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by Terry Heggy

November 5, 2015

Tips for good citizenship when sharing a lane

Unless you own a private pool, you’ll often need to share a lane with other swimmers. Here are some guidelines for making that process as enjoyable and productive as possible for everyone.

Be Nice

The number one rule is to practice common courtesy. Think how your actions will affect others, and be respectful. Start by learning and following the common etiquette rules and the basics of Masters swimming. Remember that others have a right to their workouts, too.

Know the Landscape

Every facility has its own lap swimming culture. It pays to get to know the facility staff, lifeguards, and the regular pool users. Read the posted rules, of course, but also ask questions to find out what might differ from where you’ve swum before.

The best option is to join the USMS club in your area; the coach will help you learn what you need to know. But if you swim during open lap swim, the pool staff and other patrons will usually be willing to give you guidance as well.

Manage Your Space

It’s easy to forget how much volume we inhabit, both with our bodies and our gear. Our lanemates will appreciate any efforts to compress.

  • Keep your toys (kickboard, pull buoy, paddles, water bottle, etc.) in an organized stack, where they won’t be in anyone’s way. Remember to collect them at the end of your workout.
  • Stand narrow. Facing the side wall or lane rope presents a thinner profile to the lane, as opposed to putting your back against the end wall and taking up your entire shoulder width. Try not to block anyone’s view of the pace clock.
  • Swim in your own half of the lane. Be aware of approaching swimmers and take care not to swing wide with your recovery as someone passes. Improve your technique. Swimming in a straight line and with a thin drag profile is not only more efficient, but also makes collisions a lot less likely.
  • Minimize your “attention gravity.” Any time you’re just standing around, other swimmers will be distracted as they wonder what you’re doing. To avoid this, arrive on time so you don’t interrupt people who are already swimming. And if you leave the pool before the scheduled end of the workout, go ahead and exit the area. Don’t linger on the deck while the workout is still in progress.

Inspire Teamwork

Swimming with others provides a multitude of benefits. You’re likely to work harder, swim faster, and have more fun when you find compatible lanemates. You can learn from each other, inspire each other, and create lifelong friendships. You can also build a strong network for cross-training, career advancement, and social opportunities. Introduce yourself to your fellow swimmers (including those in other lanes), and be generous with congratulations when your peers perform well.

In addition to exhibiting friendliness and enthusiasm, you can further enhance the lane experience with these behaviors:

  • Practice good close-quarters hygiene. Brush your teeth, file your nails, and get a new swimsuit when the old one reaches its expiration date. If you have a cold, don’t cough on your fellow swimmers; take a day off instead.
  • In organized workouts, be quiet and listen when the coach describes the set.
  • Communicate with lanemates to ensure that swimmers go in the right order. It helps if you can accurately predict your pace, as well as whether you’ll hold the pace or fade as the set progresses—but you have to talk to make sure you’re all in agreement.
    • Lane order should be determined by predicted speed. It’s better to say “I’ll go 1:20” than to say something vague such as “I’m swimming backstroke,” or “I’m taking it easy.”
    • If appropriate, take your turn as lane leader.
    • Respect the set’s drafting etiquette. The most common approach is for the fastest athlete to go first, followed by the next swimmer 5 seconds later, which should mean that the gap is maintained. But sometimes the coach might specify an intentional drafting set—where you’re expected to follow right on the leader’s feet. Pay attention and work together with your lanemates.
    • Take the rest intervals specified.
  • Don’t ever complain about the workout set, or say anything remotely critical about the coach.

OK, I’m kidding about that last bullet; you can totally disregard it. A little whining about shared discomfort is a legitimate and time-honored way to bond with your buddies. The bottom line is that by respecting your swimming partners and working cooperatively with them, the lane-sharing experience can be great for everyone!

For more on lane etiquette and how to resolve interpersonal conflict within the lane if it arises, see our feature story, “Divas, Drama Queens, and the Rest of Us” in the November-December 2015 issue of SWIMMER magazine.


  • Technique and Training


  • Lane Etiquette