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107 Swimming Terms You Should Know 

Welcome to the sport of swimming, where we’ve crafted swimming terms that often feel like an entirely different language! 

If you’ve ever felt like a fish out of water trying to understand terms like “dryland,” “cool down,” or “hypoxic-set,” fear not! Our swimming term guide is here to rescue you from the depths of confusion and ensure you blend into our water-loving community. 

Whether you’re a beginner eager to navigate the swim lingo or a seasoned swimmer looking to dive deeper into our swimming terms, this guide will help you with the lingo.

Prepare to dive into 107 swimming terminologies that’ll have you fitting right in with the swimming world!

Swim stroke terms 

  1. Backstroke (Bk): in this stroke, you are on your back with your face to the sky, able to breathe the whole time
  2. Breastroke (Br): this is the stroke with the “froggy kick”
  3. Butterfly (Fly): for many swimmers, this is the hardest stroke! This is the one Michael Phelps is known for
  4. Freestyle (Fr): often referred to as “front crawl” by non-swimmers, the fastest stroke
  5. Individual medley (IM): all four strokes swam in the following order: fly, bk, br, fr
  6. Underwater (uw): while this is not technically a stroke, many coaches refer to the underwater dolphin kick when you push off the wall as the 6th and fastest “stroke” 😉

Distance terms:

  1. Lap: swimming from one end to the other end of the pool
  2. Short course: a 25-yard pool
  3. Long course: a 50-meter pool 
  4. Short course meters: less common in the US, 25-meter pool
  5. 50: 2 short course laps, or 1 long course lap 
  6. 100: 4 short course laps or 2 long-course laps 
  7. 200, the 2, 2 free”: 8 short-course laps or 4 long-course laps 
  8. 500, the 5, 5 free: 20 short-course laps, not a race in long-course meters
  9. 4IM or 2IM: this refers to the 200 or 400-individual medley
  10. The “mile”: 1500 long course meters or 1650 short course yards

Types of swimmers:

  1. Sprinter: anything over a 100 and this swimmer is unwell, likely states their favorite event is the 50 😉
  2. Mid-D or mid-distance swimmer: a swimmer who does well in 200 events, maybe they dabble in sprint and distance work too
  3. Distance swimmer: a swimmer that loves the endurance stuff, this swimmer thrives in the 500, 1000, and the mile
  4. IMer: someone great at IM
  5. “Insert stroke” + er: someone who is great at breaststroke is a breaststroker

Equipment terms:

  1. Paddle: a plastic hand device that may cover a swimmer’s palm and fingers to add resistance and improve stroke technique 
  2. Parachute: resistance, typically worn around the waist to improve strength and stamina
  3. Buckets or power towers: a stationary structure consisting of vertical poles or bars with adjustable resistance bands or cords typically stationed at the edge of the pool
  4. Fins or flippers: rubber-like devices that go on each foot to help improve kick power and in some cases ankle flexibility 
  5. Mono fins: a single large flipper that binds the feet together to help swimmers create more power in their dolphin kick 
  6. Snorkel: a device that helps swimmers breathe while keeping their head in the water, typically used to help improve head position
  7. Buoy: a foam device swimmers put between their legs to increase buoyancy during swims
  8. Tempo trainer: a device swimmers put in their swim cap that emits sound to guide and improve stroke tempo and rhythm
  9. Kickboard: a board swimmers hang on to focus on their legs during kick sets, it may also be used as a buoy during pull sets 
  10. Drag suit: often a looser, extra layer of fabric that increases resistance 
  11. Stretch cords: are resistant bands connected to a waist belt that swimmers can tie off to the block or have a teammate hold to provide resistance or practice speed work.

