Lane Etiquette

RAM Guidelines for Lane Etiquette

1. Introduction

Masters swimming is committed to providing training in technique, endurance, and fitness. RAM provides an organization toward achieving this goal. RAM practices are all coached by well trained and experienced coaches. Since the workouts can be intense at times, RAM encourages its members to approach practices with an attitude to learn, work and enjoy the practices. RAM expects all swimmers to be courteous toward each other and the coach at all times.

Every practice has a leader, a person in charge. The RAM coach is that person. The coach sets the practice, decides how it is to be done, determines the distribution of swimmers in each lane, and chooses any exceptions to what follows. If there are any questions about what is going on, first ask someone in the lane or ask the coach.

US Masters rules apply to all RAM practices, and RAM practices adhere to USMS Rules. RAM has published on its web site information about who can swim in RAM practices. This information is available at Swim With RAM. Without repeating in detail, you must be:

    1. Over 18 years of age;
    2. A current registered member of USMS and RAM, unless you are trying out or from out of town.

2. Lane Assignment

  1. All swimmers are grouped into lanes according to ability or fitness. The coaches try to estimate times for all swimmers, and you should swim in the lane that the coach assigns. If you find you are too fast for the lane or too slow for the lane, discuss this with the coach. You can be reassigned. Do not jump lanes without the coach being aware and agreeing to the change. Sometimes you may be assigned to a lane for a specific purpose other than regular training.
  2. Practices are conducted using circle swimming. This means we swim down the right hand side of the lane at all times. If there are only two swimmers in the lane, it may be possible to split the lane -- if the coach approves.

3. Spacing between Lanes

  1. When starting a swim, each swimmer should leave the wall about 5-seconds after the preceding swimmer, unless the coach specifically sets a different interval. A 5-second window gives all swimmers room to swim in a relaxed manner and to concentration on the swim.
  2. Swimmers in a lane should try to arrange themselves such that the fastest swimmer goes first, the second fastest goes next, and so on. This may require rearrangement between sets to reflect different abilities for the various strokes. But the idea still holds. If a swimmer is caught from behind by another swimmer, the two swimmers should continue in that order until they reach the next wall. Upon reaching the next wall, the slower swimmer should allow the faster swimmer to go past. To do this, the slower swimmer should swim to the right side of the lane, at the wall, and then allow the faster swimmer to turn and move ahead from the left side of the lane. Do not try to pass in the middle of the lane. This invites collisions with oncoming swimmers. Be courteous when this is done. All swimmers have occasional "bad" practices and can be off their game. If there is a consistent problem with swimmer sequence, the swimmers should take the issue up with the coach. The only basis for swimming sequence is ability and determination of the swimmer.

4. Behavior in a lane

  1. All swimmers in a lane should be doing the same thing at the same time. If you did not finish a set and a new set is being started, switch to the new set. This is particularly important at the start of practice. If you arrive late and the practice is already underway, find out where the people in your lane are in the workout. Pick up where they are. You do not get the privilege of doing the entire missed portion of a set or warm-up simply because you were late entering the pool.
  2. There are instances where all swimmers in a lane are not doing the same stroke or are doing modifications of the stroke. These instances are where an injury, such as knee injury, keeps a swimmer from doing a Breaststroke kick. So they may swim Breaststroke using the proper arm motions but do a dolphin or flutter kick. Analogous changes can be done for shoulder injuries. Even with these changes, the swimmer should hold the same intervals or distances being done by the other swimmers in the lane. If this modification of a set is required, let the coach know what you will be doing and tell the remainder of the people in the lane. You may want to adjust when you start your swim by moving up in the lane or moving down in the lane.
  3. Be prepared for your coach to stop a set. There can be many reasons for this. What the coach sees may prompt a change in the set or workout, usually to focus on something specific. Your coach may wish to make sure you get to a key or main set.

5. Resting

  1. If you must rest, please stand (or hang) on the right side of the lane or leave the pool. Be sure to keep an eye on those still swimming to stay out of their way. Do not block the middle of the lane or the left side of the lane.
  2. If you find yourself getting tired in mid-pool, take the swim to the wall. DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE POOL. This is a safety issue and other swimmers may hit you.

6. Adjust the length of your swim to match what is remaining in that repeat distance of the lane. To ensure safety, each lane must be swimming the same repeat at all times. This is important if you wish to swim freestyle while others are swimming a slower stroke. If you are faster, you lead and finish first. You must stick with the interval for the entire lane. If you are still too fast for the lane, ask the coach if you may move up a lane.

7. If you find you are repeatedly catching the swimmer in front of you, please ask to go before that swimmer. Also, if someone is catching you please let them precede you in the set. Try to settle this within the lane. If it cannot be resolved within the lane, ask the coach to help.

8. Be courteous at all times. If there are problems, call the coach. We are adults, and we are here for fitness, technique and enjoyment. Leave your headaches, problems and attitudes outside the pool area.

9. NO foul language!

10. If you find yourself at odds with the coach, try to politely settle the issue on deck. Do not try to do this from within the lane. If you cannot settle the issue, stop your practice and take the disagreement up with the RAM Board of Directors.

11. We swim competitive strokes, either Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke or Butterfly. Sidestroke is not a competitive stroke.


To help understanding in practices the following vocabulary will be used. Additional terms will be used as needed. If you do not understand, ask the coach.

