Dreams don’t come easy, and I will admit that my health and fitness dream has had some interesting challenges along the way. I was reminded of the need for anyone interested in lap swimming to have a basic understanding of pool etiquette before they jump in.
I love the water. I know there are those of you who have a fear of water in general. I give you permission to smack me for my overenthusiastic response to getting in the pool. I grew up with a pool, did crazy stuff jumping in the water for years. I love the feeling of just being underwater with the quiet and your thoughts.
You’ll notice I said nothing about any other bodies of water. That’s because I never have been a fan of water I can’t see through. Ocean in Hawaii? Not a problem. Lake Barryessa in summer? Perhaps while riding a Skidoo. Swimming in open water? No, thank you.
Most triathlon swim portions take place in the great outdoors, which means open water. I started my swim training last year at my local public pool with the rest of the 6 a.m. swimmers. Believe it or not, there are several people waiting for the facility to open at that ungodly hour.
Dream swim workouts start before you hit the water.
You get a confidence boost when you complete a major life change – like losing over 80 pounds and getting in shape. I was feeling pretty good about my fitness that morning, but my first lap swim had me wondering if I should go back to bed for the day.
I was feeling pretty confident even though my last pool time was over a year ago and had absolutely nothing to do with lap swim.
A friend had warned me about the basic rules of lap swim pool etiquette with made me do some research. I will find online resources from experts in whatever I am obsessed with at the time. This may also be the fact that I hate to look like an idiot.
With this particular experience, I’m not sure I succeeded.
Accept the fact that you may look stupid the first time in lap swim. It’s your first time. Everyone had their first time at some point.
It’s dark outside when I park in front of our local swim center at 5:52 am. There are several cars that pulled in at the same time, so I sit and wait to see what everyone else does. The doors don’t open until 6:00.
I check email on my iPhone, watching while others start to file toward the door. The crowd grows as the clock ticks toward the top of the hour and I gather my courage and go stand with the throng. There are about 20 people already outside the doors, chatting and saying hello. This is a crowd that shows up at dark o’clock on a regular basis.
The doors open and I go with the flow of the crowd, scanning in my pool pass. I had the forethought to buy a pass so I didn’t have to remember cash that early in the morning. The women’s locker room is buzzing and I grab a locker, stripping my sweats off and crossing my fingers the pool is heated even a little.
The suit I picked for the beginning of my lap swim pool adventure is a little offbeat. Apparently a few of the ladies in the locker room agree, according to the raised eyebrows I caught before they tried to hide it. One small smack to my confidence. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I am here, dressed and ready.
Now the fun part of trying to get the swim cap on.
I feel like I’m fighting to stuff my head into a balloon, while attempting not to tear it all out at the roots. The good news is I did a “dry run” with my cap and goggles the night before. At least I got a laugh out of my husband.
Hair finally tucked in, and goggles ready to go, I walked out to the pool. It was already crazy with lanes filling up quick. I grabbed a slow lane and sat on the edge, watching the 65+ man in the lane already smoothly go back and forth on one side of the lane.
Here’s when the lap swim pool etiquette research comes in handy.
Using Lap Swim Pool Etiquette:
1. Say hello to the lifeguard
You don’t need to be best friends, but a small wave or nod of your head lets them know you are there.
2. Pick your lane
Just like the freeway, lanes go from fast (far left) to slow (far right). Watch a few laps of swimmers before you choose a group that is moving at your pace. Sit with your feet in the water in the lane, or stand to let the other swimmers know you are joining them.
Here’s my typical plan – stand for a few laps, wait for a big gap and slide my body straight down into the lane. You can wait here for another round in the far right corner of the lane just to make sure you are seen, then join the fun when there is a gap.
Never jump into a lane where people are swimming. Diving is against the rules anyway as lap pools are too shallow, but the danger of hurting someone is high.
3. Just keep swimming
If there are only two of you, count yourself lucky and “split” the lane. That means you get one half to swim back and forth in, and they get the other. Take the time to make sure they see you before you join in.
More than two means you will circle. Swimmers will swim counter-clockwise keeping your right hand next to the lane markers or the wall. Keep to your side to avoid collisions or an accidental kick.
Backstroke is a special issue when sharing a lane, so be sure to follow a line in the ceiling to keep from crashing into fellow swimmers. If there is no line to follow, backstrokers tend to look like drunk drivers weaving all over the lane.
4. Flags at the ends mean something
When you are doing backstroke you can count the number of strokes it takes to get from the flags to the wall to avoid banging your head.
5. How to get out once you are done
Climb out on one end of the pool, typically the same end you came into the lane. If you aren’t comfortable pushing yourself up on the edge to get out, stay at one end. Duck under the lane markers avoiding swimmers to reach the steps. Be sure to wave or thank the lifeguard on the way out.
Joining my lane, I was thrilled to not feel like someone threw me in a freezer.
I had been dreading cool water, having absolutely no tolerance for any kind of cold. I stared down the lane a few seconds, dunked under water, and by the time I came up my smile broke. I remembered the feeling of being in the water again and it felt like coming home.
Pushing off the wall I started a free-style stroke and quickly remembered that I haven’t done this in years. My timing was off, I didn’t feel balanced, and why was I sinking? My body composition had changed so much since my last swimming experience. It hadn’t crossed my mind that this might impact my ability to float.
This was not an anticipated scenario.
I didn’t stop at the other side, turning and pushing off again. Barely making it back, my heart was pounding and I was hyperventilating. I thought “I am so out of shape!”. All this as I watched the older man next to me easily pushed off and start another lap.
I made it through a whopping 15 minutes of backstroke and freestyle swimming before I couldn’t catch my breath and started to feel fatigued. This is usually the feeling I get after 30 minutes of a boot camp workout, not from jumping in the pool!
I had to remind myself, as I hopped out of the pool long before anyone else. “You didn’t run 3+ miles when you started running, so give yourself a break. It’s a start.”
Lap swimming can be a dream. Know what you are jumping into.
Swimming is one of those little challenges I needed to work on for my big goal. This was the start before I participated in my from triathlon in June 20113. Now I’ve got a few under my belt, including my biggest triathlon challenge to date. An Olympic distance completed just after my 44th birthday this year.
My first swim was a whopping 15 minutes. I kept building up stamina, week by week. Now am able to survive an hour of rigorous swim intervals. Mostly without drowning.
Time to comment – do you hate swimming? Or hate swim suits? Share in the comments!
Go get your fit on – Heather
Heather Montgomery is a fitness writer, triathlete, and blogger who is devoted to sharing what she has learned about becoming a triathlete after age 40. She uses her Metabolic Training Certification to help other women struggling to get fit in mid-life. She lives and trains in Santa Rosa, California, the new home of the Ironman triathlon. You can find her biking the Sonoma County wine trails.