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You won't always get a lane to yourself while lap swimming.
Swimming is an individual sport, but training often requires that you share a lane while lap swimming in a pool. There are two commonly accepted ways to share a lane: split swimming, when two swimmers split a lane and each swims on opposite sides of the lane; and circle swimming, when two or more swimmers swim down one side of the lane and come back on the other. In circle swimming, swimmers typically stay to the right.
Deciding to Split
Split swimming is generally used when a lane has only two swimmers. If you arrive at the pool and find that every lane is occupied with a swimmer, simply pick a lane and wait for the swimmer already there to pause at the wall. Ask if you can share the lane. Some swimmers can't or won't share a lane, and if this is the case, pick another lane. If the swimmer agrees to share the lane, ask if she would like to split the lane or to circle swim. Most will want to split it.
When to Circle
When a third swimmer joins a lane, all the swimmers in the lane will have to circle swim. All swimmers in the lane need to understand that your lane is switching from split swimming to circle swimming; this will prevent head-on collisions. Circle swimming follows a counter-clockwise pattern around the black line on the bottom of the pool.
Once you have confirmed with the other swimmer that you're going to split the lane, and have decided which side of the black line each is going to swim on, you're generally free to swim whatever you want at whatever pace you want. However, avoid encroaching on the other swimmer's side of the lane. This can happen when you swim butterfly or breaststroke, for example, so it makes sense to avoid those strokes when sharing a lane.
Circle Swimming Etiquette
When circle swimming, pick a lane with swimmers who swim at your pace or who are doing workouts complementary to yours. If you join a lane with swimmers who seem to be doing a common workout, find out what it is and decide if you want to swim their workout with them. For example, if you join a lane of swimmers doing a sprint freestyle workout, it would be considered rude for you to do a slow-kicking set that causes them to slow down or to repeatedly pass you.
When sharing a lane, stagger your starts so you're not constantly swimming side-by-side with your lane partner. Side-by-side swimming makes your lane feel unnecessarily crowded and suggests you are trying to race your fellow swimmer, who may not be interested in a head-to-head swim.
When you need to pass someone in a circle swim, gently tap him on the toes to signal to them. He should stop at the wall and slide to the corner so you can touch the wall and be off. If you're the one being tapped, don't stop in the middle of the lane; stop at the wall, slide to the corner of the lane and let the other swimmer pass. Always time your takeoffs from the wall so that faster swimmers are in front of you and you're five to 10 seconds behind the swimmer in front of you.