In the international swimming community, one mile is signified as 1,650 yards or 1,500 meters. However, these distances are just short of a true mile. One mile is equal to 5,280 feet, 1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 meters. This means that the 1,650-yard mile is 6.25% shorter than a true mile, and the 1,500-meter mile is 6.8% shorter!
How many laps will it take you to swim a true mile? Let’s find out.
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Related: How to Get Back Into Swimming Shape
Laps vs. Lengths
Some people measure their swims in lengths, and others measure their swims in laps. While the conversation about laps vs. lengths differs depending on who you talk to, for the purposes of this discussion let’s assume the following:
- One length: Swim from one end of the pool to the other.
- One lap: Swim to the other end of the pool and back one time.
However, it’s important to note that many competitive swimmers don’t comply with the above definitions, and instead consider one lap to be swimming from one end of the pool to the other.
Long Course vs. Short Course
Pools are categorized as either short course (25-yard or 25-meter pools) or long course (50-meter pools). For racing purposes, there are two distance standards for the mile that account for the difference between yards and meters:
- 25-yard pool: 1,650 yards
- 25-meter or 50-meter pool: 1,500 meters
How to Swim a True Mile in a Pool
Based on your pool length, here are how many laps you’ll need to swim to complete a true mile:
- 20 Yard Pool: 1,760 yards is 88 lengths (44 laps)
- 25 Yard Pool: 1760 yards is 70.4 lengths (35.2 laps)
- 25 Meter Pool: 1610 meters is 64.4 lengths (32.2 laps)
- 30 Meter Pool: 1610 meters is 53.6 lengths (26.8 laps)
- 50 Meter Pool: 1610 meters is 32.2 lengths (16.1 laps)
The longer your pool, the fewer laps you will need to complete to reach one mile.
The Nautical Mile
If you have access to an ocean or lake, consider swimming a nautical mile. The nautical mile is measured as one minute of arc of latitude along any meridian, and is commonly used for navigation on boats and planes.
Related: How to Swim Straight in Open Water
Measuring miles by degrees of latitude is also imperfect, as the Earth is not a perfect sphere, causing a nautical mile to get longer as you get closer to the Earth’s poles. For that reason, the nautical mile has been standardized as 1,852 meters.
A Bit of History
The first meter pool was used in the 1908 London Olympics. The imperial system became the standard for the international swimming community outside of the U.S. and swimming events then became modeled after track events. Similar to the 440-yard running tracks of that time, 55-yard swimming pools were built in the United States to make the entire process more standardized. Today, the 100m, 200m, and 400m events are standard on the track and in the pool.
The United States eventually began running long course meters (50-meter pool) competitions in the summer and preserved short course yards (25-yard pool) swimming in the winter.
Today, long course swimming is respected as the international standard for competition, with the World Championships and Olympic Games held in long course format. The Short Course World Championships, European Championships and the FINA World Cup Circuit are held in short course meters (25-meter pool).
Precision is Key
At one international competition, the 50-meter pool was built before the invention of touch-pads. The pool was 1cm shorter than 50 meters when the touch-pads were IN the pool. Records that might have been set in the so-called “short” pool would not count as records. Before the meet started, organizers discovered this very problem.
With hundreds of swimmers set to arrive in a matter of days, the facility drained the pool, shaved 1cm off the wall, re-plastered the shaved surface, and re-filled the pool, with only hours to spare.
Ready to Swim Your First Mile?
Check out our Training Plans to help you get in shape and swim a continuous mile, or try the Tropical Mile Workout!
- Couch to 1k: Build up to a 1,000-meter Workout.
- Get Fit: Swim a continuous 1,500 at the end of the Plan.
- Beginner Freestyle: Work on stroke technique, maxing out at a 1,100m Workout.
For more tips, subscribe to the MySwimPro YouTube channel. Download the MySwimPro app on iPhone or Android and sign up for MySwimPro Coach to unlock your personalized Swim and Dryland Training Plan! Use code SWIM35 for $35 off your first year of training with MySwimPro >