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Swimming Terminology

Alternate Breathing: In freestyle swimming, breathing to the right side then swimming three strokes and breathing to the left side, then swimming three strokes and breathing to the right side, etc.

Anchor: The anchor is the final swimmer in a relay.

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

Backstroke Flags: Pennants that are suspended over the width of each end of the pool approximately five yards/meters from the wall that notify backstroke swimmers that they are approaching the end of the pool, similar to a warning track in baseball. The accomplished Backstroker will know how many strokes it takes to get from the flags to the beginning of their turn.

Backstroke Start: In Backstroke and Medley Relay events, swimmers start the race in the pool, facing the start and, with both hands in contact with the end of the pool or the start block and both feet on the wall with toes below the water surface.

Body Roll: Body roll refers to the proper side-to-side rotation of the hips in Freestyle and Backstroke swimming. Rolling from the left side of your body to the right side and back again helps reduce drag and improve stroke length. Swimming “flat” would be the sensation of swimming directly on your stomach/back all of the time.

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 swum as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the IM. Racing distances are 50 yards/meter, 100 yards/meter, and 200 yards/meter.

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

Button: The button is a manual Timing System stopping device that records a back-up time in case the touch pad malfunctioned. The button is at the end of a wire, plugged into a deck terminal box. There are usually two buttons per lane. It is the timers responsibility to push the button as the swimmer finishes the race.

Circle Seeding: Circle seeding is a method of seeding swimmers when they are participating in a prelims/finals event. The fastest swimmers are seeded in the last heat, with the fastest swimmers being in the inside lanes, i.e. Lane 4 in the final heat.

Course: Course is the designated distance (length of pool) for swimming competition. Long Course = 50 meters and Short Course = 25 yards or 25 meters.

Crossover Turn: In the Individual Medley, a crossover turn is a type of turn used in the Backstroke to Breaststroke transition. The swimmer approaches the wall on the back and executes a modified flip turn such that as he/she reaches the wall at the vertical then rotates to the breast and pushes off.

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

Dehydration: Dehydration is the abnormal depletion of body fluids (water). Dehydration is the most common cause of swimmer’s cramps and sick feelings.

Distance: Distance is how far a swimmer swims. Distances for short course are: 25 yards (1 length), 50 yards (2 lengths), 100 yards (4 lengths), 200 yards (8 lengths), 400 yards (16 lengths), 500 yards (20 lengths), 1000 yards (40 lengths), 1650 yards (66 lengths). Distances for long course are: 50 meters (1 length), 100 meters (2 lengths), 200 meters (4 lengths), 400 meters (8 lengths), 800 meters (16 lengths), 1500 meters (30 lengths).

Disqualified: A swimmer’s performance is not counted if disqualified for a rules infraction. A disqualification is shown by an official raising one arm with open hand above their head.

Dryland: Dryland is the exercises and various strength programs swimmers do out of the water.

Electronic Timing: The electronic timing system operates on DC current (batter). The timing system usually has touchpads in the water, junction boxes on the deck with hook up cables, buttons for backup timing, and a computer type console that prints out the results of each race.

False Start: A false start is 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.

False Start Rope: A recall rope is laid across the width of the racing pool for the purpose of stopping swimmers who were not aware of a false start. The rope is about one-half of the way on yard pools and about 50 feet from the starting end of the pool on meter pools.

Flip Turn: The flip turn is one type of turn used in Freestyle and Backstroke. Just as the swimmer approaches the wall, they tuck their body into a somersault, quickly roll toward the wall and push off with their feet.

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

Gun Lap: The gun lap is the part of a freestyle distance race (400 meters or longer) when the swimmer has two lengths plus five yards to go. The starter fires a gun shot over the lane of the lead swimmer when the swimmer is at the backstroke flags.

Heats: A heat is a division of an event when there are too many swimmers to compete at the same time. The results are compiled by swimmer’s time swum, after all heats of the event are completed.

Heat Sheet: The heat sheet is the pre-meet printed listings of swimmer’s seed times in the various events at a swim meet. These sheets vary in accuracy, since the coaches submit swimmers times many weeks before the meet. Heat sheets are sold at the admissions table and are used mainly to make sure the swimmer has been properly entered in all the events for which they are entered. Parents enjoy looking at the seedings prior to the race plus swimmers can tell the order the events will be conducted and get a rough idea how long the meet sessions will last.

High Elbow: High elbow refers to the recovery phase of Freestyle where keeping a high elbow encourages better balance and body roll and to the pull phase of freestyle where the elbow remains in a higher position over the hand, giving the sensation of reaching over a barrel when pulling through the water.

IM: Individual Medley or IM is a swimming event using all four of the competitive strokes on consecutive lengths of the race. The order must be: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, Freestyle. Equal distances must be swum of each stroke. Distances offered include 100 yards, 200 yards/meters, 400 yards/meters.

Jump: A jump is an illegal start done by the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th member of a relay team. The swimmer on the block breaks contact with the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall.

Lap Counter: The lap counter is the large numbered cards (or the person turning the cards) used during the freestyle events 500 yards or longer. Counting is done from the end opposite the starting end. The numbers on the cards are “odd numbers” only with the final lap being designated by a bright orange card.

Leg: A leg is the part of a relay event swum by a single team member, a single stroke in the IM.

Officials: The officials are certified, adult volunteers who operate the many facets of a swim competition.

Relays: A relay is a swimming event in which four swimmers participate as a relay team, each swimmer swimming an equal distance of the race. There are two types of relays: (1) Medley Relay – the first swimmer swims Backstroke, the second swimmer swims Breaststroke, the third swimmer swims Butterfly, and the fourth swimmer swims Freestyle. Medley Relays are conducted over 200 yard/meter and 400 yard/meter distances. (2) Freestyle Relay – Each swimmer swims freestyle. Free Relays are conducted over 200 yard/meter, 400 yard/meter, and 800 yard/meter distances.

Scratch: To scratch is to withdraw from an event after having declared an intention to participate. Some meets have scratch deadlines and specific scratch rules, and, if not followed, a swimmer can be disqualified from remaining events.

Start Position: To start a swimmer must take his or her mark by placing at least one foot at the front of the block. The most common position is bent over, knees bent, feet shoulder width apart, but the track start (one food forward, one foot back) is becoming popular. The swimmer is permitted any position as long as one foot is at the front of the block and a motionless position is held prior to the start signal.

Step Down: Step down is the command given by the Starter to have the swimmers move off the blocks. Usually, this command is a good indication that everything is not right for the race to start.

Stroke: There are four competitive strokes: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle.

Stroke Judge: The stroke judge is the official positioned at the side of the pool, walking the length of the course as the swimmers race. If the Stroke Judge sees something illegal, they report to the referee and the swimmer may be disqualified.

Taper: Taper is the resting phase of a swimmer at the end of the season before the championship meet.

Timer: Timers are the volunteers sitting behind the starting blocks/finish end of pool. Timers are responsible for getting watch times on events and activating the backup buttons for the timing system.

Touch Pad: The touch pad is the removable plate (on the finish end of pools) that is connected to an automatic timing system. A swimmer must properly touch the touchpad to register an official time in a race.

USA Swimming: USA Swimming is the national governing body of the sport headquartered in Colorado Springs. USA Swimming requires an annual member registration fee.

Warm-up: Warm-up is the practice and loosening-up session a swimmer does before the meet or their event is swum.

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