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HomeSwim Tips - Swim Terms



  • Deck

    The hard surface around the pool.

  • Flags

     Triangular pennants with alternating colors suspended on a line stretched over each lane; In a short course yard pool they are 15 feet from the wall, in a meter pool they are 5 meters from the wall. Used primarily to notify backstrokers that the wall is coming!

  • IGLA

    International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics

  • LMSC

    Local Masters Swimming Committee, a division of USMS

  • Kickboard

    A flat rectangular piece of styro-foam used to isolate leg muscles in kick sets.

  • Lane

    Specific area in which the swimmer is assigned to swim.

  • Lane Lines

    The floating markers which separate adjacent lanes. The first 5 yards (or meters) and the last 5 yards (or meters) of the lane line is usually marked as one solid color. This is to alert swimmers they are approaching the wall. The middle of the lane line is usually of alternating colors.

  • Lap

     Distance from one end of the pool to the other end and back. In a 25 yard pool a lap is 50 yards, in a 50 meter pool a lap is 100 meters.

  • Length

     Distance from one end of the pool to the other. It could be 25 yards, 25 meters, or 50 meters depending on the length of the pool.

  • Long course

    Used as both an adjective and a noun in describing a 50 meter long pool.

  • Pace Clock

  • Either a large analog clock with a sixty second hand or a digital clock displaying minutes and seconds, usually on the deck or wall of a swimming pool.
  • Pool

    The body of water we hope you will be moving through and getting out of at the end of a workout.

  • Pull buoy

    Usually an hour-glass shaped styro-foam floating buoy which is placed between the upper thighs. It buoys your lower body placing you in a correct position to enable you to focus on your pull without kicking (also called a pull girt).

  • Short course

    Used as both an adjective and a noun in most of the world to describe a 25 meter pool. In the United States, it commonly describes a 25 yard pool.

  • Team

    A group of swimmers representing the same club, as in DSST (Different Strokes Swim Team).

  • Touch pad

    Part of an automatic timing device placed on the wall of each lane that will register the time when the swimmer completes the distance. The unit is activated when touched by whatever part of the body that hits it first, be it the hand, head or foot.

  • USMS

    United States Masters Swimming, Inc.

  • Wall

    Vertical portion of the pool, or the touch pad at the end of the course.

  • 1650 yards/1500 meters

    Equivalent to a swimmer's mile.




  • Freestyle

    Most common stroke. Performed on the stomach using alternating arm cycles and a flutter kick. Finish, just get to the wall. It is also a technical description of one of the four legs of a medley event. Usually used synonymously with crawl stroke.

  • Breaststroke

    A stroke performed while body is kept on the breast and both shoulders in line with the waters surface. The arms shall move simultaneously and in the same horizontal plane. Hands shall be pushed forward together from the breast on, under, or over the surface of the water. Picture yourself drawing an upside down heart. During the kick, all movements of the legs shall be simultaneous; feet must be turned outward during the propulsive part of kick. Sometimes described as the frog kick. A scissor, flutter, or downward butterfly kick is not permitted (or you will be subjected to other ways of torture!) At the finish of a breastroke length, the hands must touch the wall simultaneously and the shoulders be in line with the surface of the water.

  • Backstroke

    Stroke performed while on the back. The shoulders can not rotate past the vertical toward the breast except during a turn in which some part of the body must touch the wall before pushing off the wall. During the finish the swimmer must touch the wall while on their back.

  • Butterfly

    Swimmer's shoulders shall be in line with the water surface. Both arms are brought forward over the water and pulled back together. The kick is usually an up and down motion similar to that of a dolphin. Any movement of the legs and feet must be simultaneous. You can actually do a breaststroke kick while doing butterfly arms, but No flutter kick. The finish is same as for breaststroke, hands touch together and shoulders level with the surface of the water.

  • I.M. (Individual Medley)

    All four strokes are swum in the following order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. Each stroke is swum one fourth of the total distance.

  • Relay

    A race consisting of four swimmers where each person swims 1/4 of the event distance. Stroke depends upon the event; free relay is all freestyle; medley relay is backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle in that order.



  • Build

    Increasing in effort or speed within a specified distance.
  • Descending

    Swim each distance faster within a given set as the set progresses, usually on the same time interval. Typically, you begin at an easy pace and progress to a faster one by the end of the set. Your actual swim time "descends", giving you more rest time in the allotted interval.
  • Fast Average

    Within a set, each given distance is fast (in time). The goal is to maintain each distance consistently fast.
  • Interval

    A specific time period to complete a specified distance. e.g. A set of ten 50 meter swims on a 1:30 (one minute and thirty seconds) interval means that you must complete each swim in less than 1:30. If you complete your 50 meters in 50 seconds, then you have forty seconds to rest before your next swim. Most people feel that if you are going to gain the greatest physical benefit from swimming, you have to incorporate intervals into your workout.
  • Negative Split

    For any given distance, the second half is faster (in time) than the first half.
  • On the Top/On the Bottom

    An expression used to signal when a group will be starting a distance or set: Top meaning, top of the pace clock (the 60), bottom meaning bottom of the pace clock (the 30).
  • Rest Interval

    The time between completing one distance and beginning another distance.
  • Set

    A number of repeated swims at specified distances with a stated rest interval between each swim.
  • Taper

    A pattern of reduced, but high intensity, yardage leading up to an important meet. Early taper workouts may feel just like regular workouts, but at the end of a taper, a workout may be a warm-up, and a few sprints, and warm-down.
  • Warm-Up, Warm-Down

    The beginning (warm-up) or ending (warm-down) section of a practice where the effort is not on speed or distance but rather to gently familiarize the body to exercise. Very important pieces of any workout as it assists in preventing injury.



