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How to Circle Swim

While three is not exactly a crowd in a lap swimming lane (ask anyone who has joined an organized team), having three swimmers in a lane does mean that you need to circle swim. Here’s everything you need to know about circle swimming to keep three from feeling like a loud, angry crowd.

Circle Swimming: What is it?

Circle swimming is what it says: swimming in a circle. In the United States, circle swimming goes counterclockwise: swim on the right side of the black line that runs down the middle of the lane. You will be on one side of the lane going down the pool, and the other side of the lane coming back. Think of the black line as a double yellow line in the middle of a road.

Hot Tip: The "Wrong Way"

If your lane-mate says something like, “Mind if we circle Aussie-style?” they are asking if you want to swim clockwise. If that’s the case, you will always be on the left side of the lane. It’s like driving in England…or any other country where they drive on the left side of the road. Note: At USA Swimming sanctioned meets you must swim counter-clockwise in the warm-up pool.

Pick an Appropriate Lane

Spend a minute surveying the pool before you jump in. Look for signs denoting “fast,” “medium” and “slow” lanes. Pick a lane where you will be about the same speed as those who are already in it. Circle swimming is a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about passing people (or being passed) every other lap.

Talk to Your Lanemates

If you are joining a lane that already has two people in it, communicate clearly to both of them that they’ll need to circle swim before you start swimming! Even if there’s only one person in the lane and she is already splitting the lane, politely making your presence known is the safe and friendly thing to do. This can be as simple as dangling your feet in the water for a minute before jumping in. Also, knowing your pool’s lane-sharing etiquette will make for a friendlier, stress-free swim.

Stop at the Wall

When circle swimming, stopping in the middle of the pool is one of the best ways to end up in a collision. Even if you’re about to lose a contact, it is actually safer, not to mention easier, to keep your eyes closed and swim your way to the wall along the lane line. Stop mid-pool and you’ll be dodging task-oriented lanemates, and lifeguards hollering “Off the lane ropes!”

When you do stop at the wall, be aware of the swimmers coming behind you. Clear the middle of the lane for those who are going to continue swimming—tuck into one of the corners of the lane if you are going to rest at all.

Make Quick, Controlled Turns

In a crowded pool, turns can be the most intimidating (and dangerous) part of circle swimming. If you have negotiated a warm-up pool where swimmers are lined up toe-to-nose for 50 meters, you have probably found that turning while circle swimming can be as collision-prone as car racing. 

No matter what type of turn you do when you’re circle-swimming, aim for the middle of the lane. Make it quick, so that no one thinks you're stopping to rest, and keep it under control, so that you don’t whack someone in the face. Open turns are the safest until you are proficient at flip-turns. 

Pass Safely & Always Communicate

When you are circle swimming, passing and being passed are inevitable. It’s best to go along with local lap swimming etiquette, if possible. Better yet, communicate with your lanemates about what you are doing, and be a little flexible. A simple, “So, I’m going to do some sprints on a long rest interval,” may keep them from pushing off right in front of you. And if they do anyway, ten seconds of extra rest won’t ruin your set or your entire season.

Appropriate Intervals

Use the pace clock to put some space between you and the other swimmers in your lane. If the person in front of you pushed off the wall on the “60,” wait until at least the “10” before you follow them down the pool. This is a “ten-second interval.”

Assuming everyone in your lane is approximately the same speed, those ten seconds will create some space between you, making it easier for all of you to conduct your turns without interference. If there are a lot of people in the lane (six in a short course pool can qualify as a lot), 5 second intervals might be more appropriate.

But sometimes, especially at lap swim, you will end up in a lane where everyone is a different speed. If you find that you are significantly faster than your lanemates or if you are going to do some sprints, you might want to wait 20 or 30 seconds before you follow them off the wall. If you are significantly slower than your lanemates, push off immediately after they leave the wall, and it will take a little while longer for them to lap you.

Here's everything you need to know about circle swimming to keep three from feeling like a loud, angry crowd.
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