Swimming Terminology

25 Swim Terms for Success

Have you ever listened to the swimmers around you at practice and wonder: “Are they speaking the same language as me?” In some cases, they’re not!

Swimmers, much like any athlete, have hundreds of words that only they know.

Related Post: Swim Meet Terminology

Knowing some swimming terminology, or swim terms will help you navigate this new world you’ve just joined 🙂 But out of the hundreds that exist, which ones are the most important to get you started?

Here are 25 quick, but important swimming terms to help you find success in swimming!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase something through one of my links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please check out my disclosure page for more information.


When swimming, you’ll hear several swimming terms tossed around in regards to swimming equipment or gear. This is what a swimmer will use while in the water to assist with their stroke, kick, or pull.

You can find most of these items online through the swim shop provider SwimOutlet or Amazon.

  • Cap: Silicone or latex material that covers the head to help increase efficiency in the water and reduce drag. Can be used by male or female swimmers. Also used to prevent chlorine damage to hair
  • Goggles: Plastic piece of equipment that goes over the eyes to help swimmers see clearer underwater and help keep chlorine from irritating their eyes
  • Kickboard: Gear made of foam or hard plastic that floats on the water’s surface and is used for kick and drill sets
  • Swim Bag: Secondary bag used to hold ‘dry’ equipment/gear, such as towels, clothes, and personal items. This bag usually stays in the locker room during practice.

Pool Specific Terms

Even though you might look at a pool and simply see, well…a pool, swimmers see dozens of other things. You’ll hear these constantly during practice or even a meet. Once you know these swimming terms, you’ll never look at a pool the same way again 🙂

  • Backstroke Flags: Series of flags stretched out across the width of the pool on both ends to notify backstrokers that they’re approaching a wall
  • Deck: The area around the pool. Made of concrete, tile or other solid materials
  • Lane Lines: Stretch of rope or wire, usually filled with round, plastic absorbers to minimize waves. Used to keep swimmers in their lane. Lane lines also hurt like crazy when you hit them with your hands 🙂
Blue and yellow lane line in the water
A lane line is a stretch of rope or wire, usually filled with round, plastic absorbers to minimize waves. Caution, the hurt like crazy when you hit them!
  • Lane: Place in the pool where a swimmer trains, warms up/cools down, or competes in a heat
  • Lap: Swimming down and back the length of the pool
  • Wall: Place in the pool where a swimmer will start, finish, and turn during a practice or a meet


Swimming isn’t swimming without knowing each of the strokes! There are 4 different strokes in competitive swimming.

  • Backstroke: Only stroke swam on the back and that starts in the water. 2nd part of the IM and 1st leg of a medley relay
  • 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
  • Freestyle: Also known as a front crawl. Freestyle is the most common stroke for beginners. It is always last in the IM and medley relay.
  • Individual Medley (IM): The IM is more of a race than a stroke, in that the swimmer will swim all four strokes in a set order. The order for IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.


Outside of a swim meet, you’ll hear most of these swimming terms and expressions at swim practice. Swimmers and coaches both communicate using swimming terminology that leaves even swim parents scratching their heads in confusion!

Most teams will have phrases, expressions, and swim terms unique to their team. However, the following common swimming terms will get you started and swimming on your own in no time. 🙂

Related Post: Ultimate Guide to Swim Etiquette

  • Circle Swimming: Form of swimming etiquette where you swim down the right-hand side of the lane, complete a flip turn, and return on the right-hand side of the lane. In that, you always keep the lane line to your right side (left when on your back). Typically used when more than one swimmer is in the lane.
  • Cool Down: Period of time at the end of a practice dedicated to flushing out the remaining lactic acid in the muscles to ensure better recovery and help prevent stiffness and injury. Also called a warm down.
  • Dolphin Kick: Used underwater when coming off the walls for all strokes except breaststroke. Also the primary kick used on the butterfly.
  • 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.
  • Streamline: The action of pushing off the wall or starting from the block with both arms extended and pressed tightly against each side of the head
  • Warm up: Period of time at the start of a practice dedicated to loosening up the muscles to help prevent injuries and work strokes and turns


Some swimming terms aren’t words at all. Rather, they’re specific expressions or phrases that swimmers might say. While they’re not swimming terminology per se, they’re still useful to know!

  • “Cap me”: When a swimmer asks someone (coach, teammate, or parent) to assist with putting on their swim cap
  • “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)

In Closing

There you have it! 25 quick but common swimming terms that will help you survive a day at the pool 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, this doesn’t cover nearly all the different words and expressions that you’ll hear on the pool deck.

If you want more swim terms, you can download my comprehensive swimming glossary that you can reference whenever you want!

I hope this brief overview of swimming terminology helps you get started. And, I hope it encourages you to keep going!

As always, to happy swimming!


Bonus Content:

Swim Etiquette for the Pool: Swim etiquette ensures that swimmers share the pool safely. But what is proper swim etiquette and what rules do you follow when sharing the pool?

Swimming on Your Period FAQ: Yes, you can swim on your period! From one menstruating swimmer to another, here are some frequently asked questions I get about swimming on your period.

Want to Improve at the Pool?

Join swimmers and swim parents to receive my free newsletter and receive a free Swimming Glossary e-book as a thanks!

Every month you’ll receive tips and coaching to help you find success at the pool.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.