A drill is used to break down parts of a stroke in order to emphasize certain aspects of the body's movements. Drills may be used to learn a new stroke or strengthen certain areas of a stroke. 

Freestyle Drills

  • Catch Up

    Hand A stays over the head in a stretched out position (fully forward) while hand B goes through the entire stroke returning to touch hand A.  Then hand B becomes stationary while hand A goes through the entire stroke and returns to touch hand B. Repeat until length is complete. Flutter kick is used during the stroke. In short: One hand catches up to the other before the next stroke is taken.


    • Drag Your Finger Tips

      On the recovery portion of the stroke (when the arm and hand are out of the water) the finger tips of the hand should drag across the surface of the water until the arm is fully extended. This corrects high elbows.
    • 6 beat kick

      Kick six times per arm stroke. Number of kicks can be altered to emphasize continuous kick and/or lengthen time between arm strokes.
    • 1 Arm Only

      Arm A stays over the head while pulling is done only with arm B. Flutter kick used throughout stroke. Variation: arm A stays at side while arm B pulls, allowing maximum body roll through strokes.
    • Tarzan / Waterpolo heads up

      Freestyle with the head and mouth totally out of the water. Used to strengthen shoulders and emphasize kick.
    • Alligator

      Variation of Tarzan/waterpolo drill where the water level is just below goggles/eye line. Used to help get a feel for body position in the water.
    • Redline

      (Not on a heart monitor). Pretend your thumb is a red marker. On the recovery portion of Freestyle drag the red marker (your thumb) up the side of your body, from thigh to arm pit. Emphasizes pulling all the way through stroke to touch thigh and works on high elbows during recovery.
    • Fist

      Maintain a fist with your hands while swimming Freestyle. Works on using forearms, high elbows underwater and forces swimmers to kick!
    • Scultina

      A waving motion under the water (someone is not trying to flirt with you) with the hands that helps propel the body and adds lift to the stroke. Helps with wrist strength and flexibility.
    • Alternate Breathing

      Breathing on different sides of the body on an odd stroke count. Example: breathing every 3rd stroke or 5th stroke, will enable a swimmer to breath once to the left side then to the right side. Alternate breathing balances out the body roll during each stroke.

    Backstroke Drills

    • Single Arm

      Backstroke with one arm stationary at the swimmer's side. Concentrate on body roll, getting the shoulders to break the surface of the water, and pushing the water all the way through past the hips.
    • Double Arm

      Both arms recover over the body at the same time. From hands at the hips (thumb comes out of the water first) to above the head where the pinkie of each hands enter the water. This works on a wide hand entry point (shoulder width or wider), not allowing hands to enter the water directly above the head.



      • Sexy Shoulder

        On back with strong flutter kick, head back looking directly upwards and still roll body from side to side getting shoulders out of the water and almost under the chin. Timing should be more than 6 kicks per side.
      • Soldier

        On back with flutter kick, hands at body sides. While kicking, roll body to side A. Hand A exits water thumb first, lift straight up, elbows locked, tilt perpendicular to the water's surface, then place hand (pinkie first) back at side A. This is not a complete stroke, the arms do not go above the head or pull any water. Repeat with arm B. Emphasizing rolling of body (sexy shoulder), thumb exiting water first, and straight arms.
      • Spin(sit)

        Excessively fast turnover of arms while doing backstroke. The arm turnover is so fast the swimmer almost sits up as if in a chair, with their back out of the water. Usually only done for 12 1/2 yards, distance per stroke or technique is overlooked during this drill.

      Breaststroke Drills

      • 1 pull 2 kick

        A breastroke pull and kick (normal stroke) hold a glide position of hands fully extended above head and feet together for 1 count, then take a second kick without moving the hands. Glide again for 1 count. Repeat. Great for learning to glide and lots of breath control.
      • 1 kick 2 pull

        A variation of 1 pull, 2 kicks, emphasizing pull. 
        3.2.1 hesitation: Take one full breast stroke (1 complete pull and kick), hold glide position for 3 counts, take a second complete stroke and hold glide for 2 counts, take a third complete stroke and hold glide for 1 count. Repeat one full stroke and hold for 3 counts, etc.
      • Breast Arms Dolphin Kick

        Breaststroke arm movements with a dolphin or butterfly kick. This speeds up the stroke tempo and adds a dolphin like wave motion to the stroke.
      • Breast Arms Free Kick

        Variation of breast arms and dolphin kick. It continues to speed up the tempo of the arm movements but uses a flutter kick.
      • Swim Breaststroke with a Pull buoy

        With a buoy between the thighs, concentrate on kicking from the knees down (a whip kick). This helps swimmers that have a very wide kick, or kick the water to the side instead of kicking the water back. It may also help you go somewhere while pulling breaststroke but it is usually the only time you are supposed to kick with a buoy.

      Butterfly Drills

      • 1 Arm Fly

        Can be done two ways; keeping the stationary arm in a streamline position above the head or at the side while the other arm does a full stroke. Allows swimmers to concentrate on timing of kick and breathing. For a variation try breathing forward instead of to the side.


      • 3 Right 3 Left 3 Both:

        Three strokes with right arm, then three strokes with the left arm followed by three strokes with both arms. Allows swimmers to do butterfly for longer distances until endurance has been built up.
      • Triple Kick:

        One fly pull with both arms followed with 3 kicks. Concentrate on the timing of taking a breath (start to raise the head as the hands enter the water, this allows the breath to be completed by the time the arms come forward over the head). Also, try to kick as the hands enter the water and as the hands pass below the hips.