What Are Some Basic Swimming Terms And Lingo To Know?

Swimming Glossary of Terms and Definitions

Swimming Stroke Terms

There are a variety of different styles seen in competitive swimming. These styles are referred to as strokes.

Freestyle: This stroke places the swimmer with their stomach on the water. The swimmer moves forward by kicking their legs behind them and rotating back and forth both arms in front of them.

Breastroke: This stroke starts with the hands out in front of the body and the head above the water. The arms are then extended outwards towards the sides of the body and brought back up to the starting position. The legs are used simultaneously with the arms in that they kick out and are brought back in at the same time. This stroke is often referred to as the “frog” due to the body looking like a frog swimming.

Butterfly: This stroke starts with the arms extended up and out and brought forward into the water. The arms continue through the water to push the body forward. The legs stay together and create the movement similar to a dolphin’s tail.

Backstroke: This stroke places the swimmer on their back in the water. The movements are the exact same as the Freestyle, just with the swimmer on their back.


Swimming Event Terms

Competitive swimming has plenty of confusing terms. In order to understand how competitive swimming works, here are some important key terms to remember:

Heat Sheet: This helps swimmers figure out where and when they’ll be swimming. It contains information about a swim meet in terms of event, heat, and even lane.

Heat: A subdivision of a swim event. For example, a swimmer could be part of Adult Men’s Butterfly Stroke on the second Heat. That means they must wait for the first Heat to go (which is also composed of other swimmers under the same event) before heading up to the pool to swim.

Psych Sheet:  Lists of competing swimmers organized from fastest to slowest. This is for swimmers and other onlookers to determine how a swimmer may rank amongst other competitors.

Split: This is a time of a part of a race. This typically refers to a part of a swimmer’s leg in a relay. For example, in a 50-yard race, the time after the first 25 yards would be called a “25 split.”

Time Standards: At times, swimmers are required to have a certain seed time (or best-recorded swim time) to swim in a particular meet. For instance, you will need a faster seed time than the standard in order to qualify. Or, at times, you will need an even slower seed time if the meet is meant for slower swimmers. This is primarily because there is often a limit to how many swimmers should be able to swim in a meet, and also to assure the swimmers are all of relatively similar skill.

Judges of Stoke: Located on the sides of the pool during a race, these judges determine if the swimmer is using the correct stroke and the correct technique.

Medley: A race that is a combination of all four types of strokes in one event. This can be done at a variety of distances and by four different team members or one individual.

Swimming Equipment Terms

Although swimming is a sport that does not include a ball and pads, there is a still a list of equipment needed to compete.

Goggles: Goggles are put over the eyes to keep out water and chlorine.

Swim cap: A swim cap is a latex piece that is put over the swimmer's hair in order to reduce the drag and be as fast as possible in the pool.

Swimsuit: Men may wear briefs or a design that resembles tight shorts, these are known as jammers. Women wear one-piece suits. Both types of suits are designed to keep the swimmer as fast as possible in the pool.


Other Terms

stroke judge: An official that watches the swimmers during the race looking out for any violations or illegal actions.

relay race: Four swimmers compete as a team, usually having the same sex and in the same age group, each completing equal distance in the race.

short course: Refers to a 25-meter or 25-yard length pool. Usually used in high school or college races.

long course: A 50-meter long competitive swimming pool. Usually used in the Olympic Games and International/National races.

shave down: The removal of all visible hair on swimmers to reduce lag in the water during a competition.

cap: An essential item worn on the swimmers' heads, used so the swimmer's hair does not cause a lag or get in their way during a race.

false start: Occurs when the swimmer moves or leaves the starting block before the starting time.

touchpad: A plate placed at the end of a competitive swimming pool that is used as a timing system. The swimmer must adequately touch the pad to register an official time in the race.

stroke rate: The number of strokes a swimmer takes in a minute, this includes both arms.

swim down: A slow, relaxed stroke for the swimmers to stretch and either warm up or cool down before or after a race.

starting block: A platform placed on the edge of a swimming pool. This is the starting location for all swimmers before a race.

dry land: Term used for all workouts and physical conditioning the swimmers do outside of the water.

deck: The area surrounding the competitive swimming pool. This space is for swimmers, coaches, and officials.

lines: Lines painted at the bottom of a competitive swimming pool to both guide the swimmers and mark the end of the swimming lane.

lanes: Each one of these is assigned to a swimmer or a team. They are separated by ropes and floating markers, that both guide the swimmers and calm the waves that are created during the races.

medley: A type of race that includes numerous swimming strokes. This could be done by one swimmer or in a relay event with multiple swimmers. It includes butterfly stroke, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in one race.

front crawl: A competitive form of swimming completed on the athlete's stomach, hands alternately diving into the water in a forward motion. Simultaneously, their legs fully extended and kicking alternately up and down. Similar motions to the backstroke, however, this is done on the athlete's stomach as opposed to their back. (This stroke is mainly used during/as Freestyle Swimming).