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The Skinny on Swimming Terms

If you feel like you're underwater when it comes to pool distances, swimming lingo, and lane etiquette, then here is a short primer for you. I have put together a few swimming terms to help you navigate poolside life.


  • Length = Swim one length of the pool
  • Lap = Swim down and back, or two lengths
  • Swimmers mile = 1500 meters or 1650 yards
  • 30 laps in the 25 meter lanes
  • 33 laps in the 25 yard lanes


  • Split a lane: Two swimmers share a lane, splitting the lane down the middle.
  • Circle: When three or more people share a lane, they swim down one side of the lane and back on the other. At most pools this is done in a counter clockwise direction.
  • Pull: Put a buoy between your legs and just use your arms to "pull" yourself through the water.

Learn some etiquette too.

  • Wait at least five seconds before starting after another swimmer.
  • Pay attention to who is swimming with you, if you have swimmers hot on your tail, pause at the wall so they can pass.
  • Before you enter a lane with two other swimmers, make sure they both know that it is time to circle. Not only is this courteous, but it can prevent head on collisions as well.
  • Pass slower swimmers at the wall instead of mid-lane.
Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
cotedazur cotedazur 8 years
I've got another tip (comes from swimming laps at a crowded pool)... unless you have a narrow kick, don't swim breaststroke when sharing a lane. I can't count how many times I've been kicked by passing swimmers.
zabrow zabrow 8 years
i swam competitively for 10+ years & just like yse & tsp said, we always called a length a lap. to the opposite wall & back was just called a 50. these are good tips!
runningesq runningesq 8 years
I would also add: kickboard paddles set: for example, 5 x 200 free
tsp tsp 8 years
the lap thing confuses me, too. i was on swim team as a kid and i always remembered a lap being equal to a length. i actually recently heard the same description that yse that swimmers laps are different.
lydialee_home lydialee_home 8 years
Also ... * Swimmers should never stop in the middle of a length * Don’t ‘water-run’ or ‘aqua-jog’ in lap lanes That happened a lot at my pool. :(
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