If there is one thing I have learned as a triathlete it is that many triathletes do not circle swim or regularly swim with a group of people. In fact, most triathletes do not know what circle swimming is. For me, I find this a true shame since swimming with a group and circle swimming is so beneficial to learning how to efficiently swim with a BIG group of people in the open water. When I first started doing triathlons and swimming regularly I quickly realized that if I wanted to become a better, more efficient swimmer, I needed to surround myself with a group of lifetime swimmers. Ultimately this a-ha moment lead to me joining a local US Masters team, which meant circle swimming regularly.

Circle swimming is exactly what it sounds like: swimming in a circle. In the United States, circle swimming goes counterclockwise: you swim the right side of the black line that runs down the middle of the lane. You will be on one side of the lane going down the pool, and the other side of the lane coming back. The easiest way to think about it is to picture the black line as a double yellow line in the middle of a road – you go down one side and come back the other side.

Really and truly there isn’t much more to it than that. However, here are some tips that come in handy when you first start circle swimming:

  • When swimming with a team, such as a US Masters team, for the first time, make sure you speak to the coach before hand to assess which lane you should be swimming in. Generally speaking there will be a “fast,” “intermediate” and “slow/new” lanes.  (Now don’t get it twisted; the “slow/novice” lane really isn’t slow, but it is a less intense lane and a good place to start.) It’s important to talk to the coach about this so that you will be placed in a lane with swimmers who are at a similar level as you. Trust me, circle swimming is a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about passing people (or being passed) every other lap!
  • When the set starts, wait 5-10 seconds after the swimmer in front of you to push off the wall. This gives the both of you enough room to swim.
  • Never stop in the middle of the pool! This is one of the best ways to end up in a collision. Even if your goggles are leaking, it is actually safer and easier, to keep your eyes closed and swim your way to the wall along the lane line and stop and fix your goggles.
  • When or if you do stop at the wall, be aware of the swimmers coming behind you. Clear the middle of the lane for those who are going to continue swimming—tuck into one of the corners of the lane if you are going to rest at all.
  • Even thought it can be awkward, passing and being passed are inevitable in circle swimming. The best thing to do to avoid this, if you can, is to communicate with your teammates about it and be flexible. A simple, “So, I’m going to take this one easy and hang in the back”, may keep them from assuming you’ll be leading the next set.

More: How to avoid bonking in a race?

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