Whenever possible, I prefer swimming with other people – either with a training partner or in a coached squad workout. But occasionally my schedule dictates finding water at a public lap swim session. It’s possible to get a good workout at open lap swim, but it takes a bit of planning and training know-how.
Based on my observations at hundreds of public lap swim sessions over the years, there are some folks who come to swim laps, desire to become better swimmers, but simply don’t know how to go about the task. For those without a background in competitive swimming or similar sport, it may not be at all obvious.
For example, one of the more common approaches I see at the pool consists of: (1) Getting in the water. (2) Swimming continuously for X amount of time. (3) Getting out.
With that in mind, here are a few pointers on getting the most out of solo workouts at a public lap swim session:
Learn proper lane etiquette.
It will be less frustrating for you… and everyone around you in the pool.
- Advanced Pool Etiquette for Masters Swimmers, Lesson 1: Awareness
- Advanced Pool Etiquette for Masters Swimmers, Lesson 2: Personal Space
- On pool etiquette and experience
- Menaces to (swim) society: How to be a pool asshole
- Lane swimming etiquette (Loneswimmer.com)
Have a workout plan.
Not necessarily a full written workout with every detail, but at least a basic mental structure of a workout. What do you want to accomplish today?
A basic workout structure can be as simple as this:
- Warm-up – mostly easy swimming.
- Technique work & build into main set.
- Main set.
- Kick or pull set.
Interval training is more efficient than continuous swimming.
Continuous low-intensity swimming is an inefficient way to build cardiovascular endurance. Interval training (repetitions of shorter distances, swum at higher intensities than one could sustain continuously) is far more effective.
Check out the Marathon Swimmers Forum for some good example interval sets:
Don’t rely on pool gear.
Fins, paddles, buoys and snorkels are swim tools, designed for specific purposes, typically strength or technique-related. When you use any swim tool for an entire workout (or majority of it), it’s no longer a tool but rather a swim aid.
If you can’t swim without fins, in my view, you can’t swim. What happens when they fall off accidentally in the ocean? If you always strap on paddles for the main set, what happens when you compete and you can’t use your paddles?
Learn flip turns – even if you only compete in open water.
If you do open turns, you’re basically coming to a complete stop between every length of the pool. Open turns are surprisingly common among triathletes, even relatively fast ones. I’ve never understood it; plus it looks goofy. Flip turns (sometimes called tumble turns) allow you to transfer much more momentum from one length to the next. It makes pool swimming much more bearable.
Learn all four strokes – even if you only compete in freestyle/front-crawl.
Different strokes work different muscle groups, and it will make you a better athlete. Backstroke can provide a nice change of pace for your shoulders after too much front-crawl.