What Swimmers Want From Swimming Pools – What Features Make a Good Pool for Swimming

Since I believe that to be a proficient open water swimmer you should also be swimming in the pool, occasionally I cover pool topics. There’s a slight ambiguity in my title terminology between a swimming pool and a pool for swimming, because the general title of swimming pool doesn’t necessarily mean a pool for swimmers.

I’m not a pool manager, I’m a pool user. A customer, like most of you. And I’m sure that you like me, have seen the things in our respective pools to which the management of those pools are oblivious or disregard as unimportant.

You will see a lot of this view

What do I know? I know which lifeguards actually guard. I know which ones don’t. I know which customers are wearing suits that should have been condemned as decency hazards and as a consequence, I’ve seen parts of people’s anatomies that only paid professionals should ever see. (And I’m not specifying the type of paid professional). I’ve seen the bent and broken safety rules.  I’ve seen the teenagers, and worse adults, fiddling with each other underwater, simply because I wear goggles and my head is mostly submerged. I’ve seen the utter lack of consistency in pool cleanliness. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the average. What features make a good swimming pool? It’s surprisingly basic.

Look back on your years of swimming. Think of all the pools you’ve swam in, all the pool managers and lifeguards and local rules and everything else. What do you want from a pool as a swimmer? Not as an adult bringing small children. Not a person going for aqua aerobics or to impress your new partner. What do swimmers want? Average adult swimmers, who swim.

  • Stable, regulated pool temperatures. Pools that are too warm can stop you swimming or even cause sickness from overheating if you continue. The highest tolerable temperature varies by swimmer, but it’s probably possible for most swimmers to at least swim irregularly in water up to 31ºC. Temperatures above 29º degrees are uncomfortable for most swimmers, which is the point where pools, recreational users and swimmers diverge. Recreational pools users, especially older pool users, prefer warmer pools as they are not moving as much and pools often prefer to cater to these, not realising the effect on regulars. Their temperature of choice is dictated by feeling the water as being warm immediately as they enter. Furthermore pools which don’t hold a stable temperature can’t be relied on for regular swimming. Cold pools aren’t really a problem for swimmers. Especially not for open water swimmers. I have seen some whining from pool-only swimmers about early morning cold pool shock, but that’s impossible to take seriously when you’ve gotten into five degree water for your morning swim.
  • Predictable timetable. A timetable that is “subject to change without notice” is possibly the single most frustrating thing to deal with in its various facets whether arriving at the pool only to find there is no session available or being half (or even less) way through a session only to be told to get out, because the schedule was changed.
  • Lane direction signs

    Lane direction signs

    Swim lanes. So many swimmers take these from granted, especially those coming from a larger pool or competitive background, who only swam in club. But possibly the majority of swimmers in the world, including myself, have to make do entirely with public hours. And we cannot swim without lanes. To be done properly, swim lanes need at least two lanes for different swim speeds. So many of you have left comments or emailed me about the problem of mixed speeds and even asking me what to do. I’m afraid there is no easy answer that I know. The time arrives every so often when I may have to ask to lifeguard on duty to intervene, but I try to not have to do this more than once or twice a year. The only solution I have arrived with a personal one, and that’s the “elephant” strategy. It’s not what you think, all big ears and feet and swinging around! Instead I tell myself I’m like an elephant and the annoying swimmers who don’t understand the etiquette are like gnats. They can be annoying in the short-term, but over the long-term, they are ephemeral and transitory and will, in comparison to the time I swim, soon be gone. Part of the problem arises from pool staff and lifeguard’s shall we say incomplete understanding of lane etiquette. I feel like I’ve spend a decade gradually introducing correct lane etiquette into my own local pool, looking all the way back to the time I was asked to stop flip-turning (in the lane!) because I was “frightening the other (adult) swimmers”. There is no easy or quick answer except communication. At least these days, if you get into a conversation about lane swimming with your pool management, you can tell them to search “lane etiquette” online and at least they will probably find my article to validate what you are telling them.

