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Posted by on Aug 21, 2009 in FYI, Swimming

Life in the fast lane

I am a fast swimmer. I make no bones about it. I am not as fast as a professional, but suffice it to say that I usually finish in the top of whatever race (triathlon) I\’m in (in the swim leg). My average 100 meter swim in a race is around 1:05 (+/-) I am aware that that probably comes off as arrogant, but please believe me when I say that I really don\’t mean it that way. I say it because, when I go to do my swim workouts I relegate myself to the fast lane. Let me explain.

\"Olympics+Day+3+Swimming+43rPmSVmwHql\"I swim at the Bally\’s Sports Club at Worldwide Plaza at West 50th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City. They have a four lane, twenty five meter (debatable) pool. Each lane of the pool has a large, clear sign at the far end designating the speed for that lane. They are, from left to right: Loafer Lane, Fast Lane, Medium Lane, Slow Lane.

The reason I\’m writing this is because, as of late I have been switching my swim workouts to the evening due to working and such. This is coupled with what I think is some kind of membership promotion by Bally\’s to sign up every single person in the world. This has made for what can only be described as unbearable conditions for someone who is in the pool to actually work out.

The rules of the pool are simple (although, not so well enforced by the lifeguard); If there are two people in the lane, one should swim on one side of the lane (divided by the line on the bottom) and one on the other. If a third person joins the lane, it is assumed that that person is not slow (which, more often than not is an incorrect assumption) and circle swimming becomes the pattern. Circle swimming is when you treat the lane like a road; each person stays to the right in whichever direction they\’re moving, thus making for an efficient way for more than two people to swim together in the lane. If a third (or more) person gets in and circle swimming commences, it is the responsibility of the slower person/s to defer to the faster person/s. That is to say that, should you feel someone touch the bottom of your feet or your achilles area, they are not being rude, rather, they are merely letting you know that you are about to be passed.

Recently, at Bally\’s there have been TONS of people who just jump into whatever lane they please, without telling those of us already swimming. This is extremely dangerous because I, for instance, assume that if someone is going to join my lane, they will 1. Let me know and 2. Be fast enough to hang. There has been more than one occasion where I have been coming into the wall and about to do a flip turn when I suddenly see a pair of legs in front of me. Had I not looked up in time, that person would most likely have wound up with a broken nose or worse. There have also been several incidences of me touching (gently) the bottoms of peoples feet and going to pass them, and all of a sudden they decide that I am being rude and an altercation ensues.

For reference, you probably shouldn\’t be in the fast lane if:

  • You don\’t know how far a \”25\” is.
  • You don\’t know what circle swimming is or how to do it.
  • You\’re wearing board shorts.
  • You\’re wearing a \”cute\” bikini that you got for the beach.
  • You\’re not wearing goggles.
  • You use a pull buoy as a pillow while doing backstroke kick.
  • You don\’t know what a pull buoy is.
  • You\’re doing side stroke.
  • You\’re doing some hopping movement down the lane.
  • You\’re wearing a mask.
  • You\’re wearing a snorkel.
  • You\’re wearing a shower cap (for the love, people).
  • You hold your nose when you go under water.
  • You have your cap on sideways.
  • When asked if you\’re fast you answer, \”Of course! Look at me!\”
  • You swim with your head above water, 100% of the time.
  • The lifeguard has to watch you closely because your swimming looks an awful lot like drowning.
  • You think that when someone faster than you passes you, they\’re being rude.

Now, this is of course not a complete list. Nor are all these things entirely exclusive (hence the \”probably\” at the top). For instance, I have been in a lane with someone who was plenty fast but wearing board shorts.

What would you add to the list?

[Edit] Just as I think it\’s rude for slow (and I mean S-L-O-W) swimmers to get into the fast lane, I think it is equally rude for fast swimmers to get in the slower lanes. It ruins everyones workout! Thus, I don\’t get in the other lanes.


  1. Amen. As a slow and beginner swimmer, it is really annoying when fast swimmers go in my lane, as I know I can't hang, and it just makes me nervous! You should have to take an etiquette course before being allowed to lap swim…

    Note that I will use the fast lane if it is empty, and then move if fast swimmers come in.

    • EXACTLY!!! That's what is supposed to happen!! Thank you so much. It's swimmers like you that make the pool a great place to be!

  2. For readers/swimmers that may be very very new to the world of swimming… How does one know which lane is the "fast" lane? Do you just watch the swimmers that are in there and gauge their speed and decide if you can hang? I know I'm not a good swimmer, and I'm anything but fast, but with very limited experience in lap swimming, how does one tell?

    • Well, in the case of my pool, there are big-ass signs that say it! Otherwise, you're right. Watch the pace of the swimmers. If you take a second and clock them in a 50 (you should probably know your 50 or 100 m/yd pace), then you should know if you can hang. Usually, faster people like to be away from the walls and in the more inner lanes. This is because faster swimming equals more wake which is a pain when it bounces off the walls.

  3. I'm a slow swimmer by my standards…but not as slow as many in the pool at any given time. All I can say is I wish I could print this off and post it there. And, I wish lifeguards could be a bit proactive in helping clueless people with swim etiquette.

    Lori ("jensir" on Twitter)

    • Print it!! I would love that! Thank you so much for knowing that slow absolutely does not equal clueless. Cluelessness abounds, not matter the speed!

  4. Well said Brandon. I am not a swimmer (yet) so I really can only nod my head in agreement!!! :O)

    I may take you up on that offer of showing me the ropes in swimming!!!

  5. It surprises me too since most of this should be common sense and shouldn’t require a person to learn swim etiquette. As a true beginner swimmer (not even a swimmer, I’m so bad I doggy paddle on the last half of a 25m leg), I can say I have had the sense to:

    1) ask the lifeguard on duty what lane should I be in if I’m a beginner swimmmer (our lanes are not labeled)

    2) let people pass and as they are approaching the end of the lap and to wave them to continue since I couldn’t to not disrupt their flow.

    3) ask the lifeguard on duty how many people per lane is allowed

    4) jump in the water when it’s clear

    The thing that doesn’t come as common sense to me, is when someone touches my feet that it means you are going to pass me bc the sign at the pool says “no passing”. The initial response for me would be that “damn i’m going too slow” let me let him go through when I reach the end of the lap or “must’ve been an accident”.

    Not to go off topic, what do you recommend to wear when swimming?

    And I’m guilty of the guy that looks like he’s drowning…

    lol @ the showercap…


  6. I am new to swimming, and by no means fast. BUT I swim in a college pool, where they hardly ever physically separate the lanes with the lines. So the biggest problem I face is the masses of 18, 19 year olds coming out after classes get out to just "hang" in the pool. Completely oblivious to those of us swimming laps. However, I will give them credit, because when I was 18, I would have been completely clueless to why the wierd woman in the nerdy swim cap was giving me the evil eye while I was trying to flirt with some guy. LOL

    • HA!! For the record, I think it is ridiculous for a pool that offers lap swimming to not have lane lines for the lap swimmers. So, kudos to you for sticking it out!

  7. And please, please keep your kiddos out of the lap pool.

    • Amen to that, Tex! Drives me CRAZY!

  8. Yeah 1:05 100meter Freestyle is not fast at all, bud.

    • Bud.

  9. I may check one out Chris, thanks! Great points there, I may add them to the list.


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