  1. PULL => The swimmer uses a "pull buoy" (a flotation device placed high between the legs and swims without kicking). Pulls can be varying duration and lengths and can call for using Paddles or not.
  2. PULL BUOY => A small flotation device used to aid the swimmer in maintaining higher hips in the water. Used for drills and getting a proper feel for swim position.
  3. PADDLES => Flat plastic devices placed on the hands for drills, strength building and endurance.
  4. LENGTH => One trip down the length of the pool.
  5. LAP => Two lengths, that is one length down the pool and return.
  6. CH => An abbreviation for choice stroke, you select. (Sometimes written as STR for stroke. Meaning a stroke other than freestyle.
  7. FR, BK, BR, FL => Abbreviation for freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly.
  8. INTERVAL => This is a time given to swim a stated distance plus the rest. At the end of the interval, you must start the swim again or move to the next part of the workout. (Example: swim 100 on 1:45). This means you must adjust your pace so you can swim the distance and get rest before you go again. If you swim it in 1:30, you get 15 seconds rest.
  9. REPEAT => A specified stroke and distance that must be repetitively swum
  10. SET => A group of repeats or specifically defined swims, pulls or kicks or some combination.
  11. PACE => This is the time to be spent swimming the repeat. You swim a 100 FR in a time of 1:30 (1 minute and 30 seconds).
  12. CLOCK => This is the pace clock that is usually somewhere near the pool. If there is more than one, they should be in agreement or your lane must agree to which one is being used. Learn how to read these and use them to ensure you hold your interval for each set.
  13. Freestyle => This is the most common stroke used in training, and is also called the crawl. It generally means to swim forward in a somewhat prone position.
  14. Backstroke => This is a stroke where the swimmer rotates from side to side while facing toward the ceiling. This is the only stroke where the swimmer does not look in the direction they are going.
  15. Breaststroke => A stroke in which the arms move simultaneously and in the same horizontal plane without any alternating movement. The hands push forward together from the breast on, under, or over the surface of the water. The elbows must be kept under the water except for the last stroke at the finish of a set distance. At no time can the hands be brought past the hip line, except for one pull at the start and at the turn. The kick must be performed so that all vertical and lateral movements of the legs are simultaneous. The feet must be turned out during the propulsive part of the kick movement. There may not be a flutter kick used at any time. The swimmer may perform a single butterfly kick just after the pullout has begun.
  16. Butterfly => A stroke in many ways related to the BREASTSTROKE. The biggest difference is the arms are required to be recovered out of the water and the kick is with both feet moving together up and down simultaneously. The legs may not cross at any time.
  17. CIRCLE SWIM => Almost all practices are done this way. Swimmers swim up the right side of the lane, staying close to the lane line, and return on the other side in the same fashion. Always stay to the right, off the black line.
  18. IM or Individual Medley => A swim where all four strokes are swum in the order of BUTTERFLY, BACKSTROKE, BREASTSTROKE, FREESTYLE.
  19. RELAY => A swim of varying distances involving four swimmers performing one at a time. Each swimmer does the same distance. The relay is finished when all four swimmers have completed their distance.
  20. MEDLEY RELAY => A relay swim where four swimmers participate in each of the four strokes but in the following order. Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle.
  21. NEGATIVE SPLIT => The second half of the distance that is being swum is faster than the first half. It is also possible to negatively split each length of a distance. The coach will specify which is to be done.
  22. WARM-UP => The warm-up is almost always some very easy swim in what will feel like slow motion swimming. Stop to stretch whenever you want. This is the time to adjust goggles, caps and what not.
  23. DRILL => A drill is usually a modification of a stroke done to emphasize an element of proper stroke technique. The drill set is usually an extension of warm-up. There are rarely interval times associated with this set, so that you may focus totally on stroke technique without concerning yourself with speed or rest. Again, stretch as necessary and pay close attention to your body position and form. Allow your heart-rate to come up slowly. You should get 10-15 seconds of rest between each part of the Drill Set.
  24. MAIN => The main set ranges in a variety of total swim distances. This is set by the Coach.
  25. DESCEND => Descending sets ask you to swim each repetition faster than the previous. For example, the following set: 6 x 50: Descend 1 -> 6, This asks you to swim six 50's with each one faster. If the set read: 6 x 50: Descend 1 -> 3 and 4 -> 6, this asks you to descend the first 3 and the second 3 in the set. The fourth 50 should be slower than the third. The third and sixth are the fastest in the set. Unless specified, the interval stays the same, giving you a bit more rest as your swimming time descends.
  26. BUILD => Building is different from Descending in that the swimmer's goal is to increase speed within the single swim distance(s). For example, the following set: 3 x 100 Buil. This asks you to swim each 100 starting easy (with perfect technique) and increasing speed within each 100 to a fast finish (maintaining perfect technique throughout). As you may have guessed, the goal in a "Build" swim is to build speed while maintaining good stroke technique.
  27. Some Helpful Fitness hints
    1. If you are a new swimmer or one who has not trained for some time, remember to go easy at first. Do not feel obligated to swim the entire practice time or even every set. Remember to give yourself and your body time to adjust to the workouts. Keep the coach informed if you stop practice early.
    2. Try to swim at least three times per week. While you will benefit from some exercise, a minimum of three times per week will gradually improve your fitness. To be competitive, plan on progressing up to four practices or more practices per week.
    3. Set goals to improve. Give yourself a target time for a number of events and work towards those times.