Pool Etiquette and Unsolicited Advice

This is a 50 meter, long course pool or Olympic Pool

With pools opening back up, here are some useful reminders about pool etiquette in case you didn’t know. And if you don’t know, now you know.

Many triathletes come to the sport by way of running or cycling, and there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to the pool with most triathletes who generally train alone. Here’s some swimming etiquette if you haven’t had the benefit of ever swimming on a team or didn’t grow up around a pool.

As a triathlete, the pool is a chance to recover from the long days on the bike or run, so first things first: know the pool size. Most pools in the States are 25 yards long, one way, or short course yards (SCY), but some are 25 meters (SCM), and others are a whopping 50 meters long, otherwise known as an Olympic pool or long course meters (LCM). Your swim activity app on your watch should have a option for you to select the pool size for proper counting. If you’re not sure if the pool is 25 yards or meters, just ask.

That leads me to another issue: the definition of “lap” as it refers to swimming. Some swimmers say a “lap” is two lengths of the pool for “there and back”, others will argue that it’s one length of the pool. Avoid all debate and just say “length” instead of “lap”. Problem solved.

Lane lines are important too. Lane lines are solid 5 meters out from the wall (flags are placed above where the solid color ends and the broken colors begin). This is so you know how far you are from the wall while doing backstroke since you count your strokes to the wall before turning. When breathing to the side for freestyle, you’ll also know that the wall is coming up is you see a solid color. There is also a red colored marker on all lane lines 15 yards out from the wall, which is an long as you can legally stay under water after pushing off the wall. Everyone swims faster under water and good swimmers use this to their advantage, so streamline and get that free speed off the wall.

We haven’t gotten our toes wet, but before entering a lane to swim in, get permission from the swimmers already there. Hopping in and assuming they will see you is not a good idea because more than likely another swimmer won’t see you until they swim into you. Not a good day in the pool. If there are only two of you, decide if you will circle swim or split the lane. If you split the lane, you will stay to one side of the lane at all times. There is no need for a collision resulting in a concussion.

When circle swimming, swim counter-clockwise, keeping to the right of the black line. If you need to pass, tap the swimmer’s feet. Once at the wall, the swimmer you are passing will move to the far right to let you turn and keep swimming. Do not pass up the middle since the swimmer you are passing might not see you, and if you both get to the wall at the same time, that’s not OK. If you are doing the same workout and leaving the wall at the same time, give the swimmer in front of you space. Wait until their feet are past the solid color on the lane line to provide for adequate spacing while swimming.

When swimming in a masters group, talk to the coach and find out what the swimmers are doing, what the sets are, and where they are in the set. Take turns leading and give a few seconds in between swimmers to prevent swimming at their feet the whole time. The lead swimmer should know the sets, times to leave, etc. If you switch leaders in a lane, the new leader should understand all of this. When arriving late or leaving early, talk to the coach and the other swimmers in your lane so everyone knows what’s going on.

Wall know-how: if turning or finishing at the wall, move over to the far left to leave room for other swimmers to turn and push off and stay clear of the T on the wall. Lead swimmers start on the right and enter the swimming lane on the right of the line. All other swimmers will follow the lead swimmer and enter from the right of the lane.

If possible, swim with swimmers who are close to your speed, leave enough distance between you and other swimmers, and make sure you talk to everyone to ensure smooth swimming. In other words, know your pace per 100 yards–the pace you can swim for a long time. If you’re in a meter pool, add 5-10 seconds to that time, and in a 50 meter pool, add a few more seconds. So, if you are swimming at 1:30 per 100 yards, but the swimmers are at 2:00 per 100 yards, it will be tricky to circle swim with them. Find swimmers closer to 1:40 or 1:20 per 100 yards or +/- 10 seconds from your pace.

You’ve made it this far, so here’s some unsolicited advice for ALL TRIATHLETES:

  1. Do flip turns. They strengthen your core, keep your swimming speed up with less resting which translates well for open water swimming when you don’t get a big breath of air on the wall because there are no walls. Flips turns also help with getting you under the wake you just created from swimming to the wall (free speed!), they will keep your HR steady since you didn’t just gulp a huge breath of air for an open turn, they will enforce a better breathing pattern, and, best of all, you’ll shave 4-8 seconds off of each 100. Just shut up and do them.
  2. Learn all the strokes. Breaststroke is good for sighting in super choppy water, backstroke works your shoulder flexibility and actually makes you a better freestyle swimmer, and butterfly is unmatched for upper body strength needed for open water. Do all four competitive strokes, please, but build them in gradually and do them properly. Join masters swimming while you’re at it too. You will swim faster, get used to swimming with other people, and get coaching on your form. And if you do bust out the butterfly in a triathlon, I want to see that.
  3. Sure, keep track of your swim with your watch, but use the pace clock. For example, if you are doing 6x100s on 2:00, you will leave on the top of an analog clock or on the :00 of a digital clock. Finish each 100 in 1:50 for 10s rest. If you’re doing 100s on 1:45, you will leave on the :00, then the :45, :30, :15, etc. Use the clock, not your watch.
  4. Don’t just swim forever in the pool. You’ll just get better at swimming at a stupid slow speed. Do a workout. Print it and stick it in a baggie. Or take the paper and stick it to a wet kickboard. Just clean up the pool toys when you’re done.
  5. And for the love of all things swimming, KICK. It will help you maintain good swimming form. Do a two-beat kick to keep those legs up. You’re not fooling anyone by not kicking when you say you’re saving your legs for the bike and run because you’re only wearing yourself out more by dragging those legs in your wetsuit and all. Kick, kick, kick.