If you’re like most triathletes, you will swim the vast majority of your yardage in a community pool, commonly at a YMCA, gym, or neighborhood swim center. This environment brings with it special challenges, as it requires dealing with other swimmers attempting to use the same pool.
Walking up to a large pool with dozens of bodies thrashing up and down the lanes can be an intimidating experience to first-timers. If there is a lifeguard on duty, you may want to ask them to confirm which lanes are allowable to swim in. Sometimes swim teams or adult swim groups will reserve certain lanes for their use only. After this, if there is a swim lane open, feel free to take it. If all of the lanes are full, you’re going to have to get someone to share with you.
It is pool etiquette to get someone’s permission before joining their lane and beginning to swim. I once nearly swam headlong into a man breaststroking towards me because he just dove in and started to swim instead of notifying me that he had joined my lane. Of course, most swimmers know that this notification etiquette exists and sometimes will avoid making eye contact or responding to your voice as they lap up and down the lane. In this event, you may have to sit on the edge of the pool and dangle your feet in the water to let them know you’re serious about joining them. When they stop and make eye contact with you, politely ask, “Would you mind if I joined you?” I’ve never had a request like this turned down.
There are two ways to swim with multiple swimmers in a lane. The first is circle swim, in which each swimmer stays on the right side of the lane and the swimmers go about in a counter-clockwise rotation. This approach works best if all of the swimmers are swimming at approximately the same speed. If some swimmers are much faster than others and are stuck trying to pass, it is common courtesy for the slower swimmers to pause at the wall to let the speedier ones by.
The other method of sharing a lane is more common, but only works with two swimmers. In this method, each swimmer just stays on their given side of the lane, so that the lane line is close to their left side going one way and close to their right side going the other way. This works well with swimmers going different speeds, but each must take care to stay on their side and not drift to the middle, as this may cause a head-on collision. While some pools may have posters up instructing that multiple swimmers should perform a circle swim, every time I’ve shared a lane with one other swimmer we have agreed to just pick a side. It is generally accepted that if someone is already in the pool and you are asking to join their lane, you should allow them to choose the side they wish to swim on.
And, of course, if you are in the pool and someone asks to join your lane, go ahead and give them a smile and say, “Of course!” Nobody likes sharing lanes, but it is a fact of life in community pools and you shouldn’t get too upset about it. However, if there is an empty lane available, you’re well within your rights to gently point this out to them, as they may not have seen it themselves.
Next: Open Water Swimming