Swimming 101 – Lingo for Newbies

For many people, the idea of swimming with a Master’s team is a bit daunting.  One of the most common excuses for not joining a Master’s team is “Well I’m not a Master Swimmer!”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be an Elite swimmer to do well and enjoy the Master’s swimming experience.  However, there are at least a few items you should learn.

The first barrier is usually understanding swimming lingo. There are a lot of terms thrown around on the pool deck, and coaches tend to take for granted that not everyone is familiar with these common terms.  Here is a quick cheat sheet of terms:

Pull: Swimming with a pull bouy between the legs or paddles on the hands, or both.  The point is to isolate your upper body and core.

Kick:  Swimming using only your legs; no arms.  There are many ways to kick: on your front, back, side, sometimes on a kickboard, sometimes in a streamline, with one arm out, or with your arms at your side. Kick can also be done wearing fins!  If you coach doesn’t specify the type of kick, you can usually ask or choose for yourself.

Descend: To get faster within a set, or to descend the amount of time to complete a repeat.  For example, to descend a set of four 100s you might go 1:50 on the first one, 1:48 on the second, 1:47 on the third, and 1:45 on the fourth.

Build:  To get faster within a repeat.  For example, if you are doing Build 50s you might start off at about 50% effort during the first 10 yards and build your speed until the last 5 yards of the 50 are at 100% effort.  Start the build over again on the next repeat.

Stroke:  When part of a set is designated as stroke, this means non-freestyle (i.e. butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke.)

Sprint: 100% Effort!

Recovery: Easy effort.

“The Top”: The 00 on a digital clock or the 60 on an analog pace clock.

“The Bottom”: The 30 on both a digital and an analog pace clock.

Intervals: Intervals are a specified amount of time to complete repeats of a set. For example, if you are doing 50s on a 1:00 interval, you would leave for the next 50 every minute.  If you swim your 50s in :45, you would get :15 rest before you leave again.

Base Intervals:  If a coach gives you a set with repeats of varying distances, they may give you a base interval.  For example, a coach may give a set of 50s, 100s, and 200s on a Base Interval of 1:30 per 100.  This would mean that the 50s would be on :45, the 100s on 1:30, and the 200s on 3:00.

Rest Intervals:  Sometimes a coach will specify a rest interval, which means the swimmer will get a consistent amount of rest in between repeats no matter how fast they complete the interval.  For example, you would take 10 seconds rest between all your repeats no matter how fast you went.

Now that you’ve got the basic terminology down, it’s time to learn how to read it!  Take this set for example:

4x50s @ :50

This is read as “four fifties on a fifty second interval.”

Also, take this set of 100s, 50s, and 25s on a Base Interval of 1:20 per 100:

{1×100 Pull @ 1:20

2x           {2×50 Build @ :40

{4×25 Sprint @ :20

1:00 Rest in Between Sets

This is read as “one hundred pull on a minute and twenty second interval, followed by two fifties build on a forty second interval, followed by four twenty-fives sprint on a twenty second interval.  Take one minute rest after you have finished the round and repeat.

If the coach told you to leave on the “top”, here would be your send-offs for the set above:

100-On the 00 or 60

50- On the 20

50-On the 00 or 60

25-On the 40

25-On the 00 or 60

25-On the 20

25-On the 40

If you find yourself confused after your first workout, realize that you aren’t alone!  All of us had to learn at some point, but after a few workouts you’ll start to catch on and can graduate to helping the newer recruits!

Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN