5 Ways to Make Every Lap Count

Lap Counter

By Abby Bergman, Swimming World College Intern. 

A question swimmers often field from those outside of the swimming community is whether we get bored swimming during long sets, staring at the black line. One way to stay interested during the back and forth that is innate to our sport is to meticulously count laps and keep track of pace. Because counting is so important to swimming, here is a look into the diverse ways swimmers tick off their distance during workouts and have compiled some suggestions to try including in your next workout .

1. Divide the set into fractions.

pace clock

Photo Courtesy: Swimming World

A coach once explained that swimmers don’t count their sets the way most people would. Rather than counting up from the beginning, swimmers tend to count down from the end. Instead of thinking “I have completed five 50s,” a swimmer will think “I have one more until halfway” or “I have 6 more until I’m done.”

Some swimmers also have little rituals to celebrate getting through the segments of a set and staying motivated to keep working hard. Paralympic swimmer Serafina King describes, “if we’ve just hit the middle mark we’ll do a halfway high five and then if we are on the final lap we will do a final finger where we all tap fingers. It’s just the little gestures that keep you going the entire time.”

2. Use the clock.


Photo Courtesy: Ironman

This is a favorite method among swimmers to keep track of where they are, especially during long, distance sets. Since most swimmers generally know the pace they can hold, they can use the clock to tell them how much they have swum. After a turn, they sneak a glimpse of the old analog clock on the wall and know exactly where they are. Of course, like many counting methods, this is not without flaws, but many find that they are able to stay focused on the set and at the same time keep track of their laps.

3. Count with the alphabet


Photo Courtesy: Erin Himes

If you’re tired of counting with numbers and have a knack for word games, this is the method for you!

Distance swimmer Eliza Cummings explains “When I’m training for marathon swims I try to practice different mental exercises to keep it interesting. If I am doing a longer pool swim (1000s or above) sometimes I like to count and keep preoccupied using the alphabet. I’ll pick a category for example: animals, food, names of places and for each lap I list as many things in that category that start with A, then B, then C, and on and on until I get to whatever letter/lap is my stopping point. It keeps me distracted and entertained while I’m doing longer distances!”

4. Use your gear


Photo Courtesy: Amelia J. Brackin

If you’re a swimmer, you probably have plenty of gear that you trek to the pool for each workout. Now you can use it to count laps for you! Smith College team record holder Desi Stoyanova describes, “I put a piece of my gear; a kickboard, a fin, a paddle, a snorkel, or a water bottle, on the other side of the starting block after completing a short swim within a set. It is a helpful counting strategy for me as  my workouts regularly require a multiple repetition of short distances like 24×200, 50×100, 32×50.”

5. Wear a smartwatch

Photo Courtesy: Swim.com

Photo Courtesy: Swim.com

If you are tired of counting your laps and want to be done with the whole thing all together, consider using a lap counting watch to keep track of your laps for you. There are many gadgets that promise a variety of features from simple lap counting to complex stroke analytics. These watches allow swimmers to focus on other aspects of the workout, while letting the watch keep track distance.

Cummings recounts “I also wear a watch which is my favorite swim accessory! With my watch, I don’t have to count laps at all and can let my mind zone in on technique, feel for the water, etc. and every once in a while I’ll take a stroke to sneak a peek at the lap count to keep on track. This is my favorite way to swim because then I’m focused on making the laps count not on counting the laps.”

5. Use breathing


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

This method doesn’t require any special gadgets or technology; all you need is your breathing pattern. Champion Masters swimmer Karen Bierwert describes, “For 500s – 1650, I use my breathing pattern to help me keep track of my count.  On odd hundreds I breathe bilaterally; on even hundreds I breathe only on the left.  Just that mindset helps me.  I keep track of the 100s that way.  I also use that system if I am doing a set of ten 100s for example.”

So the next time you are trying to stay focused during a workout, try a new counting method and see how it works for you!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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