Technique training terms

  1. Catch: the initial arm movement when swimmers must engage hands and forearms to establish a strong grip on the water for better propulsion 
  2. Bilateral breathing: this means breathing to both sides of the body to promote balance, typically swimmers will be told to breathe every 3, 5, 7, or 9 strokes when focusing on this
  3. Pull: when a coach tells swimmers to get pulling gear on this usually means grab your buoy and paddles
  4. Drafting: when a swimmer swims closely behind a swimmer to increase efficiency and reduce effort this can be done by swimming at another swimmer’s hips or feet. 
  5. Short-axis strokes: butterfly and breaststroke 
  6. Long-axis strokes: freestyle and backstroke 
  7. Scull: when swimmers use only hands and forearms to move forward without full strokes 
  8. Catch-up: a drill in freestyle when one arm remains extended while the other arm completes a complete stoke and “catches up” to the out-stretched arm
  9. Kicking: when a swimmer uses their legs to propel them forward, kick sets typically involve not using arms and focusing on legs
  10. Distance per stroke (DPS):  if a coach tells you to focus on DPS they want you to focus on technique and take fewer strokes for each distance
  11. Stroke rate: the number of strokes a swimmer takes per minute, indicating the speed of their arm movements
  12. Streamline: a position in which a swimmer aligns their body to minimize drag and maximize efficiency in the water with hand over hand above their head 
  13. Open turn: a turn that a swimmer does when swimming breaststroke and butterfly in which the swimmer must touch with both hands and then turn in the other direction
  14. Transition turn: the turns in IM between butterfly to backstroke, backstroke to breaststroke, and breaststroke to freestyle
  15. Flip turn: at the end of a freestyle or backstroke lap when a swimmer must flip over and kick-off to turn to maximize efficiency and promote speed
  16. Pull-out: the underwater in breaststroke when a swimmer pulls down and does a dolphin kick before sneaking arms back up for the first stroke
  17. Breakout: the first stroke that transitions a swimmer from underwater to swimming 

General workout terms

  1. Taper: this is a time before a race when training intensity and volume decreases to give swimmers time to promote rest and recovery to optimize performance 
  2. Dryland: land-based exercises and activities that swimmers do outside of the water to improve overall athleticism, flexibility, and strength
  3. Warm-up:  takes place at the beginning of practice, this is a chance to gradually warm up the muscles and slowly get the heart rate up
  4. Cool-Down or warm-down: this happens at the end of a workout or after a race. This is gentle, easy swimming to help reduce heart rate, stretch, and relax the muscles
  5. Main-set: this is the main focus of the workout and usually the most challenging section that focuses on speed, endurance, technique, or all three
  6. Pre-set: typically this is a set that comes right before the main set, it may involve drills or slight pace work to help a swimmer get primed for the main set 
  7. Descend: getting progressively faster with each repetition or throughout a distance
  8. Ascend: starting fast and progressively getting slower (opposite of descending) 
  9. Negative split: when a swimmer focuses on making the second of a set or a race faster than the first half
  10. IM order (IMO): sets may be assigned to you as “IM order” for example, 4×100 IM order would be 1. Fly, 2. Bk, 3. Br, 4. Fr 
  11. Best average: this emphasizes consistency over a set or race, this is when a swimmer holds their best time across a series of repetitions be it 50s or 100s 
  12. Build: this is when a swimmer gradually increases their speed and intensity, starting slower and finishing a set or distance with increased speed and effort 
  13. Lactate set: high-intensity training session, typically shorter repeated sprint distances with long intervals in between fast efforts that produce lactic acid in the muscles
  14. Circle swim: in the US, swimming in a counterclockwise direction within a shared lane, down on the right and back on the left
  15. Spilt the lane or sides: dividing a lane into two sides when less than 2 people are in the lane and agree to share 
  16. Aerobic set:  a moderate effort that can be maintained for a longer period of time meant to improve endurance
  17. Anaerobic set: high-intensity swimming that focuses on speed and pushes the body to perform in oxygen-deprived conditions 
  18. Pyramid: a training set that gradually increases and then decreases the distance or intensity of each repetition, for example, 400, 300, 200, 100, 200, 300, 400
  19. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE): A subjective measure of how hard a swimmer feels they are working during a swim or training session, typically measures from 1-10
  20. Hypoxic set: these are sets that require the swimmer to intentionally restrict or reduce how much they breathe to help the swimmer enhance lung capacity and adapt to oxygen deprivation 
  21. Open-water swimming: swimming done in rivers, lakes, and oceans 

