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Swimming Terminology - a New Language

Someone once told me that swimmers make the best friends. Years later I'm still trying to determine if that's true. What makes them good friends? It certainly can't be the whacky language they use. For non-swimmers, the terminology swimmers use can be confusing. Let's dive into the most common swimming terms/phrases so you can read your next swim workout like a pro.


As fast as you can possibly swim. Don't save up and don't worry if speed fades some throughout the workout. Just go fast.


Swim with very low effort and good form. Triathletes can use alternate strokes if you'd like to (backstroke or breaststroke).


Swim Interval. All swim intervals are the same for the entire main set in this column. Your swim interval is your best 50 time, plus 20 to 30 seconds. If the fastest you currently swim a 50 in is 35 seconds, your swim interval can be one minute. You will leave each time the clock ticks off a minute. If your best 50 time is one minute, make your swim interval 1:20 or 1:30.

As you swim through the set, your actual rest interval will vary depending on how fast you swim. No matter how fast or slow you swim, push off the wall at the designated swim interval. As you get faster and gain more fitness, you can reduce the swim interval.

Long Course

This refers to the direction you swim in the pool. Most Olympic size pools in the US are 25 yards x 50 meters. When set up for long course you would swim the 50 meter direction.

Short Course

This refers to the direction you swim in the pool. Most Olympic size pools in the US are 25 yards x 50m. When set up for short course you would swim the 25 yard direction.


Rest Interval - How much rest (usually in seconds) you get after a set swim e.g. 8 x 50y RI 20s (20 seconds rest after each 50 yards)


Arms only (no kicking). This can be done with or without a pull buoy.


Kick only!  No arms.  You can do this with or without a kick board.


Individual Medley (all four strokes together in order Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle)


Distance Per Stroke. How much distance you get with each arm stroke.


Build your effort/get faster throughout each 25/50.

Triathletes should swim freestyle and aim to build their speed (meaning "get faster") throughout each 50 (yards or meters). If you aren't training specifically for a triathlon (such as Masters swimmers), don't be shy about using alternate strokes.


Get faster (i.e. the time taken reduces) over the set distance or from one interval to the next.


Get slower (i.e. the time taken increases) over the set distance or from one interval to the next.

Negative Split

When doing multiple intervals, you will swim each interval just slightly faster than the previous one. For example, if you are swimming 3 x 100 yards freestyle, you might swim them in 1:40, 1:35, 1:30.


The distance will be done performing a specific drill. This could be catch up, fingertip drag, one arm, kick on side, etc.

Breath Control

Breathe according to what is prescribed and not your normal rhythm. This can be every 2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 strokes.

Ask us below which words/phrases have always confused you.

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