30 Words to Get You By at Swim Practice

Swim teams have dozens of words unique to swim practice alone. If you’re joining a swim team for the first time, it’s important that you know some of the various terminology used at practice. 

We’ve broken down a list of 30 words to help you prepare for your first swim practice

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Basic Swim Practice Terms

Good to Know Words

Circle Swimming: During practice, you’ll share the lane with a few other swimmers on your team. For safety, everyone must swim in the same direction. The most common way to do this is called circle swimming.

Related article:  Advice for Swim Practice Etiquette

Swimmers will swim down the right-hand side of the lane, complete a turn, and return on the right-hand side of the lane. With circle swimming, the lane line always stays to the swimmer’s right side. Unless they’re doing the backstroke, in which case, it’s on the left side.

You may hear this called counter-clockwise swimming, as the pattern resembles a clock moving backward.

Reverse Circle Swimming: While circle swimming is the most common direction used by most teams, some teams may also incorporate reverse circle swimming. 

Unlike circle swimming, reverse circle swimming keeps the lane line to the swimmer’s left side. Or the right side when they’re swimming backstroke. 

Also called clock-wise swimming. 

Practice Specific Terms

Doubles: It might sound like a tennis word, but the word ‘doubles’ means two practices in a day. They can also be called ‘two-a-days’. Typically, one practice will be early in the morning and the second will be in the afternoon.  Whether that’s early or late afternoon varies by team. 

For some teams, such as club teams, practices are held before and after school during the school year. While high school teams might have dedicated class periods for practice. 

Singles: Again, another tennis sounding word, but one that also applies to swimming! On a swim team, ‘singles’ means one practice that day. That can be in the morning or the afternoon. 

Some teams will alternate between singles and doubles throughout the week. Because of this, it’s important to check your training calendar to know where you should be each day.

More Content for You: Swimming Secrets: What Really Happens at Swim Practice

Dryland: This is uniquely a swimmer’s word that makes no sense to those outside the swimming world. But it’s ours and we love it! Dryland is essentially weight room and cardio training done outside the pool. 

Yes, we could call it weight lifting (and some teams do), but most teams use the word ‘dryland’ for workouts outside of the pool. 

Dryland can be done in conjunction with swim practice. Teams will either do dryland before or after a water workout in the same practice. 

Taper: This is a swimmer’s favorite time of the year. For most swimmers at least. Taper happens when the intensity and usually distance of practices begin to lessen. This usually happens before certain swim meets.

In backing off the training, swimmers can focus more on technique during practice. It also allows the body to rest and recover more. Some swimmers taper better than others. Just as some swimmers need more taper than others do. 

In the Water Terms 

Warm-up: At the start of practice, you’ll have a dedicated period of time to loosen up your muscles to help prevent injuries and work strokes and turns. Based on the team, this time may or may not include stretching, too. If it doesn’t, be sure to set aside some time before practice starts to stretch on your own. 

Cool Down: Conversely, at the end of practice, teams will take five to ten minutes or so to cool down. This time helps swimmers work out the lactic acid in their muscles, which can help ensure a better recovery. 

Throughout the season though, coaches might opt to skip cool down as part of the training program. Doing this makes the next practice just a bit harder as the muscles are more fatigued. 

Based on your team, you might hear this called a ‘warm down’.

15-Meters: At swim meets, it’s against the rules to stay underwater past 15 meters. This rule applies to all strokes except the breaststroke. Swimmers typically count their underwater kicks and come up before 15 meters. 

To help you – and the officials – know where 15 meters is, look to the lane lines. There will be a colored marker that marks this distance. It’s typically yellow but can be other colors based on the lane lines.

Interval: An interval is a set time at which you must complete a distance in practice. The faster you make the given time, the more rest you get. 

An example of this would be swimming 100’s on a 1:30 interval. If it takes you a minute and twenty seconds (1:20) to finish a 100, you would get 10 seconds rest. Whereas if you can finish the 100 in a minute and ten seconds (1:10), you would get 20 seconds rest.

More Content for You: What do Swimmers do at Swim Practice

Set: A group of intervals and distances make up a set. An example could be 8x100s, alternating between freestyle and your best stroke at 1:30. 

Sets vary by team. Some teams will do 1-2 sets throughout the practice. Where other teams might do one long set that takes the whole practice and is made up of several smaller sets in them. 

