Water Bug

Butterfly, Bull Pen and Swimming Terms A-Z

Whether you’re an elite swimmer or guppie, here’s some of the lingo you’ll hear around the pool deck.

50: generally refers to 50 yards or meters, a common repeat distance for sprinters and endurance athletes alike.

100: twice the length of a 50, and a common pace distance.

500: 500 yards or meters, this is a longer distance common in many endurance workouts (equivalent to 0.33 of a mile).

Anchor:  The final swimmer in a relay.

Backstroke:  One of the four competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back. Backstroke is swum as the first stroke in the Medley Relay and second stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter .

Blocks: The starting platforms located behind each lane. Some pools have blocks at the deeper end of the pool, and some pools have blocks at both ends. Blocks have a variety of designs and can be permanent or removable.

Breaststroke:  One of the four competitive racing strokes. Breaststroke is swam as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter.

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.

 Bull Pen :  The staging area where swimmers wait to receive their lane and heat assignments for a swimming event. Area is usually away from the pool and has rows of chairs for the swimmers to sit.

Butterfly:    One of the four competitive racing strokes. Butterfly (nicknamed FLY) is swam as the third stroke in the Medley Relay and first stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter.

Course: Designated distance (length of pool) for swimming competition.  Long Course = 50 meters where two lengths or one lap equals 100 meters. Also referred to as Olympic distance / Short Course = 25 yards or 25 meters where four lengths (or two laps) equal 100 meters/yards.

Deck: The area around the swimming pool reserved for swimmers, officials, and coaches. No one but an “authorized” USA Swimming member may be on the deck during a swim competition.

Descend: To increase one’s speed incrementally 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.

False Start:  When a swimmer leaves the starting block before the horn or gun. One false start will disqualify a swimmer or a relay team, although the starter or referee may disallow the false start due to unusual circumstances.

FINA:  The international rules-making organization for the sport of swimming.

Freestyle: One of the four competitive racing strokes. Freestyle (nicknamed Free) is swum as the fourth stroke in the Medley Relay and fourth stroke in the I.M. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, 200 yards/meter, 400 mtr/500, yd 800 mtr/1000 yds, 1500 mtr/1650 yds .

Interval: a specified time given to complete a certain drill. A 2:00 interval for 100 meters means that if you can swim 100 meters in 1:40 minutes, you will have 20 seconds of rest before repeating the next one. 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.

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.

Lap: distance swum up and back in any given pool.

Length: distance swum in one direction in any given pool.

Pace: the time per repeat you can hold consistently during a set, and ideally the time (per 100 meters, for instance) that you can hold during a race.

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.

Recovery: Easy effort.

Repeats: the components of a set; 5 x 100 is a set of 100 repeats.

Set: a grouping of distances composing part of a workout or drill; 5 x 100 is a set that is 500 meters long; 500, 400, 300, 200, 100 is a set that is 1,500 meters long.

Sprint: 100% Effort!

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

Negative splitting: the act of completing the second half of a set distance faster than the first half.

Even splitting: the act of completing both the first half and last half of a set distance at equal speeds.

Threshold: the maximum time you can hold, or repeat, for a given distance during a highly aerobic set.

“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.


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