A-Z of Swimming Terms


Aerobic: Longer distance, moderate intensity, short rest period swimming sets that focus on building endurance


Anaerobic: Shorter distance, high intensity, long rest period swimming sets that focus on building power


Ascend: Getting slower (i.e. the time taken increases). Ascend sets ask swimmers to start fast and progressively increase the time they take to complete the distance.


Blocks: The platform from which swimmers begin races. Decades ago, they were simple metal or wooden blocks and looked more like podiums than the sleek, high-tech ones of today, but the old name has stuck.


Catch: The point in a swimmer’s stroke at which the swimmer’s hand grabs the water in front of them and applies pressure to move the body forward.


Deck: The area surrounding the pool at practices and meets, not including stands. Swim Leinster/Ireland rules state that at meets, only swimmers, coaches, officials and select volunteers may be on the deck.


Descend: Getting faster (i.e. the time taken reduces). Descend sets ask swimmers to get faster each time they do the certain distance.


Distance events: Generally, Freestyle events 400 meters or longer. Some 400 IM’ers will consider this event to be distance.


Dolphin kick: Once just the leg motion for butterfly, the dolphin kick (which mimics the undulating motion by which the sea animal moves through the water) is now considered the fifth stroke. It is done underwater in streamline position to in order build momentum on fly, freestyle and backstroke starts and turns. Swimmers are even allowed to take one dolphin kick in breaststroke.


Drill: A controlled form of stroke designed to draw attention to a particular aspect of that stroke.


Dryland: A catch-all term for all physical conditioning done outside of the water. This can range from pre-practice stretching to regular sessions dedicated to lifting weights or doing resistance exercises, yoga, Pilates, spin classes, etc.


Hand entry: The position the hand is in at the time it touches the water after the recovery and before the catch phase.


Heats: Swimmers are grouped in heats according to their entry or seed time, with the fastest swimmers in each heat assigned to the middle lanes and each heat getting progressively faster. Circle-Seeding of heats is where the fastest swimmers are distributed among the last three or four heats, with the fastest assigned to lane 4 in the final heat and the next fastest athlete in lane 4 in the penultimate heat, etc.


Heats & Finals: At large, championship-style meets, swimmers must qualify for the finals by posting one of the fastest preliminary times.


High elbow: A term used in mostly freestyle swimming, different coaches have different opinions of High Elbow with the advent of much straighter elbows in particularly shorter events in recent years.


IM: This term stands for individual medley, an event in which a swimmer performs all four competitive strokes. The order is Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle. The order is different in a Medley Relay (MTR), where the order is Back, Breast, Fly, Free to allow for Backstrokers to start in the water. IM race distances are 100 (one length of each stroke, contested only in a short course, or 25-meter pool, mostly for 10-and-unders), 200 and 400. In a short-course pool, a 200 IM is 50 meters or two pool lengths of each stroke; in a longcourse or 50-meter pool, it’s one length. In a 400 IM, the swimmer does 100 meters of each stroke. In short-course, that’s four lengths; in long course, it’s two.


Long course: A 50-meter pool. This is the definition of Olympic-sized pool. Most longcourse racing is done from Jan 1st to August.  A swimmer’s long-course times will generally be slower because there are fewer turns. There are several online calculators for converting short-course times to long and vice versa.


Meet Program: At large meets, officials distribute printed listings for each heat of each event to be swum. Be prepared to pay for these. Meetmobile is a great App that has a free version along with a payable version which is well worth the €4.99 a year that is charged for. Swimmers should already be aware of what events they are entered in, but the heat sheet will tell them the order of events as well as the group and lane to which they are assigned. Athletes should take this this timetable into consideration when planning when to warm up and when to leave the deck to go to the bathroom or the eating area, lest they miss their heat.


Number 1: Your best stroke which is not Freestyle.

Number 2: Your second best stroke which is not Freestyle.


Pull: Arms only (no kicking), often with a pull buoy

Pull Buoy: The foam buoyant object which goes between your legs for pull.


Recovery: This term has two meanings for swimmers. It can pertain to the point in the stroke in which the hand is above the water line preparing for the next stroke. It can also be used to describe the process of resting and refuelling after practice or a race.


Scratch: To withdraw from an event at a meet.


Sculling: A drill in which the swimmer gently moves their forearms and hands back and forth through the water, developing a sense of how each move affects the swimmer’s forward progress.


Short course: 25-meter pools and races.


Split: The time for a portion of a race, such as each 50 of a 100-meter race. Coaches will compare the split for the first (or front half) part of a race with the second (or back half) to determine where the swimmer was fastest and slowest. A negative split means the swimmer swam the second half faster than the first.


Sprint: All out, as fast as you can go, breathing as little as you can.


Streamline: When the body is pointing in a long, straight line with the arms at the ears, locked together with one hand on top of the other, while the legs are together and the toes are pointed. It is used on starts and turns because it minimizes drag or resistance underwater.


Taper: A few weeks before a major meet, the coach may begin scaling back the volume or workload at practice in favour of working on fine details, like starts and turns. This allows the swimmer to get more rest in hopes of dramatically improving their times at their goal meet.

Warning: You may find your swimmer suddenly has a lot more energy after practice while at the same time telling you, “I can’t take the rubbish out because I’m on taper.” If it is Taper time, it is true, your swimmer should not do ANYTHING that expends energy. The good news is that we only Taper older swimmers, typically it is only of use after 14 or 15 years of age and only happens once or twice each year.


Touch-Turn: A two-handed turn in Butterfly and Breaststroke whereby the swimmer touches the wall and brings legs to the wall in a tuck-like position, then does a backwards or sideways motion to push off in a streamline to begin a new lap.


Tumble-Turn: A somersault at the wall when a swimmer has completed a length but needs to turn around and swim again. The swimmer pushes off on his or her back, in streamline, before immediately turning to the front.


Underwaters: The time a swimmer spends below the surface doing dolphin kick in streamline position or the breaststroke split-stroke. Swimmers are permitted to go 15 meters underwater off the start or turn.