Public Swim Vs Lane Swim – What Is The Difference?


a pool showing the floating lane markers

If you are a swimmer, then you may have wondered what the difference is between a public swim and a lane swim?

Or perhaps you have seen these terms on the pool timetable and never gave it a second thought. However, there is a big difference between a public swim and a lane swim, both of which have their advantages for regular swimmers.

Public swims are open to all swimmers, regardless of their swimming ability. Typically, there is an area of the pool that is open for swimmers to move around as they choose. Lane swims are for more experienced swimmers. In lane swims, swimmers choose a lane and stay within that lane.

Even as an experienced swimmer, it’s good to know when public and lane swimming is happening on the pool timetable, as you can use both types of swimming to improve your swimming skills and fitness.

In this article, I want to show the advantages of using public swim times and lane swimming, so you can use both types to improve and become a great swimmer.

What Is The Difference Between Lane Swim And Public Swim?

What Does ‘Public Swim’ Mean?

A public swim is open to all swimmers of all abilities. Typically, a large area of the pool is roped off. In this public swim area, you do not have to swim in a particular direction or follow any speed rules.

Where I live, the public swim times are usually very busy.

For example, in the morning, local swimmers use the public area to practice aqua aerobics, lift water dumbbells and chat. In the afternoon, it is typically very busy with a lot of kids playing and having fun.

As a beginner, choosing a public swim time is the best way to get accustomed to your local pool and practice your swimming in a relaxed environment.

If you are a nervous swimmer and need to ensure you can relax and swim at your own pace, it is worth contacting the pool in advance to ensure that their advertised slot is actually a public swim time and not a lane swim.

Sometimes public swim times are converted to lane swims if the pool is busy, which can result in beginners getting stuck lane swimming which can be stressful. I have been there!

What Does ‘Lane Swim’ Mean?

Lane swims are for more experienced swimmers. In lane swims, swimmers pick a lane that matches their swim speed and stay within that lane for the duration of the swim.

Swimmers will swim up the pool on one side of the lane and then down the other. By sticking to one side of the lane as you swim, we can share the lane with many swimmers who swim in a “chain-like” circular pattern.

Typically, most pools will have three swim lanes with different speeds – slow, medium and fast.

Swimmers will join a lane that matches their own swim speed. For example, if you generally swim a gentle breaststroke with goggles off, then the slow lane is a good choice. If you swim front crawl at full pelt, then the fast lane may be the best option for you.

What Are The Benefits Of A Public Or Lane Swim?

It is funny, but as we swim more often, we tend to either prefer a public swim or lane swim and then just stick to that type of swimming. However, both public and lane swimming have specific advantages that experienced swimmers can often overlook.

There can be significant advantages to mixing it up.

The Benefits Of A Public Swim

1. Swim For All

When talking about public swim times, you may find your local pool referring to public swim times as a ‘swim for all’.

Swim for all’ means that anyone can use the pool as long as they follow the basic rules. The benefit of this is that you can go to the pool with your friends to relax, or just to practice.

Public swims are a ‘swim for all’, so as long as you follow the standard pool rules, all swimmers of all abilities are welcome.

2. Learn To swim

When I was learning to swim, I would always choose a public swim time to swim as I could pick a quiet corner of the pool and practice my strokes or tread water.

The great thing about a public swim is that you can practice some beginner drills or just get comfortable in the water without feeling the pressure from other swimmers.

3. Practice Swim Drills

Experienced swimmers often forget the benefits of a public swim.

A public swim is a great time for experienced swimmers to practice their swim drills. For example, many of the swim drills I follow from the total immersion method, I practice in public swim times.

With the extra space and no pressure from other swimmers to keep the lane moving, I can take my time and work on swim drills to improve my swim technique in my own time.

3. Practice Swim Skills

Public swim times are a great space to practice swim skills, such as diving or tumble turns.

If you try to practice tumble turns for the first time in a busy lane, the other lane swimmers won’t appreciate it.

Using the public swim time where you can find a quiet corner of the pool to work on your missing swim skills is an excellent place to perfect these skills without the pressure of lane swimmers in the way.

4. Build Strength

Public swim times are a great time to work on building your strength.

From staying in the one position treading water to using aqua dumbbells, you can mix in alternative exercises that will build your strength and help you swim faster when you next hit the lanes.

5. Recovery

If you swim every day or are recovering from injury, using the public swim times to relax and do some gentle exercises can be a great way to keep your swim routine in place without overexerting yourself or causing further injury.

If you are still deliberating over whether swimming every day is right for you, I’ve written an article exploring the pros and cons. Read it here.

It is important to take care of our bodies and recover from exercise and using the public swim times to mix up your routines is a great way to recover while still being in the water.

To learn more about recovering from extensive swimming exercises, check out this article, “Should I Swim On A Rest Day? (The Pros & Cons)”

The Benefits Of A Lane Swim

Lane swimming is very common, and popular amongst regular swimmers. There are many benefits to lane swimming, and many beginners aspire to be lane swimmers, eventually.

1. Swim For Fitness

Lane swimming is targeted at those who swim for fitness.

Lane swimming gives swimmers the opportunity to swim for a long distance, with minimal interruption.

Of course with lane swimming you must be conscientious of other swimmers so you may not have a completely stress-free swim, but in general, if you are in a lane with swimmers who are keeping the same pace as you, it is fun and flowing.

This gives the opportunity to swim for a long time or distance in a straight path.

2. Consistency

The great benefit of lane swimming is consistency.

By counting your laps, you can keep a record on your progress and maintain consistency in your workouts.

By monitoring speed, you can track your swim efficiency overtime.

As lane swimming is repeatable, give and take a few days when the lane is busy or the lane speed is not quite right, you can keep a good track of your swimming consistency and progress through regular lane swimming.

3. Speed Control

As most pools will have at least two lanes, slow and fast, it is a good place for regular swimmers to feel comfortable swimming long distance at a speed they are comfortable with.

No swim lane is perfect, but with practice, you learn to navigate the swimming lane speeds.

For example, if you are very slow and feel others are catching up, just wait at the wall and let them go ahead of you.

If you are very fast and catching up with others, it is not unheard of to tap a heal and let the swimmer in front know you need to overtake if it is safe.

Trawling vs. Trolling – What’s ...
Trawling vs. Trolling – What’s the Difference?

Personally, I don’t like the “tap on the heal” approach as it is a bit freaky to have someone touch your feet in the pool, plus, it might actually cause the person in front to panic. Not everyone is familiar with this.

If the slow swimmer refuses to let you overtake or does not wait at the wall, let them get a lane ahead of you. You will have to wait at the wall for a minute, but it will make your swim more fun.

4. Push Yourself

Lane swimming is a great way to push yourself as a swimmer.

You could set yourself the goal to swim longer or faster and actually monitor your progress.

With time, you may even find yourself switching lanes as your speed improves.

With a clear and long distance lane swim, you can greatly improve.

Final Thoughts

Public swim times are perfect for those who want to mix up their swimming routine, practice their swimming or need help to recover from an injury while keeping their swimming routine.

If you’re looking for a more consistent and targeted fitness swim, lane swimming is the way to go.

With so many benefits to lane swimming, it’s no wonder why it’s such a popular choice amongst regular swimmers. You can easily track your progress and get a consistent daily swim in.

No matter what your swimming goals are, public or lane swims are a great way to get active and enjoy the water. Be sure to try both and see which one works better for you.

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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