, if you're resting between laps, stay to one side or the other of the wall so people actively swimming can get to the center.

If there is someone at one end of the pool standing or hanging on the wall and they have their goggles off or up, it means they are taking a breather and you don't have to worry about whether to let them go ahead of you.

If someone is at the end of the pool with their goggles on, it means they may be about to go, and you should think about who should go first based upon your knowledge of their speed versus yours, and possibly confer with them, especially if they are faster.
posted by alphanerd at 8:07 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you stop at the end of your lane for a breather or something make sure to get to the side. This way others can have access to the wall to complete flip turns.
posted by FatRabbit at 8:09 AM on February 20, 2012


Do I need to wet myself down in the shower before I get in to the pool? (I see people doing this.)

Other people have mentioned showering, but I just want to emphasize that what you are doing in the shower is not "wetting yourself down". Your goal is not to simply get wet before you get in the pool (to what end?) but to actually soap up and clean the grody off you before you get in the pool so we're not all swimming in a disgusting soup of each other's butt crust and ball cheese, plus the shit-ton of chlorine they have to add to neutralize the bacteria therefrom. It's meant to be a cleansing shower.

A personal benefit of showering first is that thoroughly soaking your hair prior to getting in the pool is said to prevent it from turning green from the chemicals in the pool water.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you like to swim lengths then choose a part of the pool dedicated to length swimming - or a time slot when the whole pool is configured this way. If you find yourself sharing a pool with small children doing widths and pairs of grandmothers having a conversation as they paddle along - particularly in a crowded pool - then you are going to get in their way just as much as they get in yours. The fact that you are doing "proper lengths" and they are not is not an excuse.
posted by rongorongo at 9:08 AM on February 20, 2012


Please shower before getting into the pool. Please! Like Serene Empress Dork says, no one wants to swim in the chlorine-based human soup that a public swimming pool can turn into.

A personal benefit of showering first is that thoroughly soaking your hair prior to getting in the pool is said to prevent it from turning green from the chemicals in the pool water.

This! Also, I have found if I shower before I get into the pool, I stink less of chlorine later. This is crucial for me, given that I swim for about an hour 3-4 times a week.

Personally, the thought of not wearing flip flops anywhere in the locker room squicks me out. However, I found that the rubber soled, plastic thong flip flops were hard to walk around in when wet so I've picked up a cheap pair covered with canvas from Target. I've found so long as I let them air dry between trips to the pool, they don't get gross.
posted by godshomemovies at 9:08 AM on February 20, 2012


This is the math teacher in me talking:

To time yourself against another swimmer to see who is faster and by how much, wait until they get to the opposite wall and leave your wall at the same time, and see who reaches their opposite wall first, and use this knowledge to space yourself with them to make for a good flow. It's a good thing to have a sense of, since you will likely be seeing the same swimmers again and again.

Also, to put yourself exactly between two swimmers, time your departure from your wall to the moment when they pass each other. You can use this trick no matter how many swimmers are in the lane, though you'll only want to use it if you're going at about the same speed as the swimmers at each end of the gap.

Also, the goggles thing works both ways; if you are resting it's a good idea to lift yours up to signal to other swimmers that you're resting.

Also, and this is veering a little off topic, I typically swim 72-90 lengths in a workout, and find it's useful from a mental standpoint to think of things in terms of sets of six lengths. That way, I'm always reasonably close to reaching a goal, but there are few enough of these subgoals to keep them meaningful. It also helps me get a sense of my pace when I check out the clock.
posted by alphanerd at 10:03 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my lightly used local pool, if we have to share lanes, it's usually just two people, so you take a side. Once you get to three you circle up one side and down the other. If you're waiting to get into a lane, either wait at the end, or stick your legs in the water. If someone still doesn't notice you and accommodate, get into the water. You generally want them to know you're in the lane before you start swimming.

Showering first not only cleans, but personally I find it makes it easier to get into colder water. I usually leave my clothes in my locker and take my bag with towel and valuables in it to the pool side.
posted by idb at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2012


I really appreciate it when newcomers to my lane make themselves known by sticking their legs in the water as idb suggests. I see a lot of variation as to how or if the newcomer is acknowledged though.
posted by klarck at 4:54 PM on February 20, 2012


Experienced lap swimmer and former lifeguard here. Good question.

Yes, shower first. Many people won't, but for hygiene reasons it's the decent thing to do.

Flip flops are great for preventing foot infections. I would never go without them.

I usually stow my stuff in a locker or nearby chair. To the lane I bring my water bottle, goggles, and other swim gear (kick board, floats for swimming without kicking, fins if I'm going to wear them). Towel goes on a nearby chair even if the rest of my stuff is in a locker.

Pick the lane by studying the speeds of the swimmers in them. If there is an empty lane, hop in. If there is a lane with only one person going your approximate speed, either catch their eye when they are turning then hop in, or dangle your legs in until they turn once, then hop in. At that point you might have a conversation about whether to circle swim or each keep to one side of the lane. If there are only lanes with multiple swimmers, follow the same protocol though the swimmers will care less if you join without letting them know first and you will all be circle swimming. If the lanes already have 3 swimmers or so, you might ask the lifeguard if you should wait to join until someone leaves - some pools follow that protocol.

Once in the water, try passing swimmers at the turn, or letting them pass you at the turn if you can see they are on your heels. You *can* swim around (or over - no don't do that unless you're on a serious team that passes like that) someone, but it's nicer to just pass them at the turn if possible. If they won't let you pass them at the turn, tap their heel as you approach the next turn - they should let you pass then. If someone taps your foot, slow down or tread water to let them pass.

Have fun!
posted by semacd at 10:38 PM on February 20, 2012


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