Backstroke flags: Series of flags stretched out across the width of the pool at both ends to notify backstrokers that they’re approaching a wall. Swimmers count their strokes from the flags to the wall to perform a flip turn or a finish. 


Every team differs on what they expect their swimmers to bring in terms of gear and equipment. That said, we highly encourage you to speak with the coach to determine what you should bring for practice.

Gear Bag: Having a gear bag varies by team. Some teams require that swimmers have one to keep their gear in. While others don’t. A gear bag is usually made of mesh and holds a swimmer’s‘ wet’ equipment/gear

Fins: This piece of gear goes on your feet, It’s used to improve/assist kick, ensuring proper technique and high hips. Fins come in a variety of different styles and some are better for training than others. 

See what style your team uses and talk to the coach before getting yourself a set. As a recommendation, we like these fins from Arena or this pair from FINIS.

Kickboard: A kickboard is used for kick sets, as its name might imply. You can also use it for drill sets, too. 

Paddles: These go on your hands and are used to improve/assist a swimmer’s stroke/pull. 

Pull buoy: Buoy’s help keep your hips high in the water and prevents kicking. This piece of gear goes between the legs or near the ankles. 

Swim Bag: Swimmers have a gear bag to keep their equipment in. But they also have a swim bag that’s used to hold ‘dry’ belongings. Items such as towels, clothes, and personal items. This bag usually stays in the locker room during practice.


Backstroke: Of all the strokes, backstroke is the only stroke that you swim on your back. Hence the name! It’s also the only stroke that will start in the water. It can be the easiest for most new swimmers due to it being on the back. Backstroke is done by bringing one arm up and over the head at a time. It’s paired with a freestyle (or flutter) kick

Freestyle: You might hear this stroke referred to as a front or forward crawl, although most swim teams call it just ‘freestyle’. Freestyle is the most common stroke for beginners to learn. Like backstroke, it’s paired with a flutter kick.

Breaststroke: The kick for the breaststroke looks like a frog kick. In that, your heels come up together towards your buttocks and then push out/back in a single motion. The arms typically stay just under the water or right at the surface, depending on the swimmer. Breaststroke is the 3rd part of the IM and the 2nd leg of a medley relay

Butterfly: Doesn’t look like a butterfly at all :). In this stroke, the legs stay together and form a kick much like a dolphin. The arms swing forward over the water together. The butterfly is the 1st part of the IM and the 3rd leg of a medley relay

Individual Medley (IM): The IM is more of a race than a stroke. Swimmers will swim all four strokes in a set order. The order for IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

Dolphin Kick: Used underwater in a streamline position when coming off the walls for all strokes except breaststroke. Breaststroke is allowed one dolphin kick during the pullout. Also known as the ‘fifth stroke’.


Depending upon your swimming level when you join a swim team, it isn’t always necessary to know the various flip turns. But it’s still good to know these words.

Flip Turn: Used in competition for backstroke and freestyle, and some turns in the IM. Swimmers approach the wall and from their stomachs (backstrokers will roll from their back to their front) and completed a forward roll.

Open Turn (two-hand turn): Used in competition for breaststroke, butterfly, and some transition turns in the IM. Swimmers must use both hands to complete the turn. For a legal turn, you must touch the wall with both hands at the same time before turning. In this turn, you do not flip (like in the flip turn), but rather, pivot on the wall.


“Five (or ten) seconds apart”: Swimmers should always leave five to ten seconds behind the swimmer in front of them. This helps ensure that swimmers aren’t catching or drafting off each other.

Drafting: Drafting occurs when someone swims directly behind or to the side of another swimmer. From here, they can ride the current that the other swimming is making, allowing them to go faster without effort.

“On the bottom”: When a swimmer leaves the wall at the bottom of the clock (30)

“On the top”: When a swimmer leaves the wall at the top of the clock (00 or 60)

As always, to happy swimming!


Bonus Content:

How to do Dryland Workouts at Home: Can’t get to the pool for your workout? Here’s how you can keep up with your workouts and get in some dryland while at home or on the road.

What is Holiday Training for Swimmers?: What is holiday training? While holiday training varies by team, it can be difficult to explain. And why it’s so important to swimmers.

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