Swimming lingo translated

25 April 2019
Swim Coach

Some swim tribes speak a different language. If you haven't grown up with swimming lingo or been part of a squad before, some of the terminology can be confusing. Here's some of the more common terms you can expect to hear from your coach or around pool deck.


Swimming Terms

Ascending time – Getting slower (i.e. the time taken increases).

Bilateral breathing – Bilateral breathing alternate sides of the body in freestyle. This helps to create smooth and even strokes. It also helps to develop a good body roll. This is essential to swim great freestyle. Usually you breathe after a set of three strokes, but you can challenge yourself with every five or seven.

Descending stroke count – This means reducing the number of strokes per lap. Often you will count your strokes on the first lap and try to reduce each lap after that. This is building stroke efficiency through the water.

Descending time – Getting faster (i.e. the time taken reduces). If a set is 5x50m on descending time, the first 50 may start on one minute, then 55 seconds, then 50 seconds and so on.

Interval – The time given to complete a certain drill. A 2:00 interval for 100 meters means that if you can swim 100 meters in 1:40 minutes, you will have 20 seconds of rest before repeating the next one. 

Long course – A 50-meter pool where two lengths or one lap equals 100 meters. Also referred to as Olympic distance.

Medley – All four strokes swum in a specified order. For individual medley this is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle. For medley relays (with four people) this is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle.

Negative splitting – The act of completing the second half of a set distance faster than the first half.

Pace – The time per repeat you can hold consistently during a set, and ideally the time (per 100 meters, for instance) that you can hold during a race.

Pull – This is swimming using your arms with the aid of a pull buoy which you position between your legs to get a good body position with high hips.

RI - Rest Interval – How much rest (usually in seconds) you get after a set swim e.g.: 8x50m FR RI 20s (20 seconds rest after each 50 metres Freestyle) – sometimes also called simply Interval.

SCAT – Translates to stoke count and timing. This is where you count your strokes and time and add them together to achieve your SCAT.

Sculling  Special drill using only your hands (not your arms) to scull your way through the water; arms at your sides, with your wrists whipping back and forth in a waving motion (designed to develop feel for the water). 

Set – A grouping of distances composing part of a workout or drill; 5x100m is a set that is 500m long; 400, 300, 200, 100 is a set that is 1,000m long.

Short course – A 25-meter pool where four lengths (or two laps) equal 100m.


Streamline – Underwater body position after diving or pushing off the wall which maximises swim speed and efficiency.

Swim at max – This is maximum effort, so means going at your fastest pace for that distance.

Tapering – The act of paring down your workouts (in length and intensity) for the weeks or days leading up to a specific race.

Threshold – Maximum time you can hold your fastest pace, or repeat, for a given distance during a highly aerobic set.

Tumble turns – These are underwater somersaults used in backstroke and freestyle that allow swimmers to push off from the wall for the next length. These may seem like a tall order to a novice swimmer, but they are fairly easy once you have mastered the technique.

Vertical kicking – Special drill executed in deep water (diving wells and deep ends of hotel pools when lap swimming is not an option) where one kicks in a vertical position with arms crossed over chest, or extended above head for various intervals/sets.

To get more swimming tips, download Swimming Australia's free iSwim app from the app stores.

iSwim app

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