A Swimming Dictionary: 50 of the Most Common Swimming Terms and What They Mean

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A Swimming Dictionary: 50 of the Most Common Swimming Terms and What They Mean

Many sports use different terminology that only athletes who participate in the sport understand. Swimming is one of those sports that uses lingo that only swimmers might comprehend. When swimmers explain to their parents or friends what they did at practice, most of the time what they are saying will go in one ear and out the other because non-swimmers just don’t get it. Read below to see what the definitions are for 50 of the most commonly used swimming terms!


Cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart pumping.


Stands for, as fast as possible. Swimming at an all-out pace for a certain distance.


To get slower as a set goes on.

If a set asks for swimmers to ascend their efforts, they will usually start off the set at a fast pace, and then get slower each rep. For example, 3x50s ascend 1-3 would mean a swimmer might complete the first 50 in 30 seconds, the second 50 in 31 seconds and the third 50 in 32 seconds.

Bilateral breathing

Breathing to alternate sides while swimming freestyle.

For example, swimmers might choose to use a breathing pattern such as once every three strokes. This pattern means that they would be breathing bilaterally since it requires the swimmer to breathe to both sides.


Stands for, breathing pattern. How often swimmers take a breath while swimming. Common breathing patterns are 1-3, breathing once every three strokes, 1-5, breathing once every five strokes and 1-7, breathing once every seven strokes.

Bucket turn; Synonym: crossover turn

A turn used during the individual medley event when transitioning from backstroke to breaststroke.

Swimmers will touch their hand on the wall in backstroke and then backflip onto the wall instead of flip turn. This turn makes the transition smoother for swimmers so that they can push off the wall on their front side for breaststroke.


The action of swimming a specific distance and increasing speed as you go.


To get faster as a set goes on.

If a set asks for swimmers to descend their efforts, they will usually start off the set at an easy or moderate pace, and then continue to get faster each rep. For example, 3x50s descend 1-3 would mean a swimmer might complete the first 50 in 32 seconds, the second 50 in 31 seconds and the third 50 in 30 seconds.


Stands for, declared false start. Term used when a swimmer pulls themselves out of an event at a meet.


Training in the pool two times a day, usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon.


Stands for, distance per stroke. Term used so that swimmers stretch out and focus on their stroke. The goal of DPS is to take less strokes to reach the end of the pool than a swimmer would usually take.


Training exercises for swimmers to do in the water that focus on the technique of their stroke.


Exercises done outside of the pool to help swimmers become stronger, faster and more explosive in the water.

Easy speed

A term used when swimmers go fast but stay in control.

False start

When swimmers twitch on the block or dive off the block before the buzzer goes off for their event during a swim meet.

Flip turn

A turn used during freestyle and backstroke.

Swimmers will flip onto the wall so that they can carry their fast momentum into the next lap.


Stands for, free IM. Free IM is when swimmers replace the butterfly portion of the individual medley with freestyle.

HR; Synonyms: BPM

Stands for, heart rate. Coaches often specify a heart rate that they want their swimmers to hit during a specific set.

For example, an aerobic heart rate would be 23-25 beats per 10 seconds, a moderate heart rate would be 25-27 beats per 10 seconds and a hard heart rate would be 30+ beats per 10 seconds.


Stands for, individual medley. Swimmers might compete in the 200 IM or 400 IM which is when they swim all four strokes in one race. The order of strokes in an individual medley is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.

Interval; Synonyms: send off, cycle

The time that is given for swimmers to complete a rep.

For example, a set could be 4x50s on 1:00. The 1:00 is the interval for the 50s.


The action of swimmers kicking their legs either on a board, on their back, on their side or underwater. The three types of kicking are flutter kick, used in freestyle and backstroke, dolphin kick, used in butterfly, and whip kick, used in breaststroke.


Stands for, long-course meters. A 50-meter pool, or in other words, an Olympic sized pool.


Stands for, max effort. A term used by coaches when they want something to be done at an all-out effort.

Negative split

When swimmers go faster for the second half of the distance that they are swimming.

For example, if a swimmer swims the first 100 of their 200 in 1:00, and the second 100 of their 200 in 58 seconds, they negative split their race.

On the bottom

A common phrase among swimmers to denote that they will be pushing off the wall or starting a set on the 30-second mark.

On the top

A common phrase among swimmers to denote that they will be pushing off the wall or starting a set on the :00-second mark.

Open turn

A turn used during butterfly and breaststroke.

Swimmers will reach for the wall with both hands and pull themselves toward the wall so that they can turn their body and push off the wall for the next lap.


Stands for, off the block. When coaches want their swimmers to do an effort off the block, they might shorten the phrase to OTB when writing out the set.

Over kick

Swimming with a strong kick but a slower arm tempo rate. This drill emphasizes the speed and strength of swimmers’ legs versus their arms.

Prime; Synonym: stroke

Term associated with a swimmers’ main/best stroke. Coaches might use the term so that swimmers know to do their prime stroke during a specific set.


Swimming with the use of a pull buoy to eliminate swimmers from kicking their legs while they swim. Swimmers will often wear paddles, a snorkel and a pulling strap while they pull.


Signifies to swimmers to swim at their 100 pace.


Signifies to swimmers to swim at their 200 pace.

Relay takeover

A type of start off the block that can only be done during a relay.

Swimmers will place one foot at the back of the block and their other foot on the wedge. They will stay standing with their hands out in front of them, ready to swing their arms and dive off the block as soon as their teammate approaches the wall.

Reverse IM

Performing the individual medley backward. This can only be done during practice as it would result in a disqualification otherwise.


Stands for, short course meters. A 25-meter pool.


The action of floating flat on your stomach with your arms stretched out in front of you while lightly kicking your legs and motioning your arms in and out.


Stands for, short course yards. A 25-yard pool.


Groupings of an entire swim practice are broken up into multiple sets.

For example, a practice might involve a warmup set, kick set, main set and a warmdown set.


A common warm up that coaches will write for their swimmers involving swimming, kicking, IM, pulling and swimming again for a certain distance.


The action of holding your arms tightly above your head with your hands overlapping one another.

Stroke count

The process of counting your strokes for a certain distance. Coaches will ask their swimmers to count their strokes to see if they are taking too many or not enough.


The process of reducing the amount of yardage and intensity that swimmers train as they approach a big meet. Taper is also known as a swimmer’s best friend.

Test set

A challenging set where coaches typically record times.


The fastest pace a swimmer can hold for the longest period of time.


The action of dolphin kicking underneath the water after a swimmer pushes off the wall.

VO2 max

The maximum amount of oxygen your body can hold during an intense swimming workout.


Swimming slowly for a period of time so that swimmers can recover their bodies after an intense practice or race. This is usually the last part of a practice or meet.


Moving your body around so that your muscles get warm and loose. This is usually the first part of a practice or meet.

Hopefully this list of swimming terms and definitions was found to be helpful! Comment down below some other swimming lingo that you have heard before!

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