What’s the Difference Between a Lap and a Length?
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 19th, 2011

I’ve been surprised how many swimmers wonder whether a “lap” equals one length or two. I.E. If you complete a Lap of a 25-yard pool, have you swum 25 yards or 50 yards. It’s not a pressing question, but a matter of terminology. So after seeing the question posed again in this TI Discussion Forum thread which asked for definition of the term Strokes Per Length, I decided it was time to settle the debate.

In running, you complete a lap by circling a track — which brings you back to where you started. That seems to have influenced many people who are new to swimming to think you need to return to where you started in order to complete a lap.

Swimming is different. You swim a straight, not looped course. But in swimming, as well as running, completing a LAP means completing the COURSE.

Indoors a running track (or Course) is usually 200 meters. Outdoors it’s usually 400 meters. When you complete the distance of the course, you’ve run a LAP.

Swimming pools come in a wider variety of sizes, from 12 to 25 to 33 to 50 yards or meters. In the longest pool in the world — 1000 yards long at the San Alfonso del Mar resort in southern Chile  — you can swim as far in ONE LAP as it takes 40 LAPS to go at the SUNY New Paltz College Pool where I swim in colder months.

The most important thing is not what label you apply to the course you swim. It’s whether you embrace the philosophy that you invest every stroke and every moment along the way with purpose and attention — rather than focus on getting to the other end.

Maintaining your focus can be a challenge even when a lap is just 25 yards as at SUNY-New Paltz, where I swim in colder months. But what kind of mental discipline would it take to focus keenly on every single stroke when it takes perhaps 800 strokes to complete a lap, as at the 1000-yard San Alfonso del Mar pool below?

4 Responses to “What’s the Difference Between a Lap and a Length?”

  1. Steve Howard says:


    Terry very good article. I think often about what I have heard you say a number of times “Focus on every single swim stroke”. I try to do just that! … and also based on your excellent teaching lessons, when I am cycling – I focus on every single pedal stoke and if I am running – I focus on every single step I take…. And when I am working at our Engineering Office – I focus on every single step required to develop a solution to a given problem. Terry your swim advice for us to develop the discipline to maintain focus is another very good example of how TI swimming improves our lives.

    Total Immersion Coach Steve Howard

  2. Margo Milandin says:

    what is a lap in swimming…one way or up and back? I still don’t see a clear answer!

  3. I say one lap. Others say up and back.

  4. Robert Witbeck says:

    People tend to ask me…”how many laps did you swim?”…so I tell them how long, 1 or 2 hours…that seems to pasify their curiosity.

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