What Is A Heat In Swimming?

What Is A Heat In Swimming

A heat is a group of swimmers assigned to simultaneously swim an event. A swim meet venue has a limited number of lanes, so swimmers must be broken up into heats if the amount of entries exceeds the number of pool lanes. The competitors are then arranged into heats based on previous competition times, with the exact order of the heats depending on the rules set by the swim meet organizer. Read on to learn more about heats in swimming.

Swim Meet Organization

Heats help organize swimmers of different skill levels into a structured order, while also assisting in determining lane assignments. For example, if 24 swimmers are entered to race in an eight-lane pool, then they will be broken up into three heats with eight swimmers each. There should be three or more swimmers per heat, unless an event only has one heat. Heats can be ordered from fastest to slowest or slowest to fastest, with the latter being more commonly used in competitions. In addition to this, an event can alternate between the men’s and women’s heats.

Heat Sheets

Swimmers can see their specific event, heat, and lane assignment on a heat sheet, which is a document produced by the swim meet organizers in advance. In general, a heat sheet contains the schedule of events and the specifics of each swimmer’s profile, such as their name, age, and previous time. Instead of a time, some swimmers in a heat may have the abbreviations “NT” or “EXH.” “NT” stands for no time, meaning the swimmer has no previous competition time, or their time was disqualified. “EXH” stands for exhibition swim, meaning the swimmer will gain no points for their team, no matter their time or placement. However, their time will be valid for use in future swim meets.

Preliminaries and Finals Meet

In preliminaries and finals, the swimmers with the fastest times per heat will advance to the semi-finals or final, with the exact number of advancements depending on the organizer. The main goal of this method is to identify the top swimmers from a large pool of competitors. In this type of meet, swimmers will have to repeat the event multiple times if they qualify past the preliminary heats, which in turn can spread an event out over multiple days. In the event of a tie, the meet will hold a swim-off to determine which of the tied swimmers will advance.

The amount of heats is important to the structure of a preliminaries and finals meet. The exact rules are as follows:

  • 1 heat: This heat will be treated as a final; therefore, there is no need for preliminary or semi-final races.
  • 2 heats: The swimmer with the fastest time will be placed in Heat 2, the second fastest in Heat 1, the third fastest Heat 2, etc.
  • 3 heats: The swimmer with the fastest time will be placed in Heat 3, the second fastest in Heat 2, the third fastest Heat 1, the fourth fastest in Heat 3, etc
  • 4+ heats: The rule is the same as above for the last three heats. Once the last three heats are at capacity, then the next swimmers will be assigned from fastest to slowest for the remaining heats.

World Aquatics, the international governing body for aquatic sports, uses the preliminaries, semi-finals, and finals method in all major swim meets, which include the Olympic Games and the World Aquatics Championships.

Timed Finals Meet

In a timed finals meet, the winner is determined by the fastest time in an event, regardless of heat. This type of swim meet usually orders heats from slowest to fastest. In a timed finals meet, a swimmer from Heat 1 can, in theory, win the entire race by putting up the fastest time out of all the other swimmers. Unlike a preliminary and finals meet, a swimmer will only race an event once, therefore eliminating the need to reseed swimmers into semi-final and final heats. There are no swim-offs in a timed finals meet, so in the event of a tie, swimmers will share the placement.


How are heats determined in swimming?

Previous competition time is the most important factor in determining heats. Before a swim meet, the coach will submit each swimmer’s best competition time. Then, swimmers will be seeded into heats according to the organizer’s rules. If no time is submitted, then the swimmer will be placed in the first heat among the slower swimmers. In the event of two swimmers having the same time, a random draw will determine which swimmer will be seeded higher.

What does Heat 1 mean in swimming?

Heat 1 is the first group of swimmers assigned to swim in an event. For example, if the 100-meter freestyle event has five heats, then Heat 1 will be the first to swim, continuing with Heat 2, Heat 3, etc. Heat 1 often contains the slowest swimmers, swimmers without previous competition times, and swimmers performing an exhibition swim.