  • Early morning, late evening swim times. This is so obvious and yet so lacking. Some of you have never swum except early morning, some of us have never had the option.
  • Fair pricing. Pools are notoriously difficult to break even financially, let alone turn a profit. Most pools in my experience are part of a larger sports complex (though this may be different in other countries). And the pool will be the financially weak portion. The reaction is commonly to just increase the pricing. The regular swimmers get gouged again and again (I had a 28% price increase in 2015 alone). We are the target. Some of us, junkies for water,  need to swim as part of our lives, and this need, not simply casual desire, is abused. How many times have prices increased for you, for no commensurate service? Your price has increased time and again, but you never received anything in return, and have probably found that on balance over time you are paying more for less service or amenities?
  • A clean pool. Swimmer’s recognition of this comes with time. As I’ve previously written, a strong chlorine smell is not an indication of a clean pool but is actually indicative of a chloramine build-up. The more time you spend inhaling chloramines, the more you potentially compromise your respiratory system. Cleanliness of a pool is controlled by pool management. For example a pool that doesn’t enforce showering before entering to remove sweat and perfume and deodorants, or showering after taking your sweaty carcass out of the sauna, will be a dirty pool. Water colour means nothing, as some older pools can add copper to make the water look more blue. I know pool swimmers love to do the reverse elitist thing of saying they always pee in the pool, and unlike the public who find this repellently fascinating, I’m not phased by it, but instead disturbed by the potential effects of the build-up of chloramines. And swimmers then often wonder why asthma is higher amongst competitive pool swimmers. The dirtier the water, the more chemicals required. Pool cleanliness is best controlled by pool management instituting an all-round regimen that includes swimmers actions and use of chemicals. The cleaner the water, the less chemicals will be required and the less pool maintenance will cost. Isn’t this a better all round solution than raising the price again?
  • A pace clock. Any self-respecting swimming pol should have a pace clock, available for the use of all swimmers, (not just club swimmers).
  • A minimum of 25 yards length. Regular readers will know I consider the continued US use of Imperial measurements as a quaint old-fashioned and faintly annoying affectation, but I choose the 25 yard distance specifically because it’s the minimum competition distance even it is a US-only distance. I’ve swim enough in pools that are slightly shorter or much shorter to know that a 12, 15 or 18 metre is unnecessary torture of swimmers. A pool that wants sustainable future use should really never be less than 25 metres. Uncommon pool distances such as 33 metres are sometimes chosen specifically so that those pools can never be used for competition,and that ethos is likely to inform a lot of the other practices of such a pool. I also dislike the arrogance of swimmers who sneer at those who have no choice but to swim in a shorter pool, when their reaction should instead be respect.
  • Personal lockers. My gear/toys bag is bulky and wet. I prefer to leave it at the pool and not have to always have it drying in the boot of my car. Simple. Useful.
  • Hot showers. I spend more time of cold water than most people, so I’m not the first to complain about cold. But nine months of cold showers when the price has gone up by the aforementioned 28%? This isn’t about my pool though, rather than that hot showers are really part of what adult swimmers need and for which they usually pay. Hot showers are essential if you want people to shower before they use the pool, and thereby improve the overall cleanliness and health of the pool and its patrons.

You’ll see there are many things I didn’t list here: coffee shops, saunas, pool gear shops, junk food vending machines, suit spinners, music. Things that often make the pool more money are fine and good if they help support the pool becuase a successful pool is generally better for the swimmers. A couple of things though are on the margin of utility. A pace clock is one to many recreational swimmers, but I put it in as essential for serious swimmers (not necessarily fast swimmers, just anyone who wants to improve). Another is a deep pool. There’s no doubt that a six-foot / 1.86 metre (or greater) deep pool is faster and more pleasurable to swim in. But I’m not convinced it’s essential unless for competition.

Dear spammers, this pool discussion is not an invitation to deluge me with your Home or Endless Pool or Pool Cleaning Services offers.


11 thoughts on “What Swimmers Want From Swimming Pools – What Features Make a Good Pool for Swimming

  1. Great post. The lack of signs or posters outlining basic lane etiquette is my bug bear at my local pool.

    I also think the lack of accessible 50m pools in Ireland is shocking. It really is whatever your local gym /leisure centre has and that is it. No public pools worth a damn.

    As a exclusively pool user at my gym I think of it as I don’t get in the way of the folks using machines in the gym so why should I put up with them strolling in the pool.


  2. Great article subject! For me, one thing that’s missing is Minimum Lane Width. I stopped going to one local pool because the lanes were too narrow, and I kept hitting and running into people (especially those with funky strokes). Idiot pool designer/architect! 2.5m (8+ ft) is best, but I can handle 2m (~6.5-7 ft). Anything less, and I won’t use the pool if I have to share a lane.

