Glossary of Swimming Terms


Alternate Breathing

A breathing pattern used when swimming freestyle. Breathe to one side then take an odd number of strokes and breathe to the other side. Example set: 6 x 200 pull freestyle alternate breathing by 7's. For each 200 you would push off the wall and take 6 arm strokes then breath on the 7th stroke - take 6 more arm strokes then breathe to the other side. Repeat this pattern the entire distance.


Start swimming slowly and gradually increase speed within a single distance. Example set: 6 x 200 free build by 50. For each 200 you would swim the first 50 slowly, the second 50 faster than the first, give a good effort on the third 50 and swim the last 50 fast.


A freestyle drill. Stop one arm straight in front of your body. The first arm cannot start the next stroke until your other arm touches and replaces the first arm front of your body. Focus on rolling your body to face the right wall, then the left wall, as each arm completes one stroke cycle. This drill may feel 'choppy' at first but with practice it will 'smooth-out.'


Start swimming slowly and gradually increase speed through multiple swims. Example set: 6 x 200 free crescendo. Swim the first 200 at an easy pace. The second 200 should be a few seconds faster. Continue swimming each 200 a little faster than the previous with the last 200 faster than all the previous.


85-95% perceived effort. One step below 'sprint.' You should push off the wall swimming fast, but unlike sprint you can hold close to this speed for the specified distance. I typically use this term for short to mid-distances.

IM or Individual Medley

An event in swimming that combines all four competitive strokes without extra rest between each stroke - butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in that order. Example IM's: 100 IM = 25 fly, 25 back, 25 breast, 25 free. 200 IM = 50 fly, 50 back, 50 breast, 50 free. 400 IM = 100 fly, 100 back, 100 breast, 100 free.


A time measurement used to complete a set i.e. If is a set is on a 1 minute interval, you will start every minute.  The sooner you complete your distance, the more rest time you will receive.


A way to build distance while alternating between two different styles of swimming. The most common way to swim loco is pace/fast. Sometimes I like swim loco as drill/swim. The basic loco pattern is 25 pace/25 fast, 50 pace/50 fast, 75 pace/75 fast, 100 pace/100 fast - these distances should be swum straight without stopping. When swimming loco to 100 you will swim 500 total yards.

Master's Minute Rest

You decide how much rest you want to take. Clear the fog from your goggles, run to the bathroom, refill your water bottle or swim a 50 recovery.

Negative Split

Swim the second half of the distance faster than the first half.

No Breath

After you master this drill you may not take any breaths during the entire 25. When you first try it challenge yourself to take as few breaths as possible for each 25, then work your way down to zero breaths per length over the course of time.


50-75% perceived effort. One step below 'strong pace.' This is a speed that you could maintain all day. Your splits are equal, you can easily think about your technique or what you'll snack on after practice.


Easy movement after a tough swim. I say you can walk, kick, swim elementary backstroke or bounce off the bottom as long as you're moving your body and gradually bringing your heart rate back down.


Your hands and forearms repeat figure 8 movements which slowly propel your entire body through the water. This skill will give you a better 'feel' for the water. The easiest scull is done while lying on your back, hands near your hips, head pointed toward the opposite end of the pool. Once you master this scull, try lying on your stomach with your arms in front of your head - which can be in or out of the water. You can scull with a pull buoy to help your backend stay afloat or add a light flutter kick.


100% perceived effort! Push off the wall swimming as fast as possible and hold this speed as long as possible. You should never finish a sprint then feel like you could have swam a little faster. I use this term for shorter distances.

Streamline Jumps

Squat jumps, but in the water. With your body in the upright position, get to the bottom of the pool, put your arms in a tight streamline and jump with as much power and speed as you can generate. When you pop out at the surface grab a breath and get back to the bottom. Repeat, repeat, repeat! This drill can be done at any water depth although I prefer water that's eight feet or shallower.

Strong Pace

75-85% perceived effort. One step below 'fast.' When swimming a 'strong pace' your splits should be equal through the entire distance. You should feel like you wouldn't be able to swim much faster while maintaining these equal splits. I typically use this term for mid to longer-distances.


Swim freestyle with your head faced forward and lifted completely out of the water. Arms are spread wide with high elbows.


The speed in which you are swimming. When just used as a general term “tempo pace” your swim speed should be comfortable, maintainable speed. A “good tempo” would be considered swimming at a moderately fast pace.

Tombstone Kick

A drill that makes kicking with a kickboard more challenging. Instead of holding your kickboard parallel on the waterline as you normally would, hold it perpendicular to the water. Half of the kickboard should be under the water and half should stick straight out of the water creating a 'tombstone' appearance. To increase resistance hold the kickboard deeper in the water for less resistance allow more of the kickboard to stick out of the water.

Turn on the T

A turn drill that can be used when swimming any stroke. Most pools have a dark line on the bottom of the pool drawn down the center of each lane. The end of this line usually forms a 'T' shape a few feet away from the wall. When swimming into the wall, you will turn on this 'T' then create your own momentum to start your next length instead of using momentum from pushing off the wall. No part of your body should touch the wall when doing this drill.

Underwater Recovery

A good freestyle and backstroke drill in which your arms slide underneath the surface of the water during the recovery phase of the stroke instead of moving through the air to get back in front of your body. When using this drill as a freestyle drill it resembles the doggie paddle but your head should remain in the water and turn to the side over your arm when a breath is needed. No part of your arm should break the surface of the water during any phase of your stroke.

Underwater Turn

A turn drill that works best in water deeper than four feet and can be used when swimming any stroke. As you swim forward, dive under the water when you're a few feet away from the wall. Using your forward momentum and core strength do a flip turn or touch the wall with both hands a few feet under the surface of the water. Do not let any part of your body break the surface while turning. Push off the wall as you normally would, insert an underwater pull if necessary, and continue swimming. A fast, 'tight' turn will make this drill much easier to accomplish.

Vertical Kicking

Kicking with your body in the upright position. You'll stay in one spot and don't need a board. The same as what some folks call 'treading water.' Go to water that's deeper than your height, put your arms in the air (or keep them underwater if you need some extra help keeping your head up) and kick fast.