How to Design the Perfect Lap Pool

Types and Styles of Swimming Pools

Lap pool in a modern home
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A lap pool is a swimming pool primarily built and used for fitness and health purposes. Lap pools are long and narrow, and ideally at least 45 feet in length (or width, depending on where you're standing). Typically, lap pools are a rectangular shape.They are a good solution for narrow or shallow residential lots in which the homeowner desires a swimming pool to get frequent exercise in the privacy of his or her own backyard. For narrow lots, they also serve as a focal point of the yard, especially when viewed from the house.

As residential lots have become smaller and smaller, lap pools have gained in popularity.

Early Lap Pools

The ancient Greeks and Romans built pools most likely in the form of a rectange for athletic training in the palaestras (ancient gymnasiums), for the nautical games, and also for military exercises. The private pools of Roman emperors were stocked with fish and were known as piscinas.

While others existed in various forms and for various purposes, it was the late Cleo Baldon of the Venice, California-based landscape design firm Galper/Baldon Associates who is credited with having brought the lap pool to California with her designs in the early 1970s. Baldon's design innovation helped to fuel the fitness scene that followed and her work was featured in the book she co-authored with her husband, Ib Melchior, Reflections on the Pool: Calfornia Designs for Swimming. She also held a patent for the first prefab fiberglass spa (the Hydro-Spa) with contoured seating. 

Baldon, who grew up in Washington state, said that the long, narrow irrigation trenches that run between apple orchards were one of the inspirations for the lap pool.

Baldon on Lap Pools

Although Baldon's mother didn't allow her daughter to actually go swimming in those Washington irrigation trenches, the designer went on to create some of the most beautiful lap pools in which to swim and enjoy. With the serious athletic swimmer in mind, she believed that a pool that was only 8 or 9 feet wide (and at least 45 feet in length) would allow someone to comfortably perform swim strokes. Optimal lap pool depths are 3 feet at the shallow end, 4 feet in the middle, and 5 feet to stand up in the deep end. A "leg" area at the shallow end is ideal for children to play and to locate access steps.

Building, maintaining, and heating a lap pool is similar to other pools, although this type can be used like a swim-in-place pool (or spool) if it is equipped with a machine that creates a strong artificial current. This allows a swimmer to swim against a continuous flow of water without moving forward or needing to turn at the ends of the pool, all the while perfecting strokes and toning.

Design Considerations

When planning or constructing a lap pool, think about the following:

  • If you will be using the pool mostly to swim laps, it is more convenient to enter the pool via offset or niche wall steps with a metal grab rail rather than internal steps
  • If there is room, consider adding an integrated spa, which extends the enjoyment of the pool and can economize on space if you desire both a pool and a hot tub in your backyard
  • The deck surround is an integral part of the design, so think about the materials you'd like to use: wood, concrete paving, or tile. The standard space around any swimming pool is 4 to 8 feet wide on all sides. This permits easy access, keeps debris out of the water, prevents the garden from becoming waterlogged, and allows for easier maintenance
  • When will you most likely use the pool? In the morning, afternoon, or evening? Really think about this, because it can affect how you heat your lap pool. Do you plan on using it just in the spring and summer, or all year? This can make a difference when building a heating unit into your lap pool
  • Get a cover to make contain the heat in your pool, which makes it more efficient and can reduce your utility bills. Cover styles include thermal blankets or fully automated