    Couple more things:
    — “Suit Spinners” are a non-issue for me; never use them. Any modern suit will dry in a few hours.
    — But Hot Showers are a must, for sure. And a bonus is to have hot showers WITH steam; we have two of those at my main indoor pool.
    — Water temperature is always an issue, it seems. 84F (29C) is about my cut-off, too, for max temp in a pool. Luckily, I have access to several pools, all of which hold a different (and consistent) temp for indoor. Outdoors, it’s much more variable and iffy.


    • Thanks Harald, and Happy New Year to you.

      Ah, yes lane width, I agree with you, one I forgot. My usual lane is about over a metre, I must check it. Pretty narrow, but it can accommodate two frontcrawlers. Too narrow for two breast-strokers or anyone with a really bad kick. Not the worst I’ve swum in though, Mayfield pool in Cork has a lane so narrow it impedes one person swimming by themselves!

      The one thing my local pool has improved (the only thing) is pool temperature since they put in a solar heating system, which required a new control system, and that has taken away the variablity of the old system. I know a solar heating system, for a pool…in Ireland. We don’t even have warm let alone hot showers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m super blessed to swim in a Huge Olympic sized pool that was designed specifically for training and water therapy – with a bulkhead separating the 50m lanes from the zero depth entry. The water is generally clean, and the temperature is regulated except in the summer when it is so hot that they can not control the temperature even with sprayers etc. Our lifeguards are pleasant and good about enforcing rules. We have 3 pace clocks at various points in the pool…digital. The showers are hot, and clean and recently retiled (though given our locale, we do see all sort of bugs that fly in but… well, we live here, and the bugs do too).
    I pay a ridiculously small fee for the pool (and the gym attached). 15.00 a month.
    We don’t have personal lockers, we do share the pool with a variety of swim camps, triathlon teams, college teams and club teams. If one has the right attitude the sharing goes well. I’ve never seen any person fiddling with another, though I did see a fist fight over the lanes when it was under different management….
    No suit spinner which disappoints me, but… given the comments above, I’m quite grateful for the facility… which also has an Endless pool across the street, which I like to use when the weather is not right.


  4. I so very much wish for so many of these that I can say the pace clock, the 25yd pool and the personal lockers are non-essential for me.
    There are two pools in my area to choose from but both are 20yds, so there’s that.

    1 is a very multi use 5 lane pool that receives over 80% of it’s operating budget from the high school swim team.
    These teens are in the pool every day for 2 hours, and are followed by a local private swim team for k-8th graders – another 2 hours daily.
    They set the pool temp to the liking of the elderly aerobics class that meets for 45 minutes a day…
    Cleanliness is great – but lap swim is only available from 7-9 am, and the showers range from ‘this one works today’ to ‘ok, wow, that’s cold’.

    The other is a 4 lane in a local gym, and is pretty much lap swim all day, except for the aerobics group that meets for 45mins daily there.
    You often can’t see clearly and when you can the smell of chlorine is horrid.
    There are frequently walkers or random aerobics people in the pool, there are no lane ropes, and despite a (tiny) sign indicating that traffic is N/S and that walkers should stay on the near wall and share a lane, there will often be walkers going alone side by side talking, aerobics people on any random wall paying no attention to where they’re spinning and kicking, and all of the non-lap swimmers seem to think that lane sharing is akin to stealing their wallets…
    The showers are hot though!

    Yeah… I need to relocate,lol!


    • Hey Kit.

      Personal lockers actually became an essential for me after my top was once stolen in the pool and I had to walk to my car half-dressed!

      My pool is 20 metres, a tad longer, but there’s no point me worrying about it. It’s main advantage is it’s four minutes from home. (No other pool withing 30 mins thought). I was 40 minutes into a 5k session yesterday, when I was told to get out, the timetable was wrong again. No opening before work. Only open to 9 some evenings, 8 on other evenings. No required showers beforehand, freezing showers, etc, etc.


  5. Very important is that the swimming pool will be near you home or at least on the way from work to home.
    It is recommendable that it will be open two hours before you start working and closed at the earlier as 22:00.
    I prefer a deal of one year payment for using all year without limitations. (Than it make me enter the pool even if I am in a harry and want to swim for short time)


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