The Swimming Dictionary: A List of Words and Phrases Lost on the Non-Swimmer

Like any sport, swimming has its own set of words. Here we have compiled a list of some of the most commonly used and commonly confusing terms and phrases swimmers use that non-swimmers may not understand.


Heat Sheet (N) – A coach’s master key to the entire meet; a thick packet of many papers including all information about a given meet which a team is attending, including seed times, heat and lane assignments, and even what time each event is set to kick off.

Capping (V) – To cap; the act of assisting a swimmer in snapping their swim cap onto their head through a series of complicated motions which must be completed in sync.swimmer-strength-tech-tip-length-of-dryland-training

Use the time spent outside the pool wisely because it can literally save our swimmers shoulders”

Dryland (N) – A swimmer’s version of onland conditioning; includes lifting, running, calisthenics, and basically all other land exercises.

Suit (N) – A shortened version of the word bathing suit; describes all types of competitive swimming wear.

Practice Suit (N) – A swimsuit dedicated specifically to practices; typically fits comfortably and comes in a variety of styles and design as well as brands

Meet Suit (N) – A swimsuit dedicated specifically to meets; typically fits tighter and comes in one cohesive style and coloring for all members of the team to promote uniformity and team morale.

Tech Suit (N) – A specialized kind of racing suit, usually reserved for attempting to achieve a personal best or qualifying time, that fits extremely tight and hugs the body in such a way that it helps to shave valuable time off of a race; usually requires assistance to pull up.

Swimcest (N) – The act of two teammates becoming involved in a romantic way, thus interrupting the dynamic of the swim friend group.

Brackets (N) – Every swimmer’s worst nightmare; a pair of two-pronged punctuating marks a coach may write around a set to increase yardage or to increase difficulty level of a set.

Lapping (V) – Occurs when one swimmer outswims another swimmer by the length of a minimum of one lap.

Paddles (N) – A piece of equipment used by swimmers on their hands to correct and modify stroke technique.kick-fins

Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @swimoutlet

Fins (N) – A piece of equipment used by swimmers on their feet to increase efficiency and speed of kicking.

Swimmer shoulders (N) – An easily identifiable mark of a swimmer; broad, sloping shoulders which most swimmers receive due to the hours they spend training in the pool.

Goggle marks (N) – The permanent circles around a swimmer’s eyes due to the tight goggles they wear for hours of training in order to protect their eyes from the chlorinated water.

Lane line (N) – The plastic ropes which divide a competitive swimming pool into sections for each swimmer to swim in.

IM (N) – Individual Medley; Refers to the fifth event of swimming which requires execution of each of the four strokes in the following order – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.

Taper (N) – A swimmer’s favorite time of the season; a rest cycle many swimmers complete at the end of a season leading up to championship or end of season meets in order to allow muscles to recover and to get the most accurate and fastest time possible at the aforementioned meet.

Deck (N) – Refers to any place located immediately outside of the physical swimming pool where equipment and personal belongings are stored, spectators watch, and coaches give instructions.

Long course (LC) (N)- Refers to a 50-meter length competition pool.

Short course (SC) (N)- Refers to a 25-yard or 25-meter length competition pool.


“Leave on the top” – Begin the next set when the clock reaches the “top of the hour” which is either the 00 or when the hand reaches the top of the clock, depending on whether your clock is a digital or electronic one.

“Chlorine is our perfume” – There are many variations of this saying, but all boil down to the same thing. Because swimmers spend so much time in the pool, the smell of chlorine becomes so ingrained in their skin that even a shower may not wash it off.

“Silicone or latex?” – This is a reference to what a swimmer’s swim cap preference is since the most common types of caps are silicone and latex.

“I hit my hand on the lane line!” – It is a pain worse than stepping on a lego. When swimming, if a swimmer hits any part of their body on a lane line, it is a pain they will never forget, and only a swimmer knows the true extent of this pain as it has happened to nearly every one of us.

“Breathe less or we start over!” – Breath control is a crucial part of swimming. If a set is centered around breathing, or more accurately a lack thereof, and swimmers cannot complete it correctly, a coach may threaten to restart the set until it is done accurately. It is the ultimate scare tactic of swim coaches across the world.

“10 extra seconds rest!” – The biggest blessing in disguise for swimmers. Those extra seconds mean precious time to catch your breath, drink water, or change out equipment.

“Take your mark…BEEP!” – The expression which gets any competitive swimmer’s heart racing. It is the final seconds of anticipation and concentration before we must rely on our training and swim with everything we have left. Only a swimmer can recognize the specific reaction these four words provoke.

מתוך Swimmingworld