Swimming101: Check Out SwimSwam’s Swimming Dictionary

New to the sport of swimming? Ever tried explaining swimming to a non-swimmer? Then you’ve probably struggled with the lingo at some point. Well no worries, because we have you covered with SwimSwam’s Swimming Dictionary. If we missed anything, feel free to share suggestions in the comments.  

Freestyle – Referred to as front-crawl by non-swimmers, it is often the first of the 4 strokes taught to young swimmers. The stroke involves repeatedly flailing your arms in a windmill motion while performing the flutter kick. There are more freestyle events offered at the Olympics than any other stroke, which includes the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1500 distances along with relays and open water events. 

Backstroke – The second of the four strokes traditionally taught to young swimmers, sometimes called “back-crawl”. Take freestyle and turn it backwards and you’ve created a backstroke. At the Olympics, backstroke is contested in the 100 and 200 distances, along with the 50 at the World Championships. 

Breaststroke – Sometimes called the “frog stroke”, this is the slowest of the 4 swimming strokes. To successfully swim breaststroke, you must propel your body forward, making a scooping motion with your arms, while also completing a frog kick with your legs. In the IM, breaststroke is the third leg of the swim. 

Butterfly – The final swimming stroke, often considered the hardest of the four to learn and perform. This stroke involves flinging your body back and forth, creating pain, while also managing not to drown. Michael Phelps may look graceful swimming the butterfly stroke, but you will not. 

IM (Individual Medley) – The swimming version of the gymnastics “all-around”, involves swimming all 4 strokes in the order butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle. True IM’ers are the rarest kind of swimmer, those who can successfully and quickly swim all 4 strokes. 

SCY – “Short course yards” – a form of swimming that takes place in pools measuring 25 yards, traditionally only contested in the United States in the fall and winter at both the age-group and collegiate levels. 

SCM – “Short course meters” – swimming that occurs in pools measuring 25 meters and is often held during the winter months in countries worldwide.  

LCM – “Long course meters” – swimming that occurs in pools measuring 50 meters long, used in both World Championship and Olympic competition. This type of swimming is most common worldwide and is also used in most major international competitions. In the United States, swimmers often race long course during the spring and summer. 

Relay – An event that consists of 4 swimmers each completing the same distance of a stroke to combine for a time. A relay team traditionally consists of 4 swimmers from the same club or country and is either swum as 4×100 or 4×200. Swimmers may also contest a 4×50 distance, though it’s less common. 

Split – The time each swimmer posts on their individual leg on a relay or a swimmer’s times on each 50 of a race. An “even split” occurs when a swimmer posts the same split times on the first half and second half of a race. A “negative split” happens when a swimmer swims the second half of a race faster than they swam the first half. 

Anchor – The final swimmer on a relay, often the fastest out of the four swimmers. The anchor has the job of closing a race, often deciding the fate of their entire team. 

Lead-off- The first swimmer on a relay, who starts from a flat start instead of a rolling-start. They are tasked with getting the team ahead of the field to give their teammates clear water to swim in. 

Start – Alternative word for dive used to refer to the initial dive a swimmer does off of the blocks at the beginning of their race for freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly, and IM. In backstroke, a start is performed in the water and involves a backwards lunge off of the wall. Coaches often initiate a start by saying “take your marks, go”.

Flat Start – The traditional start used by swimmers in individual races and when leading-off a relay. The swimmer must be still at the beginning of this motion.

Rolling Start (Relay Start) – The start performed on relays, minus the lead-off leg, where the swimmer initiates the motion of the dive prior to the person in front of them touching the wall. For a rolling start to be legal in the eyes of officials, a swimmer must maintain contact with the block until the swimmer in the water touches the wall. 

Flipturn – The sequence performed when a swimmer reaches the wall at the end of their 25 or 50 in freestyle or backstroke that involves somersaulting into the wall, touching it with two feet, and then pushing off the wall in streamline. 

Kickboard – A piece of training equipment that will make your legs burn as you don’t use your arms. No, this is not a “boogie board” or a “surf board”.

Pull Buoy – A reverse kickboard that goes between your legs to prevent you from kicking. Unlike a kickboard, this will make your arms burn. 

Lane line – The plastic dividers that separate swimming lanes. Often cause injury to hands, legs, arms, and feet. You may break your fingers, but at least you’ll be able to swim in a straight line. 

Age Grouper – A swimmer under the age of 18 who also competes at the club level. Some people may often refer to them as “junior” swimmers. 

Official – The people in white shirts and khaki shorts at swim meets, responsible for maintaining the rules and crushing the dreams of swimmers. If an official approaches you, they may offer you a piece of candy alongside the dreaded DQ slip. 

DQ – No, not Dairy Queen, much worse than ice cream. Getting a DQ means that you’ve been disqualified from your race and your time and effort won’t count for anything.

Coach – Someone who will be one of your favorite people, while simultaneously being your worst source of pain in this world. Coaches are tough, smart, and knowledgeable about swimming. They’ll push you to your limit and be with you through all of the highs and lows of the sport. 

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1 year ago

I love this! This is hilarious lol 😂

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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