FEATURES,  View from the Water

Eight ways to clear a swimming lane

Apologies if you think I’ve possibly lured you here using the exaggerated headline trick. I don’t have a magical solution for clearing out a swimming lane but I do have a few suggestions that might help give you a bit more space, or at least make your next pool swim a little more enjoyable.
There’s not much that gets swimmers riled like lane etiquette (or lack thereof) and I’ve noticed an upsurge recently in social media discussion around the subject of lane sharing during public sessions. It is, I suppose, that time of year when people return to the pool after a summer spent swimming outside. Lane rage posts always generate a lot of heated discussion and blame shifting. It is, naturally, never the writer’s fault. Lane problems are always caused by the stupidity and selfishness of the other people in the pool. It would all be fine if the offenders simply followed the writer’s instructions on pool etiquette. What part of ‘keep out of my way’ don’t they understand?
We then hear about people trying to clear a lane by swimming butterfly, making excessive splash, doing tumble turns as close as possible to people hanging around at the end of the pool or using aggressive language.
And yes, you might intimidate a few people out of the lane by doing this but the cost is high. You generate resentment and complaints or your targets may respond to aggression in kind, making the situation worse by slowing you down further and being deliberately obstructive. In any case, being aggressive will likely cause you tension, which could ruin your swim even if you do get a bit more space. A hollow victory indeed.
So, what do we propose instead?
Firstly, recognise that trying to get other people to change through force and aggression is usually unproductive – and it’s always unpleasant. Think instead of the parable of the sun and the wind and their competition to get a man to remove his coat.
Secondly, accept that every swim is equally important and every swimmer has equal rights to the water, regardless of speed, age or potential. A fast swimmer doesn’t have any superior claim to lane space than a slower one nor does a Channel swimmer have priority over someone learning to swim.
That said, you still want to do the session you had planned and swim with minimal conflict or tension with anyone else in the pool. That might involve encouraging other users to move to a more speed-appropriate part of the pool or to adapt the way they swim to facilitate the smooth functioning of the lane.
Here are some suggestions on how to do it with warmth and charm rather than an icy blast.

  1. If you’re quick, instead of announcing your intentions by swimming fast and aggressively as soon as you get in the pool try swimming with as relaxed a stroke as possible. Stay calm and go out of your way to give other people space. If you do clash with anyone else, apologise and say don’t worry about it as you’re just taking it easy at the moment. This is highly effective at persuading slower swimmers to move lanes, and without generating any resentment or complaints. I don’t know why it works so well. Maybe it’s because you prompt the other swimmers to think something like: if that’s how fast he swims when he’s taking it easy what’s it going to be like when he speeds up?
  2. Try the highly unorthodox approach of talking to the other swimmers. Questions such as, “what are you training for?” or “are you following a programme?” work well. This is much more effective than starting with statements such as, “I’m training for [insert name of next challenge], which clearly means I take my swimming much more seriously than you so get out of my way.” Questions give you a chance to talk about your training in a much less aggressive way. The end result is often the other swimmer saying something like, “you sound like a serious swimmer. I’ll try to keep out of your way.”
  3. If you establish that one or more of the other swimmers are following a training set of some kind, ask if you can join them, even if it’s totally different to what you had planned. Doing the ‘wrong’ training session is better than a totally frustrated swim but often the result is a discussion about what training you had planned and some kind of adaptation so at least you can do part of what you wanted. And once you have two or three people in a lane swimming in a coordinated way other lane users often fall in in line or move over.
  4. Start out with a long, steady swim. It’s more in tune with what casual swimmers do. If the other people in your lane have never swum in a club environment they may be mystified by interval training and you will cause confusion (and irritation) by stopping, letting them pass and then overtaking them again. The steady swim is more effective at encouraging people to move to a slower lane. You can switch to intervals later.
  5. Print out your training session and stick it at the end of your lane. This signals that you’re planning a serious swim and can also serve as a conversation opener. Leaving a few toys (floats, ankle bands) and a drink bottle on the pool side can be useful too, even if you’ve no plans to use them.
  6. Stick to a regular slot, as long as you don’t make enemies. A lot of pool swimmers are creatures of habit and swim at the same time every week. Territories and habits become established. People give you more space if you’re a regular rather than an invader.
  7. Bring along some training buddies. Training in a group helps your motivation and if there are several of you doing the same thing it helps the lane run more smoothly. This can be seen as an aggressive lane takeover move so be extra polite to other users.
  8. Finally, relax and enjoy being in the water. That will help you cope better if none of the above work.

If you’ve got more suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.