Feel like swimming has its own foreign language? That’s partially true! From training lingo to equipment names, there’s a lot of terminology that can be confusing for a first time swimmer (and even some experts!).

Check out this list of common swimming terms to help you navigate your training with confidence.

Stroke Abbreviations

  • FR: Freestyle
  • FLY or FL: Butterfly
  • BK: Backstroke
  • BR: Breaststroke
  • IM: Individual Medley
  • FRIM: Freestyle IM (replace the butterfly with freestyle)
  • K: Kick
  • P: Pull
  • ST: Stroke (usually any stroke other than freestyle)
  • CH: Choice (any stroke you want!)

Workout Terms

You will find these terms in swim workouts themselves and in the MySwimPro app.

  • Structured Workout: A swim workout that is broken into defined sets. You’ll see these types of workouts in team environments.
  • Guided Workout: Unique to the MySwimPro app, a Guided Workout is fully personalized to your speed, and walks you through each Set. Download the MySwimPro app to get your custom Training Plan!
  • Interval Training: In structured or guided workouts, interval training is used to mix up distances and intensity. Your interval is both your swim time and rest time for each rep. For example, in a set of 5×100 freestyle on 2:00, you have two minutes to swim 100 meters. Rest on the wall until the two minutes is up, and repeat four more times. Learn more about interval training here.
  • Set: One piece of a workout. In our example above, 5×100 freestyle on 2:00 is a set. Sets may also include specific drill names or notes about the target effort level.
  • Set Group: A collection of sets. See below for examples of different Set Groups. Some Set Groups have multiple rounds. In that case, you would complete all sets, in order, for the prescribed number of rounds.
  • Warmup: The first set in a workout. Usually made up of a long, easy swim, followed by kicking and a few drills.
  • Pre-Set: A set designed to prepare you for the main set. May include drills, speed work, or pulling.
  • Main Set: The main focus of your swim workout.
  • Post-Set: Done after the main set, usually as a “finisher” or final push before the cool down.
  • Cool Down: The final set in your workout. Usually one long, easy swim or a set of shorter, easy swims to help you get your heart rate down and flush lactic acid from your muscles. Don’t skip the cool down!

Training Terms

  • Build: Swimming faster by the end of the repetition. Think of build as “speeding up” throughout the rep.
  • Best Average: Swimming as fast as possible and maintaining the same pace on every repetition within a set.
  • Descend: Swimming faster by time over the duration of a set.
  • Ascend: Swimming slower by time over the duration of a set.
  • Negative Split: Swimming faster on the second half of an individual repetition. For example, say you swam a 200 freestyle in 3:00. You finished the first 100 in 1:40 and the second in 1:20. That is a negative split.
  • Aerobic Training: Swimming a moderate pace over a long period of time.
  • Anaerobic Training: High intensity swimming that produces lactic acid. All-out sprints!
  • Lactate Set: Usually a high intensity sprint or race pace set that is very challenging. These sets produce lactic acid in the muscles, hence the name.
  • Hypoxic: Swim sets that incorporate breath control training. Examples include underwater kicking, or sets that limit breathing to every 3, 5, 7, 9 strokes, etc.
  • Taper: The process of reducing swimming volume and resting in preparation for a big race.
  • Base Training: Usually done in the beginning or middle of a swim season. Swimmers will do more aerobic training to build their fitness base. As the season progresses, they’ll build up from the base!

Pool Courses

Competition pools come in three sizes. Some public pools will vary in size above or below these standardized sizes.

