the language of swimming | the bookish athlete

A swim workout can look like an algebraic equation where you need to solve for x.

5 x 100 negative split on 1:30

And the parts of that equation that happen to be in English might be words you’re not familiar with.

Negative split?  

Below is a swim glossary which includes quite a few common swimming terms. This glossary can help you not only decipher a swim workout, but also plan a pretty good one of your own.

swim glossary

25, 100, 500, etc.
The distance of a swim interval (yards or meters depending on your pool).

1 x 25, 4 x 100, etc.
Swim workout shorthand.
Example, 4 x 100 is a set where you swim 100 yards or meters four times with a short rest in between each 100.

Bilateral Breathing
Breathing both to the right and the left while swimming freestyle. (example, breathing every 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. strokes)

A steady and gradual increase in effort across a set distance.
Example: 1 x 200 build – you’d start the 200 at an easy effort and then gradually get faster throughout the 200.

Cool Down
Focus is on decreasing your heart rate and breathing rate. Easy swimming.

Swim each interval slightly faster than the one before.
Example: 3 x 100 descend – #1 is a steady effort, #2 is faster than #1, and #3 will be the fastest.

The purpose of drills is technique development. Each drill may be completed with or without fins.

An effort level of 75%.

Sometimes called the “front crawl,” this is the stroke most commonly used in triathlons (but is not the only stroke allowed).

An effort level of 95+%.

The amount of effort put forth during a set distance or interval and expressed as a percentage. Example: 85% effort

A workout or swim set designed with specific swim times and rest times.
Example: 5 x 50 with 15 seconds rest in between

Only use the legs. Kick sets can be done with or without a kickboard. Without a kickboard, you can kick on your stomach, back, or side.

An interval pattern where the distances progressively get longer (go up the ladder) or shorter (go down the ladder).
Example: 1 x 100, 1 x 200, 1 x 300

An effort level of 85%.

Negative Split
Swim the second half of a given distance faster than the first half.
Example: 1 x 200 negative split – the second 100 is faster than the first 100

Swim only using the arms, with a pull buoy if available.

Pull Buoy
A piece of foam (variable in shape) that sits between the legs. This enables the legs to float without kicking and the focus is on the pull.

A workout pattern where the included distances first increase then decrease (classic pyramid), or first decrease then increase (inverted pyramid).
Example: 1 x 100, 1 x 200, 1 x 300, 1 x 200, 1 x 100

A sweeping motion of the arms (with a slight bend in the elbow) where pushing and pulling water propels the body through the water.

An effort level of 100% or as fast as possible.

An effort level of about 80%.

Arms are extended above head, one hand on top of the other, biceps squeezing ears. Legs are behind the hips with toes pointed.

Regular freestyle swim stroke. No drills.

An individual’s swimming style or stroke.

Working just below threshold for a longer interval, usually seven to twenty minutes.

An effort level of 90%.

Focus is on preparing muscles and joints for movement.

I’m always adding to this glossary. If you come across a term that you don’t recognize, let me know. I’ll add it to the list. And if you’re looking for someone who can provide you with a training program that includes swimming, I can help there too!