It is one of those days.
The swimming lane I am about to plunge into is overcrowded and even though it is marked with the clearly distinctive letters "FAST SWIMMERS", the lane is plagued with leisurely swimming head up breaststrokers and wannabe swimmers standing by the wall and discussing the latest political issues (whatever they may be).
Argh, this sucks and my day's mood is just ruined.
Or is it?
I’ve actually long ago realized that it is a lost battle to try to educate every single person about the etiquette of public pool lane swimming.
Instead of joining the online rants about how people should get a clue about what it means to swim in a fast lane, how lifeguards should enforce certain rules and be angry half the time, I decided to make the pool my playground.
After all, people are people and always going to be people.
Some are ignorant, some don't manage their expectations very well and some just don't know any better or don't realize that they are doing something out of the ordinary when entering the dangerous waters of the fast swimmer lane :).
Read on and I will show you how you can have an effective workout without the added stress of dealing with human nature and at the same time be considerate to all members of your swim lane.
Next time you feel like slapping someone on the back of their head to school them about their invasion of the fast lane, try the following tips instead and I guarantee you will enjoy your swim more.
And as an added bonus, you will actually improve in your swimming, so time is not wasted.
1) Slow Swimming
A crowded lane is a perfect venue for this.
Slow down, relax and only engage the muscles that need to be engaged (example: are your fingers relaxed when your arm is out of the water or are they tight?).
Believe it or not, you will learn more by swimming slower than you can imagine.
And if you have a hard time swimming slow, for example, your legs sink, then you are not doing it right :) and you should click on one of the links at the start of this paragraph.
2) One Arm Drills
If I'd have to pick one drill that should be done every day, it is one arm swimming.
This is the king of kings when it comes to working on your body roll, arm entry, front catch, breathing and maintaining great body position and the list goes on.
One arm swimming is the ultimate technique training drill.
You can try it with arms down or bottom arm extended, but most importantly make sure that you roll to both sides equally. Do not just gallop through the water skipping the full rotation to the side where you move your arm.
3) Dive Under
When you approach the annoying obstacle slow swimmer in your lane, just dive under and take it as a sprint underwater kick exercise.
Keep a tight streamline to minimize the drag and just kick along the bottom underneath the swimmer until you get passed them.
While you are passing them from down under, give them a wave or just show them your funny face to keep it fun and friendly.
This is great for building your breath control and also for improving your kicking (bread and butter of swimming fast).
If you are not a great kicker, grab a pair of fins to help you with the underwaters.
It might seem hard at the start, but the more you do it, the more fun it becomes.
4) Backwards Swimming
Now this one is tricky, but if you stick with it, you’ll get better at it and soon you will not feel like you are drowning.
The idea is that you will be quite slow so you won’t have the need to pass anyone, thus fitting right in without problems.
Backward swimming is a great way to get more versatile in the water and to learn to better control your body position and movements.
Check out the video below to get an idea what I mean.
5) Fists and Finger Drills
The opposite of swimming with paddles is to use your fists or just a few fingers to swim.
The idea here is that you work on catching the water with your forearms or to get a faster cadence into your stroke as you won't require as much power for the arm to move through the water.
Remember to keep those fists relaxed, you are not angry and not punching the water, just caress it, feel its contour and enjoy.
If you are not sure what sculling is, you are missing out.
In order to swim fast, you need to find support in water and sculling is a very good way to improve your water perception.
There are many positions you can scull in: arms forward, arms back, one arm forward, arms in scarecrow position (windshield wiper) etc. etc. etc.
Remember, it is not a breaststroke movement, it is sculling (from side to side in a very small figure eight like motion).
Try to stay away from kicking while you scull, use a pullbuoy if you cannot resist the kick on your own :).
7) Flags to Flags swim
To skip the world's best debaters hugging the pool wall, just swim from flags to flags doing fast tuck flip turns and fast breakouts from them.
What I mean is, when you approach the flag line, just do a flip keeping your body as small as possible to make it fast and efficient.
Then since you have no wall to push off from, you will have to work extra hard to get back to your original swimming speed, so dig in with the leg kick and the arm stroke to get back to speed.
If you are not up the flag to flag swim, you can do a variation where you will do a 360 somersault in the middle of the pool where your tuck is as small as possible and you do not use your hands.
This should slow you down a little to not have to pass anyone (if you are still too fast, just do 2 flips).
8) Open Water Training
Why not take the passing of slow people as training for open water races.
You can draft a bit, then closely pass them when the opportunity arises.
And at the same time, you can sight if someone is coming in the other direction.
It does not get more challenging in the pool than this.
An overcrowded lane is a perfect playground to mimic the mass starts during your triathlon and open water races, so take advantage of it and practice it:).
Don't be afraid of touching or bumping into the other people, they will survive and as a side effect, they might actually get the hint and go to a slower lane.
Open water and triathlon swims also have very brisk speed variations and you can fully incorporate those in the crowded lane. Sprint to the next person, pass them as a recovery time and sprint to the next or vice-versa etc.
9) Medley Swimming
Maybe if you'd switch to another stroke than freestyle, suddenly the slow swimmers might not be so slow anymore, so explore it.
Don't be afraid.
The more strokes you swim, the more enjoyable your workouts will get and you will soon find that you are more comfortable and better aware of your body in the water.
For example, backstroke follows very much the same principles as freestyle, so get on your back once in a while.
10) Simply Kick
A lot of power in swimming is from legs, so don't be negligent in this department.
A crowded slow pace lane is a good reason to get on with the kick and improve your chances of success.
Of course, you can kick with a kickboard, but I'd suggest to leave your kickboard at home and stick with just your body.
You can do variations of head lead side kick (arms at side), arm lead side kicks (bottom arm extended) or 360 streamline kick rotation etc. etc.
Let your mind go wild and be creative.
11) Water Floorball
Yes, you read it right.
Grab a floorball or a wiffle ball (if it has holes, it is a go:)) and have fun.
Do one arm swimming with the ball to see if both of your arm pulls feel the same. My bet is that they do not.
Do a catch-up swimming where you switch the ball from hand to hand in the front.
Do sculling with it to strengthen those tiniest muscles in your shoulders.
The holes in the ball will cause your small muscles to work a bit harder when you try to keep the ball from going too crazy out of your movement's control.
It is fun, try it.
And there you have it.
I am sure you can think of other ways to make the crowded lane workout more interesting (don't be shy about sharing them in the comments below - let's keep the list growing:).
The list above will hopefully give you some inspiration when all hope is lost and your anger gets the better of you.
Get creative and let the lane and its occupants be your playground.
And if you have a friend who suffers from the crowded lane anger, share this article with him or her so they can be a happier and faster swimmer :).