My exercise is swimming, and it’s an important part of my day. I track my distance. Usually I swim a mile or so. To swim a mile in a 25-yard pool, you have to make 36 round trips.

I say this as, “36 laps.” The sign at my pool says a mile is 36 laps.

I was listening to the How to Do Everything podcast, and they had a question about whether a lap is once across a pool, or there and back. I smugly thought to myself, “there and back, of course.”

To answer the question, they asked Natalie Coughlin, an Olympic swimmer, who said,

In swimming, the lap refers to swimming from one end of the pool to the next. Without a doubt, it’s one end of the pool to the other. It’s not back and forth.

What!? How does this make sense? We already have a word for one end to the other, “a length.” Are we really going to use both words to mean the same thing, and then have no word for there and back?

In any other sport, a lap takes you from a starting point, out some distance, and then back to where you started. Why should swimming be different? I thought this was supposed to be an erudite sport?

Looking for a higher authority, I consulted the glossary at USA Swimming:

Lap: One length of the course. Sometimes may also mean down and back (2 lengths) of the course.

Thanks a lot... This definition both exposes the absurdity, by defining lap to mean precisely “a length,” and then throws out there that some people use the word differently (in the useful way), so we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

Can we do something about this? Can’t the universe make just a little more sense?

## Comments

Matt5:27 PM on 31 Jul 2015Ned Batchelder6:00 PM on 31 Jul 2015Wooble6:36 PM on 31 Jul 2015Alexandre Beaulne6:58 AM on 1 Aug 2015s/25 meters/25 yards if 'Muricah

Ned Batchelder10:29 AM on 1 Aug 2015@Alexandre: this is an interesting point, and might provide some hope that there is at least a modicum of logic somewhere in here.

Rob Wells7:34 PM on 1 Aug 2015Rob Wells7:37 PM on 1 Aug 2015Christopher Allen-Poole3:48 AM on 2 Aug 2015Dennis Doughty1:23 PM on 2 Aug 2015Steven Rumbalski4:20 PM on 30 Oct 2015Jennifer2:35 AM on 5 Mar 20181.1 A stage in a swim consisting of two lengths (or one length) of a pool.

‘everyone did ten laps of the pool’ So it does not really help

Jaclyn4:08 PM on 29 May 2018Greg12:51 PM on 9 Mar 2019Vic2:44 PM on 6 Sep 2019Paula Salcido11:09 PM on 11 Jul 2020In a 25 yard pool, it tells me a length is one side to the other side is a length. It tells me a lap is swimming to the other side and back to the starting side. I have checked with swim staff also.

tallgiraffe324:36 PM on 19 Jun 2021SmashFactors8:34 AM on 29 Jul 2021Admirak genius1:47 AM on 1 Aug 2021So I swimming it’s the same

A lap is two lengths. Any one who says otherwise is a moron

Bill5:23 AM on 8 Aug 2021## Add a comment: