Swimming Terms and Abbreviations

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Swimming, like other sports, has its own language that makes absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn’t been exposed to it.

To help you get the most out of the blog, this page has a list of the terms and abbreviations we regularly use when coaching open water swimmers and triathletes.

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Swimming Terms


– Most people know that there are four strokes in swimming; freestyle, backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke. For open water swimming and triathlon, freestyle is the stroke of choice for racing and most of your training.

2-Beat Kick

– For long-distance, open water and triathlon swimming the kick is used mostly to stabilise the body during the stroke cycle rather than to push the body forward. The 2-beat refers to the frequency of kicking vs each stroke. Faster swimmers may use a 4 or 6 beat kick at the start of the race to quickly accelerate away from the pack, but then their kick will slow to a 2 beat once they are into their race pace rhythm.

Tumble Turns

– A quick and efficient technique to change direction upon reaching the end of the pool. Tumble turns allow swimmers to push off from the wall for the next length without losing too much speed. Performing Tumble Turns is not essential for open water swimmers or triathletes to master, but they do help when swimming in a squad.

Body roll

– This refers to the tilting of the body from one side to the other during the stroke cycle. Your body should be tilting between 40 and 60 degrees, but your head should remain straight in the water until you go to breathe.

Bilateral breathing

– Breathing to both left and right sides. This helps to create smooth and even strokes. It also helps to develop a balanced body roll. This is essential to swimming great freestyle. Usually, you breathe after a set of three strokes, alternating with breathing in on the left stroke on the first set, and then on the right on the second.


– Starting with simple exercises focusing on a particular part of your swim technique. They may be used to correct biomechanical “mistakes” or to strengthen sectors of your stroke.


– Gliding is when there is a pause in your stroke where you are not being propelled through the water. Gliding shouldn’t last too long but it is useful for long-distance swimmers.

Body position

– The position of the upper and lower body relative to the surface of the water. For you to be as streamlined, your body should be as flat in the water, and as close to the surface as possible.

Catch Phase

  • The front sector of the propulsion phase of freestyle swim stroke after the hand has entered the water

Pull Phase

  • The middle sector of the propulsion phase of freestyle swim stroke after the catch has been completed

Push Phase

  • The rear sector of the propulsion phase of freestyle swim stroke before the hand exiting the water behind the hips

Recovery Phase

  • The non-propulsion phase of freestyle swim stroke when the hand is above the water travelling to the entry point

High Elbows

  • a technique used to ensure the hand (after entry) is propelling the body forward for as much of the propulsive phase as possible.

Swimming Workout Abbreviations

WU: – Warm-Up. The preparation phase of the workout to get the muscles ready for the demands of the main set.

MS: – Main Set. The “work” phase of a workout. Also MS2: Main Set 2 when the main set is split into two parts.

LD: – Loosen Down. The recovery phase of the workout that helps transition the body back to a normal pre-workout state.

Z1, Z2, Z3, Z4, Z5 – Training Zones expressed in pace or heart rate ranges. You can calculate yours by completing the CSS test.

CSSCritical Swim Speed. A field test used to determine the fastest pace you can maintain without accumulating fatigue, to benchmark your progress between training phases and calculate your training paces.

Paddles – A training tool that fits on the hands to provide a greater surface area and to help correct sectors of the stroke.

Pull Buoy – A training tool that fits between the legs to provide lift for the legs and a little resistance.

Kick – kicking set. Usually performed with a kicking board otherwise with no board, are out ahead of you using a snorkel to breathe.

Send Off Time – the duration to complete one and start the next interval. For example, 10 x 100m on a 1:40 send off means swim ten 100m intervals starting each interval after 1 minute and 40 seconds. If you swim the 100m in 1 minute and 30 seconds, you get 10 seconds to rest before starting the next one until you have completed ten.

Rest – duration, in seconds, of rest periods between intervals or set of intervals.

Coach Shamus

Coaching since 1993, Coach Shamus has both theoretical knowledge and practical experience in triathlon having represented his country at the world championships on many occasions. He has competed in all distances from Sprint to Full Ironman and still, after more than 30 years of training and competing, gets excited to wake up and meet the team on the pool deck.
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