  • Short Course Yards (SCY): 25-yard pool (Only in the United States)
  • Short Course Meters (SCM): 25-meter pool (Most common)
  • Long Course Meters (LCM): 50-meter pool (Olympic-sized pool)

Technique Terms

  • Streamline: Fundamental body position in swimming. Done after a dive and off every turn.
  • DPS: Distance Per Stroke, or the measurement of how far you move with each arm stroke (your efficiency).
  • Stroke Rate: Number of strokes you take per unit of time.
  • Lap Split: One segment of time for one lap in a repetition. Example: Say you swim a 100 freestyle in one minute. The first 50 you swam a 29 and the second 50 you swam a 31. Those are your 50 splits for the 100 race.
  • SWOLF: A measure of swimming efficiency. Takes into account your stroke count and your lap split for a 25-meter pool.
  • Bilateral Breathing: Swimming freestyle breathing on both right and left sides, usually every three strokes.
  • Flip Turn: Physically doing a somersault at the wall to change direction (freestyle and backstroke only). Learn how to do a flip turn here
  • Open Turn: Used to change direction at the wall for breaststroke and butterfly after touching with two hands. Learn how to do an open turn here
  • Transition Turn: In IM swimming, transition turns are between strokes (butterfly to backstroke, backstroke to breaststroke and breaststroke to freestyle).

Equipment

Below are common pieces of equipment used in swim training. You don’t need to have every item to get a good workout! Check out our favorite equipment for beginners here.

  • Fins: Wear them on your feet for extra resistance and a burst of speed. Fins help improve your kick speed and power.
  • Paddles: Wear them on your hands to focus on your catch and pull technique, and build strength in your arms.
  • Pull Buoy: A pull buoy goes between your legs and stops you from kicking so you can isolate your arms. Often used with paddles during pull sets.
  • Snorkel: Swimming snorkels are front-mounted, sitting on your forehead rather than on the side of your face. Use a snorkel to work on technique — since you don’t have to lift or turn your head to breathe, it’s a great tool to refine your stroke.
  • Kickboard: Use a kickboard on kicking sets to keep your upper body afloat. If you don’t have a kickboard, try kicking in streamline position on your back.
  • Parachute: Worn around the waist, a swimming parachute adds resistance. As you swim, you’ll drag the parachute along in the water.
  • Power Tower: Similar to a parachute, a power tower adds resistance to your stroke. This tool sits on deck. As you swim, you’ll pull a cable attached to weights, on a pulley system. Mostly used in elite swim training.
  • Monofin: Work on your dolphin kick with a monofin. It’s essentially two regular fins connected together, much like a mermaid fin.

Swimming Lingo/Slang

Listen for these common swimming phrases the next time you go to the pool!

  • On the Top/Up: Leaving on the :00
  • On the Bottom/Down: Leaving on the :30. Think of an old-school analog clock. The 60-second (or :00) mark is when the clock hands are pointing to the top, and the 30-second mark is when the hands point to the bottom.
  • Circle Swimming: Swimming on one side of the lane to accommodate multiple swimmers in the lane. In some countries, you’ll always swim on the right side of the lane. In others, you’ll stick to the left.
  • Swimming Sides or Splitting the Lane: When there are only two people in the lane, you can split the lane in half. Each of you stay on one side of the lane the entire workout.
  • Laps vs Lengths: Swimming to the other side of the pool and back is one lap, and two lengths equal one lap. However, it’s important to note that many swimmers consider a lap to mean “swimming to the other end of the pool, including in the MySwimPro app!
  • Sally Save-Up: Used to signify someone who holds back their effort until the last part of a race or set, to suddenly blow past everyone and crush it! Don’t be a Sally save-up.
  • Last One, Fast One: Commonly said before the final rep in a set. It’s the last one, time to give it all you’ve got!

For more swimming tips, education and Workouts, download the MySwimPro app! Start a personalized Training Plan designed to help you improve your technique, swim faster and reach your goals. Use code SWIM35 for $35 off your first year of MySwimPro Coach >

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5 Comments

  1. In my training plan when it says kick, as in “2 x 50 kick,” what exactly does that mean? No arms allowed? Do I need to go get a board for this? What kind of kick? Thanks

    • Taylor Holmes on

      Hi Nick! Great question. Kick does mean just moving your legs, no arms! You can kick with a kickboard, or kick on your back in streamline position. If the set requires a specific stroke’s kick, it will note that. Otherwise, you can assume that Kick is freestyle/flutter kick!

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