Encouraging More Adults to Swim
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Technique and Training

Masters Swimming 101

More lingo you're likely to hear at practice

Jim Harper | December 5, 2012

This article is part of the Masters Swimming 101 series


Stroke modification or exercise done in the water to isolate a particular body part or technique. Such as dragging fingertips in the water to promote a high-elbow recovery.


The arm movement, or using only arms for propulsion. A pull set will be one where you'll use a pull buoy designed to keep your legs still so that you can focus on your pull.


Leg movement, which is isolated in kick sets, using a kick board.


The highly desirable ability to keep moving without pulling or kicking. 


What skinny fish have naturally, we have to achieve by squeezing our arms and legs into lines. The opposite of a streamlined position would be a “Superman” with arms spread wide. 


The ability to “grab” and push the water with your hand/arm. The opposite is “slipping.”

Flip turn

Near the wall, spin 180 degrees, feet over head, feet land on the wall and push off.

Open turn

Touch the wall with your hand, turn around and push off.


The movement from the wall until the first stroke.

Alternate or bilateral breathing

In freestyle, breathing on odd numbers of strokes, such as 3, 5, etc., so that you breathe equally on both sides. 


A split is your time for a segment of a prescribed swim. If you swim a 100 (four lengths) and your time at the 50 (two lengths) is 35 seconds, then that is your split.

Swim meet

A swim meet is a competition in a pool. Many USMS members are nervous about competing at first, but swim meets can be fun for any level swimmer. You should never feel pressured to compete in a swim meet, but you should also not feel as though you are not good enough. Most local swim meets, and even some regional and national meets, the same relaxed, all-inclusive attitude that you find at a practice prevails. USMS national championships have qualifying times, but anyone—regardless of speed or ability—can enter up to three events at those meets, without meeting the qualifying times.

Open water swimming

Swimming in lakes, oceans, rivers—pretty much anywhere that is not a pool. There are open water races and clubs throughout the world for swimmers who enjoy open water swimming.

Words to Avoid


Coaches prefer to speak in yardage or in lengths, as in “50 yards” or “4 lengths of the pool.” An outdated meaning of lap is “2 lengths,” but today it can be considered a synonym of “length” (one lap equals one length, not two).  


Use “freestyle” instead. Even though technically you are “free” to perform any style, swimmers choose the fastest stroke, which is the crawl stroke. But just call it freestyle. 

Masters Swimming 101 Article Series

How to start swim practice as an adult
Swimming is great exercise, but practicing with a group can seem mysterious to...
What equipment do I need?
Not much! The beauty of swimming is that the water provides all the resistance...
What are the basics of pool etiquette?
Safety always comes first, and swimming's first rule is never to swim alone....
What is a typical workout?
Like a good play, a good workout develops in three main acts: the warm-up, the...
Yards and meters
Coaches will give instructions mainly in terms of distance (or yardage) and...
How do I use the pace clock?
A related question would be: Why are swimmers so obsessed with time? You'll...
More lingo you're likely to hear at practice
Here are a few more terms you'll likely hear at swim practice. Some of them...
How do I learn the four strokes? Why do I want to?
Some swimmers and many triathletes only want to swim freestyle, the fastest...
USMS Wave Seperator

About the Author—Jim Harper

Jim Harper is an All-American Masters swimmer and coach in Miami who writes about health and nature. He is a frequent contributor to SWIMMER magazine, a columnist for the Biscayne Times, and a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. 

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