A Guide to Swimming Terminology


When joining a swimming club it is sometimes hard to understand the terms used and also the competitions and events that a swimmer can take part in.  Here is a glossary of terms that you will hear while in a competitive environment


Age Group

Swimmers usually grouped into specific age groups for a designated meet


AOE (Automatic Officiating Equipment)

Electric timing equipment used in conjunction with timing pads and scoreboard



Amateur Swimming Association.  The governing body for swimming



Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain.  The swimming governing body for Great Britain



One of the four competitive racing strokes, basically any style of swimming on your back.  Backstroke is swam as the first stroke of the Medley Relay and the second stroke of the Individual Medley.  This stroke usual swum at 50 metre, 100 metre, and 200 metre distances


Backstroke Flags

A line of flags (not bunting) suspended above the pool 5 metres from each pool end.  Used to help Backstroke swimmers judge when to turn



The ASA believes that young swimmers develop their potential best by competing in a range of events.  In order to discourage specialising too early, events are divided into the British Age Group Categories (BAGCats).  When swimmers compete in a BAGCat event, their time is converted into points which take into account their age and sex and compare them against other swimmers across the country.  The points are used to work out which swimmer has given the best performance overall


Block (Starting Block)

The starting platform located behind each lane



One of the four competitive racing strokes.  Breaststroke is swan as the second stroke in the Medley Relay and the third stroke in the Individual Medley.  Racing distances are 50 metres, 100 metres, and 200 metres



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 Individual Medley.  Racing distances are 50 metres, 100 metres, and 200 metres



The latex, lycra or silicon covering worn on the head of swimmers


Club Championships

Club Championships are held once a year. These are open to all club members and are an ideal introduction to competitive swimming. They also help coaches follow swimmer progression


County Championships

Usual held in March by Worcester County Swimming Association.  Haden Hill Swimming Club is affiliated to the WSA so all swimmers who achieve the qualifying times should take part in these competitions.  Times must be achieved at licensed meets during the qualifying period



Entering the water head first.  Diving is not allowed during warm up except at the designated time, in specific lanes that are monitored by the swimmers coach



Did not compete



Did not finish



Disqualified.  Swimmers may be disqualified for several reasons e.g. false start, incorrect stroke, incorrect turn. See DQ Codes page



An exercise involving a part of a stroke, used to improve technique


Energy Systems

Swimmers use different energy levels when they train, which relate to how much oxygen is used up by the muscles and how fast the heart is beating.  It is important to train at different rates, using all the energy systems, VO2 Max, Threshold, A2 (Aerobic 2) and A1 (Aerobic 1).

  • VO2 Max is working very hard but not an all out sprint.

  • Threshold should be a pace when swimmers are working hard but can maintain speed and effort throughout the whole set.

  • A2 is slightly slower than threshold, but again should be a pace swimmers can maintain.

  • A1 is slightly slower again, with swimmers having a fairly low heart rate during an A1 set (this does not mean they can swim slowly and put no effort in)


FINA (Federation Internationale Natation Amateur)

The world's governing body of swimming



Large rubber fin type devices that fit on swimmers fees.  Used in practice only


Form Stroke

Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly Freestyle In practice freestyle races are always swum as front crawl as this is the fastest stroke, however technically it means any stroke which is not a form stroke



One of the four competitive racing events. Freestyle is swam as the forth stroke in the Medley Relay and in the Individual Medley.  Race distances are 50 metres, 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 800 metres, or 1500 metres



Glasses type devices worn by swimmers to keep their eyes from being irritated by the chlorine in the water


HDW (Heat Declared Winner)

Only heats are swum, not heats and finals. The swimmer with the fastest heat time in the relevant age group wins the event regardless of which swimmer wins the heat


IM (Individual Medley)

All four strokes (Fly, Back, Breast and Free) are swum in the same race, over 100m, 200m or 400m


IM Relay

Back, Fly, Breast and Free swam in this order to avoid a takeover on Backstroke


Kick Board

A floatation device used by swimmers during a practice.  A light weight object used with great accuracy by coaches


Lane order

In finals, the lane order is decided from times swum in the heats or semis.  The fastest qualifier goes in lane 4, the second fastest in lane 5, third fastest in lane 3, fourth fastest in lane 6, fifth fastest in lane 2, sixth fastest in lane 7, seventh fastest in lane 1 with the slowest qualifier in lane 8.  In theory this should produce a spearheaded race (as seem from above), the swimmers are in the shape of a spearhead.  Sometimes the later heats in HDW events will be spearheaded as well licensed meets.  


Licenced Meets

Meets do not have to be licensed, but where they are specific ASA guidelines must be followed.  Licensed meets are graded level 1-4. Electronic timing must be used on level 1-3 meets.  Results from these are submitted to the ASA for inclusion on the National Rankings database

  • Level One Meets are intended for qualifying for National Championships.  Minimum entry times apply equivalent to the ASA 'A' Grade qualifying times.  Pools must be either 25m or 50m long

  • Level Two Meets are intended for qualifying for Zonal Championships.  Swimmers who achieve a National Qualifying Time at a level two meet may use that time for entry into the National Championships.  Qualifying Times and Upper Limit times apply.  Upper qualifying times for these meets should not be faster than the National qualifying time for the respective age group.  Pools must be 25m or 50m long

  • Level Three Meets are intended for qualifying for County Championships, although swimmers who achieve a Zonal Qualifying Time at a level two meet may use that time for entry into their Zonal Championships.  Qualifying Times and Upper Limit times apply.  Pools must be 25m, 33m or 50m long.  These galas are aimed at B/C Grade swimmers

  • Level Four Meets are intended for club swimmers and those beginning to enter individual open competition.  Qualifying Times apply. Upper Limit times usually apply.  Pools must be at least 25m long


Long Course

50m pool (Olympic standard)


Negative Split

A pacing tactic where the swimmer performs the second half of a race faster than the first half


NQT (National Qualifying Time)

Qualifying time for the National Age Group/Youth Championships swum in July/August each year. Time must be achieved in a 50m pool


One Start Rule

Swimmers are disqualified if they start before the referee sounds the horn or whistle


Open Meet

A gala open to swimmers from any club within specific age groups.  Usually swimmers have to be faster than set qualifying times.  Some meets also have cut-off times which means swimmers have to be no faster than the set time


Over the Top Starts

Swimmers stay in the water until the next race has started



Flat pieces of plastic worn on the hands, usually during pull sets


PB (Personal Best)

The best time achieved by a swimmer in a particular event so far.  Swimmers will have both short course and long course PBs



A piece of foam that goes between your legs and helps you float whilst swimming without kicking during training



Assign the swimmers to heats and lanes according to their submitted or preliminary times


Short Course

25m pool


Speeding Ticket

A swimmer receives a "speeding ticket" for swimming too fast at a graded meet



The times from each race are broken down into 25m or 50m chunks, which enable swimmers to see how they paced a race


Swim Down

Gentle swimming to relax the muscles after training or competing



Period of less intense training in the run up to a major event Warm up Gentle swimming to loosen up the body at the start of training or before a gala 


Zonal Championships

The next step up from County Championships is the Central Zonals. Times must be achieved at a Level 1, 2 or 3 licensed meet.  Club championship times are not valid for the Central Zonals