The swimming world is full of technical jargon and technicalities, but one one question that seems to stumped even the most clued-up swimmers is: how many laps is a mile in swimming?
This seemingly simple question actually depends on a number of variables, all of which we will cover in this article.
So, if you want to target your training sessions towards the mile distance, or even if you just want to impress your friends with your niche knowledge, then read on!
In A Nutshell
For those of you who aren’t interested in the nitty gritty, here is a quick break down of the number of laps you have to swim in an average 25 yard pool order to cover a mile:
|25 yard pool||1 ‘actual’ mile (1760 yards)||70.4 laps|
|25 yard pool||1 ‘swimming’ mile (1650 yards)||66 laps|
Although the table above gives a clear overview it does not answer the question fully.
This is because the number of laps you have to complete in order to swim a mile depends on a few different factors.
- What you mean by the word ‘mile’
- The size of the pool you are swimming in
- What you mean by the word ‘lap’
- Whether you are swimming in a pool or in open water
Once you have specified each of these variables you will be able to work out exactly how many laps you need to swim in order to reach your goal.
Imperial Versus Metric
The discrepancies between each of these variables is largely down to the difference between metric and imperial units of measurements.
In America, we mainly use the imperial system which measures length in inches, feet and yards (however we tend not to use the mile as a customary measure, preferring the metric kilometer instead).
In Europe and the rest of the world, the metric system is preferred.
This measures distance in centimeters, meters and kilometers (although they still use the mile as opposed to kilometers in Britain!).
The two systems do not align perfectly and conversion charts are often needed to work out exactly how many units of an imperial measurement equate to the same length in metric terms.
It all dates back to the 18th century France and involves lots of power struggles and convoluted history, but for our purposes it is helpful to know that:
- 1 mile = 1760 yards / 1610 meters / 1.6 kilometers
What You Mean By The Word ‘Mile’
Having established that a mile is an imperial measurement of a distance that is the equivalent to 1.6 kilometers, how does it translate in swimming terms?
Well, there are actually two different interpretations of the word ‘mile’ when it comes to swimming; the first refers to a full, ‘actual mile, and the second refers to the ‘swimming’ mile.
The swimming mile is actually a slightly shorter distance than the full mile, and it is a colloquial term rather than an official distance.
It came about due to the fact that a mile is a rather awkward measurement when converted into laps.
It is not very convenient, for example, for a swimmer to swim 70.4 laps of a pool, as the race would finish in the middle of the water rather than at the end of the pool.
This would make adjudicating very difficult indeed and certainly lead to many disputes!
Instead, the swimming mile is 1650 yards in distance which is 110 yards shorter than the standard mile.
This fits far more neatly into a 25 yard pool during races and competitions, as it requires exactly 66 laps in order to be completed.
However, the distance covered in a meet mile can also be 1500 meters if the pool being used is a meter pool rather than a yard pool.
1500 is approximately 1640 yards which is 120 yards shorter than a full mile.
All getting a little confusing? Let’s break it down more simply:
- A Competition Mile in Swimming
Most swimming associations and competitions use the ‘meet mile’ as a standard race distance. This distance is 1650 yards in a yard pool, which is 66 laps of a 25 yard pool. The ‘meet mile’ is 1500 meters when the competition is taking place in a meter pool, and this equates to 60 laps of a 25 meter pool.
- A Training Mile in Swimming
Most swimmers use the 1650 yard distance to train for a swimming mile, or 1500 meters if they are training in a meter pool. This distance is far enough to help them build the power, stamina and technique to take on a competitive mile in swimming.
- An Open Water Mile in Swimming
Of course, if you are swimming in an open water competition then the standard mathematical mile returns as there are no tricky yard / meter limitations. To train for an open water race in a pool, you should divide the length of a full mile by the length of your training pool to see how many lengths you need to complete.
Remember, one full mile is 1760 yards or 1610 meters, so if you swim in a 25 meter pool your calculations will be as follows:
1610 divided by 25 = 64.4
Then you will need to swim 64.4 laps of your training pool to recreate this distance. However, it is better to round up to 65 laps if you don’t want to finish in the middle of the pool.
The Size Of The Swimming Pool
It makes perfect sense that the size of the pool you are swimming in will affect how many laps you have to complete in order to swim a mile. Just think of a running track on a sports field.
If the track is a mile long, well then you only need to complete one lap.
If the track is very short then you will have to run round it many more times in order to cover the same distance.
This same logic applies to swimming pools.
In America and the rest of the world there are three standard pool sizes which most recreational centers and competitions adhere to. These three pool sizes are:
- The 25 yard pool
- The 25 meter pool
- The 50 meter pool
The number refers to the length of the pool as opposed to the width, which can be any size really.
Many private pools and pools in smaller gyms and parks do not adhere to these standard sizings, and can be any length from 20 yards, to 30 yards and 40 yards, and can also come in all different and irregular shapes.
It is worth finding out exactly how long the pool you are training in is because then you can be sure that you tailor your training correctly and swim the right number of laps to cover a mile.
Although these pools are great for practice and recreational swimming, they are not suitable for competitions.
If you are training for a competition, it is always best to train in a pool that is equivalent to that which you will be competing in so that your body gets used to the number of strokes it takes to complete a lap, and the number of laps required to complete the race.
The 25 Yard Pool
The 25 yard pool is the most common size of pool in US recreation centers and gyms and it is also the most common size found in schools and colleges.
As we Americans love the imperial measurement system, it is no surprise that the 25 yard pool is widely used, especially in short course swimming.
The short course season is generally enjoyed in the winter months, and many competitions and meets will use the 25 meter pool as their location.
The 25 Meter Pool
The 25 meter pool is almost the same length as the 25 yard pool but is very slightly longer.
