Basic Swimming Terminology

25 Swim Terms for Success

Swimming has a plethora of swim jargon that sounds almost like another language. Knowing some swimming terminology, or swim terms will help you navigate the swimming world 🙂 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!

Please note that these swim terms are for those individuals who are swimming without a team. Or who are just starting to swim.

If you’re wanting to join a swim team (or have just joined one) be sure to check out our other article: 30 Words to Get You By at Swim Practice for more swim terms that you’ll hear.

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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.

  1. Cap: A cap is a silicone, latex, or lycra material that covers the head to help increase efficiency in the water and reduce drag. Swim caps can keep hair out of a swimmer’s face and can help prevent chlorine damage to hair. Caps can be used by male or female swimmers.
  2. Goggles: Goggles are a piece of equipment that goes over the eyes to help swimmers see better underwater and help keep chlorine from irritating their eyes
  3. Kickboard: A piece of swim equipment made of foam or hard plastic that floats on the water’s surface and is used for kick and drill sets. Kickboards can be used by any age or swim ability.
  4. Swim Bag: A swim bag holds ‘dry’ equipment/gear, such as towels, clothes, and personal items. It’ll usually stay in the locker room or the pool area during practice

Related articles:

Pool Specific Swimming Terminology

Whether you’re swimming at practice, a swim meet, or just getting in a workout at the pool, you’re likely to hear some swim jargon around the area. Keep your ears open next time you’re at the pool and you might surprise yourself with how much you hear.

  1. Backstroke Flags: Series of flags stretched out across the width of the pool at both ends to notify swimmers that they’re approaching a wall. Swimmers count their strokes from the flags to the wall in order to perform a flip turn or a finish. If you’re just starting out, use the backstroke flags as a point to flip over onto your stomach. Do this until you master your backstroke turn.
  2. Deck: The area surrounding the pool. The deck surface is usually made of concrete, tile, or other solid materials. It can be slippery when wet, so be sure not to run around on it! Most pools do not allow swim parents on deck during practice or swim meets.
  3. Lane Lines: Stretch of rope or wire, usually filled with round, plastic absorbers to minimize waves. Lane lines help keep swimmers from swimming all over the place. They also hurt like crazy when you hit them with your hands :). It’s also advised that you don’t rest on the lane lines, as a lifeguard is sure to yell at you.
  4. Lane: Place in the pool where a swimmer trains, warms up/cools down, or competes in a heat. Two lane lines or a lane line and a wall can make up a lane.
  5. Lap: Swimming down and back the length of the pool
  6. Wall: Place in the pool where a swimmer will start, finish, and turn during a practice or a meet. Walls also allow a safe place for swimmers to rest in between sets and get into the water without getting in the way of other swimmers.


Swimming isn’t swimming without knowing some of the strokes! These strokes can vary by your skill level in the pool, from an easy doggy paddle up to the butterfly. While some of the strokes, such as doggy paddle and side stroke aren’t considered official strokes in competitive swimming, you can still use them during your next swimming workout.

For these basic swimming terms, we’ll focus mainly on the four different strokes in competitive swimming. Along with the Individual Medley or IM.

  1. Backstroke: This is the only stroke swam on the back and that starts 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. Backstroke is 2nd part of the IM and 1st leg of a medley relay
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Freestyle: Also known as a front or forward crawl. Freestyle is the most common stroke for beginners to learn. It is always last in the IM and medley relay.
  5. 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.


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 basic swimming terms will get you started and swimming on your own in no time. 🙂

Related PostUltimate Guide to Swim Etiquette

  1. 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.
  1. Cool Down: Period of time at the end of a practice or workout dedicated to flushing out the remaining lactic acid in the muscles. This ensures a better recovery and helps prevent stiffness and injury. Also called a warm down.
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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

Swimming Jargon

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!

  1. “Cap me”: When a swimmer asks someone (coach, teammate, or parent) to assist with putting on their swim cap
  2. “On the bottom”: When a swimmer leaves the wall at the bottom of the clock (30)
  3. “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 basic swimming terms that will help you survive a day at the pool 🙂

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:

Swimming Basics: Get your feet wet with some basic swimming information to get you started. From swimming terminology to lane etiquette, learn the basics so you can master swimming!

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?

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