A mile is a mile is a mile, right? Well, no — not if you’re in a pool.
A mile in swimming is not always the same distance as a mile walking, running, or biking (or any other way of covering distance on the ground).
While a mile is equivalent to 1,609 meters or 1,760 yards, a “mile” swim race is typically 1,500 meters or 1,650 yards.
Here’s why: Only three countries (the U.S., Myanmar, and Liberia) still use imperial units of measurement, including the mile. Everywhere else, metric is the standard.
That includes the Olympics, which has included a 1,500-meter swim race — a distance known as the “metric mile” — since 1908.
For swimmers training or competing in a pool that’s measured in yards rather than meters, a 1,650-yard distance — just under 1,509 meters — offers the closest approximation of that 1,500-meter distance.
How Many Laps Are in a “Mile” Swim?
First things first: When calculating how many laps are in a mile in swimming, it’s important to know exactly what a lap is.
One length of a pool — that is, swimming from one wall to the other — is considered one lap.
(You may have heard that one lap equals two lengths — up and back — but “laps” and “lengths” are actually the same thing.)
So if you’re training for a triathlon or just swimming for the cardio benefits, how far are you supposed to swim if you want to go one mile?
It depends on where you’re swimming. In open water, a mile is a mile. But in a pool, it gets a little tricky, because pools vary in size:
Olympic pools are 50 meters long.
“Short-course” pools are 25 meters long.
Most college and high school swimming pools in the U.S. are 25 yards long.
Use this table to figure out how many laps (or lengths) you’d need to swim in each type of pool in order to complete a “mile” swim race.
Laps Per Mile
1,500 meters = 30 laps
1,500 meters = 60 laps
1,650 yards = 66 laps
Now, if you want to swim a full mile in a pool — aka 1,609 meters or 1,760 yards — then add another 2 lengths in a 50-meter pool, 4 more lengths in a 25-meter pool, or 4½ additional lengths in a 25-yard pool.
(It won’t be exactly a mile, but you’ll be within a few feet.)
No matter the distance you choose to swim, you’ll get a great workout and burn calories.
At a moderate effort, a 150-pound person burns almost 200 calories while swimming for 30 minutes.
If they swim at a vigorous pace, that same person will burn about 335 calories in 30 minutes.
So dive in and work on your freestyle stroke, or try one of these swimming workouts.