RMSC Lane Etiquette

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Lane Etiquette

We have all experienced it—you are swimming along, focusing on your technique, pushing hard to meet a time interval and suddenly there is a body in front of you, forcing you to swerve to avoid a collision or to stop abruptly. Your frustration mounts as you silently ponder your lane mate’s sanity and insensitivity to your training objectives.

One of the ways we can avoid these incidents is to follow some basic lane etiquette. Every pool and club has their own set of rules for lane swimming, and the following is a compilation of our club’s guidelines and practices to assist both new and experienced swimmers.

Lane Placement

New swimmers will be assessed by the coach and assigned a lane. If you are unsure whether you should move to another lane, consult with the coach first to make sure there will be adequate room and that you are strong enough for the new lane.

If there are open lanes or a lane unexpectedly has enough swimmers to field a football team, don`t wait to be told to move—adjust the numbers per lane yourselves with the faster swimmer(s) moving up a lane, and those at the end of the lane moving to a slower lane.

Lane Direction

Our lanes always go up the side of the pool or lane rope and back down the middle. Every two lanes will turn towards each other and overlap on the return length to make the best use of the space available. This approach makes it easier to pass and reduces the likelihood of hitting hands or bumping heads.

Starting the Workout

As master athletes, a proper warm up is important yet unique to each individual. If you are not starting at the same time as the rest of the lane (e.g. you are tardy or chatting with the coach), check where your lane is and join in at this point. Do not attempt to start at the beginning of the workout. Take your first few lengths easy to warm up and then adjust your effort when you are ready.


Everyone needs space to swim. You are not doing your lane mates or yourself any favors by dragging off their feet. By dragging, you are making the person in front of you work harder while you coast along, drafting in their wake. In addition, swimming too closely behind your lane mate creates a distraction that prevents them from focusing on their technique and may also interfere with their ability to properly execute a turn.

Use of the pace clock allows everyone to space themselves out evenly. The rule of thumb is to leave 5 seconds apart when there are more than 3 or 4 swimmers in the lane. Leaving 10 seconds apart is possible with fewer swimmers, in long course pools or where the distance and interval time permits.

Be aware of other swimmers when swimming butterfly or doing breaststroke kick. It may be necessary to switch to one-armed butterfly or to dolphin kick for a stroke or two to avoid contact or collisions with people swimming in the opposite direction.

Order of Swimmers within a Lane

Swimmers in a lane should be ordered from fastest to slowest. If a swimmer decides to switch to a slower stroke in one set, they should allow the swimmers who are doing faster strokes to go ahead of them. It is not uncommon for the order of swimmers to change several times during a workout as strokes change and swimmers decide on how much effort they intend to expend. As the saying goes “talk amongst yourselves” ... but not for too long or our coach might encourage you to start swimming.

Following a Workout

You have joined a swim club and now have the benefit of a qualified coach and workout. Every effort should be made to follow the workout as posted on the board, recognizing that we all have our individual aches and pains that necessitate the odd adjustment. Also remember that those exotic strokes and turns executed with little apparent effort by others were only achieved by practice, practice and practice. By attempting and practicing them yourself, you too can master them.

Intervals & Pace Times

Pace times should reflect the time needed for the middle swimmers in the lane. This may mean that the faster swimmers will take more rest while slower swimmers may need to sit out 50m to catch their breath. Once again, start a discussion with your lane mates to reach a consensus on an appropriate interval or pace time or how the set might be altered to suit the lane.

Passing and Being Passed

To pass your lane mate, you need to be aware of other swimmers in the pool. Many collisions are caused by people trying to pass. To pass you either move to the inside (center of the lane) or the outside of the lane. If you move to the inside, any oncoming swimmer has the right of way. If you move to the outside, you should be ready to swim in the other lane if you don't have space or time to move back before the length is done. To let a person know that you are going to pass them it is okay to touch their foot once only. If you touch them more than once, you can expect someone to get very frustrated with you.

There is nothing more frustrating than when you are trying to pass someone and they speed up, stop right in front of you or continue on oblivious to the person behind them. It is not appropriate to race when you are being passed as this can be the cause of some pretty severe injuries.

The goal is to swim in a straight line, on the same pace and allow the person to pass you as cleanly as possible. Be aware of where your lane mates are and anticipate when they may catch up to you. Help them pass safely by slowing your pace during the length to allow them to quickly overtake you or by moving to the side of the lane at the wall to let them execute their turn and push off cleanly.

Turning and Finishing

When approaching the wall to turn, move towards the centre of the lane while aiming to touch and push off on the black line. Essentially your approach and departure should follow an elliptical route at the end of the lane. This gives both you and those before and after you the space needed to execute your turns without impeding or colliding with your lane mates.

Every length should end at the wall, not 2 meters out from the wall, not under the backstroke flags or any place in between. Finishing properly is important to developing proper technique and particularly important to those entering competitions.

As soon as you touch the wall, you need to be aware that you are in the way of the person behind you. It is your responsibility to get out of the way of the swimmers behind you. Touch the wall and move quickly to the lane rope or the wall side of the lane so that the swimmer behind you can also finish their length at the wall or continue on for another lap.