This is the size of a swimming pool that is most commonly found in recreation centers, gyms, schools and colleges in Europe.
Their competitions and meets are largely based around this length of pool and therefore use the 1500 meter ‘mile’ rather than the 1650 yard ‘mile’.
When Americans compete in international competitions (particularly short course competitions) this size swimming pool is used.
Even though the distance is almost the same as the 25 yard pool, those few extra inches at each end can make a big difference in a tight race and that is why many Americans choose to train in a 25 meter pool.
The 50 Meter Pool
The 50 meter pool is the official ‘Olympic’ sized pool and it is the size that most international professional competitions use.
As the 50 meter pool is so big, double the length of the 25 meter pool in fact, the number of laps it takes to swim a mile in one is halved.
It only takes 30 laps of a 50 meter pool to complete a 1500 meter ‘mile’, however you will still be as exhausted at the end of it as it is exactly the same distance.
What You Mean By The Word ‘Lap’
Many novices and beginners in the swimming world think that the term lap refers to a complete journey around the outskirts of the entire pool.
This is in fact incorrect, but it is understandable seeing as a lap of a race track usually involves running around the outskirts of a playing field until you end up back where you started.
Others mistake the term ‘lap’ in swimming, to mean two lengths of the pool, to one end and back again.
Here again they are incorrect but understandably so. The logic that a lap should return you to the place of origin is once again deceiving.
In fact, a ‘lap’ in swimming is exactly the same as a length. It may seem convoluted but a lap actually indicates one whole completed journey, from your start point to your finish point.
On a track, that distance is often a loop, but in the pool, where you can perform tumbles and push offs, that distance is one length.
Therefore, when we say that it takes 66 laps of a 25 yard pool to complete a swimming mile, we mean that you must swim 66 lengths of the pool.
Swimming Lap Charts
Now that we understand the difference between a ‘meet mile’/ ‘swimming mile’ and an actual mile, here are some simple lap charts that will help you to plan your training session to ensure you swim the correct number of laps to reach your goal.
First up, here is a conversion chart that explains the different distances of various types of ‘miles’ in miles, yards and meters:
|1 full mile||1760 yards||1610 meters||1.6 kilometers|
|1 swimming mile in a yard pool||1650 yards||1508 meters||0.937 full miles|
|1 swimming mile in a meter pool||1640 yards||1500 meters||0.932 full miles|
This next chart shows how many laps you would have to complete in order to swim a mile according to the type of mile and the size of pool that you are using.
|25 yard pool||25 meter pool||50 meter pool|
|1 full mile (1760 yards)||70.4 laps||64.4 laps||32.2 laps|
|1 swimming mile (1650 yards)||66 laps||60.32 laps||30.16 laps|
|1 meter pool swimming mile (1500 meters)||65.6 laps||60 laps||30 laps|
To swim a full mile (1760 yards/ 1610 meters):
|In a 25 yard pool||70.4 laps|
|In a 25 meter pool||64.4 laps|
|In 50 meter pool||32.2 laps|
To swim a swimming mile (1650 yards / 1500 meters):
|In a 25 yard pool||66 laps|
|In a 25 meter pool||60 laps|
|In a 50 meter pool||30 laps|
How To Count Your Laps Whilst Swimming
Now, all this talk about laps is fine, but how are you meant to keep track of your laps during training?
This is a problem that many swimmers come up against, no matter how advanced you become in your training, you can still easily lose track of what number you are on and end up becoming confused.
This is not great because you either short change yourself by doing less laps than necessary – in which case you are not going to improve your stamina.
Or you do more laps than necessary and end up feeling despondent about your timings or overly fatigued.
Luckily, there are a few great options out there that you can use to stay on track with your laps. These options include:
Training With A Coach Or Counting Buddy
Training with a coach or buddy is a really great thing to do for many reasons, and the fact that they can keep a tally of your laps is just an added bonus.
A Smart Watch With Lap Counter Technology
These days, there are lots of excellent smart watches that are waterproof, lightweight and have lap counting technology which doesn’t require you to do a thing.
Everytime you tumble and push off, the smart watch will detect the change in motion and direction and clock another lap on its meter.
These watches can be pretty pricey so are not the best options for beginners who are not yet ready to break the bank on nifty gadgets, however, if you take your swimming seriously then these things are hassle free, reliable and pretty cool!
An Old Fashioned Lap Counter
The old school lap counter requires a little more effort on your part, but the emphasis is on the word ‘little’.
All you have to do is press a small clicker at the end of each lap and the laps add up.
At the end of your swim you will be able to see your total number of laps displayed on the counter screen.
However, if you forget to click the clicker then you are in just as much trouble as you would be without anything, so a good idea is to include the click as part of your tumbling motion / swim pattern.
How Long Does It Take To Swim A Mile?
The answer to this question has much the same answer as the original question, and that is: it depends.
It takes different people different amounts of time to complete a swimming mile depending on their skill level, power, stamina, current form, age and even depending on the conditions in the pool.
What is more, if you are swimming a mile in open water it will generally take longer because you will be swimming against current, swell, and potential obstacles.
The coldness of the open water will also tend to slow you down as your muscles cannot warm up in the same way that they do in pool water, and the reduced visibility of open water also slows swimmers down.
Lastly, there are no edges to reach and push off from in the open water.
The push that you get from a pool edge propels your body through the water at a fast rate, therefore without it your overall time will be slower.
However, experts have conducted many experiments and much research in this area and have come up with some average timings that will give you a ballpark idea of how long it takes to swim a mile.
The time it takes to swim a mile:
|Pro swimmers||20 minutes or less|
|Advanced swimmers||25 – 30 minutes|
|Intermediate swimmers||30-40 minutes|
|Beginner swimmers||40 minutes or more|