If you want to swim with a team or brave a crowded pool during public swim, you need to learn how to circle swim. Don’t worry…it’s easier than it looks!

It’s part skill and part etiquette. Knowing how to circle swim ensures you can navigate cramped lanes and still get a good workout. Follow our top five beginner tips and you’ll be the best lane mate at the pool!

What is Circle Swimming?

Circle swimming allows three or more people to swim in a lane at the same time. When circle swimming, you will swim in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. In the United States, swimmers swim counterclockwise, always staying on the right side of the lane. 

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If you watch a lane of swimmers who are circle swimming, it will look like they swim down on the right side and come back on the left side.

If you’re unsure about the circle swimming direction at your pool, ask a lifeguard before you hop in.

5 Circle Swimming Tips

Now that we know the basics, let’s dive a little deeper. Follow these five tips to master circle swimming and be the best lane mate at the pool.

1. Leaving the Wall

When you’re circle swimming in a lane with three or more people, you’ll push off the wall on the right side of the lane, one at a time, usually five seconds apart. 

Don’t push off too early, or you run the risk of being right on your lane mate’s feet, which isn’t good swimming etiquette. Not to mention, you’re gonna get a huge mouthful of bubbles from your lanemate’s kick, too.

2. Turns

Related: How to do a Freestyle Flip Turn

Next up are turns. When it comes time to do a turn, you’ll want to glide over toward the left side of the lane to complete your turn. This is for two reasons: 

  1. Gliding over makes it easier for you to push off straight and continue along the right side of the lane toward the other end of the pool.
  2. It frees up space so you aren’t turning right in front of the person behind you

This tip applies for flip turns and open turns. No matter what, you want to slide over and make space for the person behind you!

3. Passing Etiquette

If the swimmer behind you taps your feet while you’re swimming, that’s usually a sign they want to pass you. The next time you reach the wall, move over to the side of the lane and allow them to turn and pass before you continue on. Most advanced swimmers can handle passing without needing to stop at the wall, but it takes practice! 

If someone starts to pass you in the middle of a lap, just keep doing what you’re doing. If they pass you going into the turn, don’t glide over as far, and let them push off first.

Related: How to Have a Perfect Streamline in Swimming

If you find that you’re catching up to the swimmer in front of you even after leaving five seconds apart, it may be time to pass them! If you aren’t comfortable passing during the swim, wait until you’ve finished and ask the swimmer if you can go in front of them. Don’t be nervous to ask – and don’t jeopardize your workout by swimming behind someone who’s too slow!

One final note on passing. If your pool has different lanes based on speed, make sure you’re in the right one! You might be getting passed a lot because you’re in a lane that’s too fast for you, or you might be passing people constantly because it’s time for you to move into a faster lane.

4. Be Courteous

Swimming may be a fun, social sport, but you should still have good manners. Circle swimming is ideal for swimming with a team or a large group when you’re all doing the same workout on the same intervals. It can get hairy when each person is swimming their own, individual workout…any swimmer who has survived swim meet warm up understands what we mean by that! 

Related: 6 Reasons Swimming is Good for Your Brain

If you’re in this situation, stay aware and don’t linger in the center of the wall if you stop to rest. Move to either side and hang out near the lane line until you’re ready to go again. Make sure you don’t push off the wall right as another swimmer is coming in to turn.

If you’re in a lane with others and doing the same workout, slide over to the left side of the lane when you finish to give the swimmer behind you space to touch the wall and finish, too. Sometimes it can feel like a traffic jam if you have six or more people in a lane together, but just go with it! Many good friendships have been made in crowded lanes!

5. Swim Straight

If you’re worried about hitting other swimmers while circle swimming, swimming straight should solve your problems. But collisions still happen sometimes. During butterfly or IM sets, there’s a chance you might whack arms with another swimmer, or kick someone during breaststroke. 

If this is a concern for you, try swapping to single-arm butterfly for a few strokes when you pass by another swimmer, and narrow your breaststroke kick.

It can be helpful to look at the line on the bottom of the pool. Always keep that line to your left, and you should be just fine!

If you’re swimming backstroke, it can be tougher to swim straight. Keep an eye out for the flags, and if you’re swimming indoors, use the ceiling tiles as your guide!

Bonus: How to Split a Lane

We have one more tip for you! Let’s talk about splitting the lane. 

If there’s only one other person in the lane with you, offer to split the lane or swim sides. Each of you picks a side of the lane, and sticks to it, so you don’t get in each other’s way. This is usually the preferred way to share at most pools.

If your pool is crowded, always try to split a lane with someone before opting for circle swimming. And never stop a swimmer in the middle of a set to ask if you can share with them. Wait for them to finish before approaching them. You wouldn’t want your workout interrupted, so don’t do that to others!

Circle swimming – and sharing a lane in general – is really simple, even though it can feel a bit intimidating at first. But don’t worry, you’ll catch on quickly! If you have more tips for circle swimming, drop them in the comments.

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