Time-related terms

  1. On the bottom: refers to leaving on the 30 or the 6 which is at the bottom of an analog clock 
  2. On the top: refers to leaving on the top of an analog clock so the 12 or 00
  3. Interval: the designated time period between repetitions, sets, and sometimes rest
  4. Split: the time it takes for a swimmer to complete a portion of a race or a set
  5. Pace: a set performed at a specified speed over a duration. For example, if a swimmer wants to go 2:00 in the 200 free they would try to hold 30 seconds on each 50 for 200 pace

Swim Meet terms

  1. Meet: an organized swimming competition where swimmers compete in various events
  2. Event: a specific stroke and distance combination raced at  a swim meet like the 200-yard breaststroke or 50-meter freestyle 
  3. Heats: divisions of events based on swimmers’ seed times, often used in preliminaries to determine qualifiers for finals
  4. Psych sheet: a document that lists the swimmers’ entry times and ranks them in each event before a swim meet
  5. Heat sheet: a document that outlines the order of events and specific race assignments for each swimmer
  6. Seed: what a swimmer is ranked before the meet, if they are listed third fastest a swimmer would say “I am seeded third”
  7. DQ or disqualification: a ruling by officials that disqualifies a swimmer due to violating a rule
  8. PB or best time: a swimmer’s fastest time in a particular event
  9. Block or starting block: an elevated platform that swimmers dive off of at the start of their race 
  10. Wedge: an adjustable platform on the starting block that helps swimmers maximize their leg power to launch forward 
  11. “Take your mark”: a phrase used by the official to signal swimmers to take their starting position on the blocks
  12. Tech suit: a high-performance swimsuit designed to reduce drag and enhance speed in competitive swimming, usually very tight 
  13. Lap counter: a device used to keep track of the number of laps swum during long races, typically the 500 and up 
  14. Official: a person responsible for enforcing the rules and overseeing the fair conduct of a swimming competition
  15. Touchpad: electronic pad at the end of each lane in a pool that swimmers touch to register their times during a race
  16. Timers: 2-3 people who sit behind each lane during a race to get the swimmer’s race time
  17. Relay: a race when four swimmers compete as a team, each swimming a portion of the total distance
  18. Medley relay: a relay race where each swimmer on the team swims a different stroke in a specific order (back, br, fly, fr) *notice this is a different order from the individual medley 
  19. Anchor: the 4th and final swimmer who swims the last leg of a relay race 
  20. Prelims: short for preliminary heats, the initial rounds of competition to determine qualifiers for the finals
  21. Finals: the last round of the competition where the top qualifiers from prelims compete for rankings and medals
  22. Meet mobile: an app that displays most swim meet results including in-depth splits for each swimmers race 
  23. Deck or pool deck: the area surrounding the pool where swimmers prepare for races, talk to their swim coach, and gather with teammates 

Swimmer slang

  1. Sandbagger or Sally save-up: someone who puts minimal effort into the set until the last fast effort, this swimmer is commonly disliked by their training partners 😉
  2. Last one, fast one: this is typically the last hard effort of a set where swimmers are encouraged to give it all the energy they have left in the tank!
  3. Swammer: A former competitive swimmer that has “retired”
  4. Lane hog: A swimmer that likes to swim down the middle, be in the way of other swimmers getting to the wall to finish, and take up most of the space in the lane
  5. Swim smooth: to swim relaxed and efficiently, this type of swimming appears effortless 
  6. All out: to swim as fast as you possibly can
  7. Down the middle: this is when a swimmer swims directly down the middle of the lane following the line marker on the bottom of the pool, this is how swimmers should race
  8. Clean water: when a swimmer gets to lead a lane or swim alone in a lane with no disturbances or disruptive wake from other swimmers. 
  9. Swimcest: the act of dating a swimmer on your team, this is likely to cause problems down the road, we do not advise 


Whether you’re a novice swimmer or a seasoned pro, understanding swim lingo is essential for fully immersing yourself in the sport. 

With our comprehensive guide of 107 swimming terms, you’ll gain the knowledge and confidence to converse with fellow swimmers, decipher complex sets, and embrace the camaraderie of the swimming community. 

If we missed any of your favorite swim terms drop them in the comments below!

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