How to Count Laps While Swimming: Best Methods

Have you ever found yourself aimlessly swimming back and forth in the pool, losing count of if you’re on your 7th or 8th lap of your swimming workout? Or maybe you’re planning to start your swimming journey and want to understand how to measure your progress? If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, then you’ve come to the right place. 

how to count laps while swimming

You can count laps while swimming by taking advantage of the pool features, such as using the lane flags or lane dividers to help you. Alternatively, you can also use lap counting devices such as a finger lap counter, smartwatch, or even smart goggles. These tools allow you to focus entirely on your workout with minimal distractions.

This article breaks down everything you need to know about laps in swimming, from the basic definition of a lap to various counting techniques, and even the latest devices in lap counting technology. Let’s dive in.

What is a Lap in Swimming?

When you start swimming, it’s essential to understand how laps and distances are counted. 

In swimming, a lap typically refers to swimming the length of the pool one time. Since different pools have various lengths, commonly measured in yards or meters, the length of a lap might be slightly different. 

There are three primary pool distances you’ll encounter: 25 meters (known as short course meters or SCM), 25 yards (short course yards or SCY), and 50 meters (long course meters or LCM).

In a 25-meter pool, sometimes referred to as a SCM pool, each lap consists of 25 meters. Similarly, in a 25-yard pool, a lap covers 25 yards. The 50-meter pool, also known as the Olympic-sized pool or long course pool, hosts international events such as the Olympics. One lap in this pool covers 50 meters.

When counting laps, consider the length of the pool and the distance you intend to swim. To convert the number of laps into distance, you can use the following simple formula:

Number of laps × Length of the pool = Distance swum

For example, if you swim 20 laps in a 25-yard pool, your total distance would be:

20 laps × 25 yards = 500 yards

To help you better understand the relationship between laps and distance, here’s a quick guide for various pool lengths:

  • 25 Yard Pool:
    • 1 lap = 25 yards
    • 10 laps = 250 yards
    • 20 laps = 500 yards
  • 25 Meter Pool:
    • 1 lap = 25 meters
    • 10 laps = 250 meters
    • 20 laps = 500 meters
  • 50 Meter Pool:
    • 1 lap = 50 meters
    • 10 laps = 500 meters
    • 20 laps = 1,000 meters

A common mistake people make is to assume that a lap is the length of the pool and back. Incorrect. If you swam to one end of the pool and back, you swam two laps, not one.

Importance of Counting Laps

Why is it so important to count laps? Why can’t you just wing it and stop whenever you feel like it?

Counting laps while swimming is crucial for many reasons. Not only does it help you track your progress from workout to workout, but it also enables you to measure the efficiency of your workouts.

As a swimmer, counting laps keeps you accountable, ensuring that you’re sticking to your intended workout plan. This is particularly important if you are training for a specific event like a swim meet or triathlon, where distance and pacing play a huge role in your success.

Furthermore, counting laps helps to keep you focused on your goals and discourages slacking off during your workout. You’ll be motivated to push yourself harder and challenge your limits, which ultimately leads to improved fitness levels.

When you know exactly how many laps you’ve completed, it becomes simpler to analyze your performance and identify areas of improvement. Conversely, you will know when you’ve regressed if you find yourself struggling to finish the same amount of laps as last time.

Then you can start asking yourself important questions to help you determine what you can do to improve; do you need to dial in your diet more? Are you sleeping enough? Are you struggling to recover for your next workout? And so on.

Knowing this information is essential not only for casual swimmers who want to meet their personal fitness goals but also for competitive swimmers who are looking to shave off precious seconds off their personal best times.

So now that you know how to count laps and why it is so important to do so, what are the best ways to go about it?

Techniques for Counting Laps

If you don’t have a coach or partner counting laps for you, nor do you feel like spending money to buy a lap counter, then you can try these techniques to help you keep track of your lap count.

Using Pool Features

To keep track of your swimming laps, you can use some pool features to your advantage. For instance, most pools have colored lane lines or flags at each end. As you approach a wall, take note of the colors and make a mental association with the lap number you are on. 

You can also use the lane dividers to your advantage. There is no right or wrong method, but for instance you can move all of the swim buoys on the lane divider away from the wall when you get in the pool. Then as you complete each lap, slide one of the buoys to the wall to indicate one lap completed. Or you can do the reverse. Then you can just count how many buoys you moved on both ends and you’ll know how many laps you swam.

Associations and Letters

Associating numbers or letters can also help in managing your laps. For example, assign letters A to Z to your laps and come up with words or names starting with those letters. 

Swim one lap and think of a word starting with ‘A’, next lap with ‘B’, and so on. This way, you will not be overwhelmed with numbers, and your counting becomes more enjoyable.

Stroke Count and Splits

Paying attention to your stroke count and pace can be helpful in preventing losing count of your laps. Develop a habit of counting your strokes per length and comparing them to a specific time or distance called “splits.” 

By maintaining a consistent pace and number of strokes, you become more aware of your progress, making it easier to remember the lap you’re on. Don’t forget to take into account any variations in your kicking or stroke technique during different parts of your workout, as these may affect your stroke count.

Lap Counting Devices

When you’re swimming, even with the lap counting techniques mentioned above, keeping track of your laps can be challenging. Fortunately, there are various devices that can help you with this task, freeing up your mind to focus on your technique and performance instead of what lap you’re on.

Finger Lap Counters

Lap counters are devices that allow you to count the number of laps you’ve completed by pressing a button. They are designed to be worn on your finger. Each time you reach the end of the pool, you simply press the button, and the device will keep track of your laps for you.

Swim Watches

Swim watches are designed specifically for swimming and often include features such as lap counting, stroke analysis, and timing. Most swim watches are waterproof to a specific depth and can be used in both pools and open water.


Smartwatches offer a variety of features, including lap counting for swimmers. These watches usually have built-in GPS and can sync with various fitness apps to provide insights into your workout. Some popular options include the Garmin Swim 2, Fitbit Ionic, and Samsung Gear Sport.

Apple Watch

A type of smartwatch, the Apple Watch is a popular choice for swimmers as it comes with built-in lap counting and GPS capabilities. The watch can also track your distance, pace, strokes per lap, and more. Additionally, it can monitor your heart rate while you swim and give you real-time progress updates.

Goggles with LCD Display

Technology is improving every year, and perhaps one day, smart goggles with an LCD display will be the norm. Smart goggles offer real-time updates on your laps, distance, and time directly in your line of sight as you swim. 

The display is typically located on the bottom or side of the goggles, allowing you to see the information without disrupting your swimming technique. While these goggles aren’t cheap, if you’ve got the coin for them, they can be an excellent option if you want the convenience of a heads-up display while in the water.