“On the bottom, we're going to descend 5 x 200 at 3:00, even split, 3:1 with full gear.”


If that sentence made no sense, it may be time for you to brush up on your swimming vocabulary!

What follows is a list of commonly used swimming terms so the next time you venture onto a pool deck you’ll blend right in!


50: 50 metres; a common repeat distance.

100: 100 metres; a common pace distance.

400: 400 metres: a longer distance common in many endurance workouts.

Short course: A 25-metre/yard pool where four lengths (or two laps) equal 100 metres/yards.

Long course: A 50-metre pool where two lengths or one lap equals 100 metres. Also referred to as Olympic distance.

Length: Distance swum in one direction in any given pool.

Lap: Distance swum up and back in any given pool.

Set: A grouping of distances comprising part of a workout or drill; 5 x 100 is a set that is 500 metres long; 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 is a set that is 1,500 meters long.

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

Repeats: The components of a set: 5 x 100 is a set of 100 repeats.

Threshold: The maximum time a swimmer can hold, or repeat, for a given distance during a highly aerobic set.

Pace: The time per repeat.

Negative Split: Completing the second half of a distance faster than the first half.

Even split: Completing both halves of a distance at the same speed.

Descending: Increasing one's speed incrementally during a set distance (She is descending her one-mile race by 100 metres).

On the top: Starting a set on the 12 o'clock (or 60-second) mark on a poolside pace clock.

On the bottom: Starting a set on the 6 o'clock (or 30-second) mark on a pace clock.

Tapering:  Paring down workouts (in length and intensity) to allow the body to recuperate and be rested for the weeks or days leading up to a race.

Full Gear: All pulling equipment (pull buoy, tube, paddles) worn simultaneously during a set. The best way to get an upper-body swim workout.

Pull Buoy:  Flotation device used to stabilize the legs and correct body position in the water.

Tube:  A basic inner-tube from a small wheel used to bind ankles while wearing a pull buoy; prevents kicking and helps keep legs together (and buoy from slipping).

Paddles: Plastic hand-disks used to maximize an upper-body pulling workout. Available in several shapes and sizes depending on the swimmer's skill and preference.

Drag suit: A baggy, nylon unisex swimsuit, worn over a regular practice suit to add resistance to  everyday training.

Stretch Cords: Dry-land workout using rubber stretch cords to strengthen muscles used in all four strokes.

Hypoxic training: Any type of set where a breathing pattern is the focal point of the drill.

3:1: Breathing pattern where the swimmer takes one breath for every three strokes; this is a bilateral breathing pattern (breathe on both left and right sides).

2:1: Breathing pattern where the swimmer breathes once for every two strokes (breathe on one side only).

Circle swimming: Swimming in a lane in a standard counter-clockwise direction, up the right side and back down the left. Often when sharing a lane.

Catch-up stroke: Special drill where basic crawl (freestyle) is altered so that each arm catches up with the other before completing the next stroke (one arm is stationary above the head, in beginning-stroke position, while the other completes a full stroke rotation)

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

Vertical kicking: Special drill executed in deep water where one kicks in a vertical position with arms crossed over chest, or extended above head for various intervals/sets.

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