Swimming Lingo - Understanding Your Coach

You return to that 0545 swim session after a few weeks, or months, away from swim training. Everyone is reluctantly removing their warm layers, putting on their swim caps and slowly making their way into the pool when your coach says.

“Alright, we’ve got 200 metres easy free for your warm-up, bilateral breathing please, followed by six ‘50s’ using your fins, leaving on the top, and I want a threshold effort!”

Um, what..?

Before you turn around and run back to your car, stay with me and I’ll have you up to speed with poolside lingo quicker than you can finish a PFQ 100 metres!


Which refers to the speed at which you will swim a certain distance. Every coach is going to describe the pace they want you to swim slightly differently, but at TriChicks we like to keep it simple with the following:

  • Easy: 50-60% effort

  • Moderate: 60-70% effort

  • Hard: 70-85% effort

  • Max: above 85% effort.

Other terms you might hear in reference to pace are:

  • Aerobic: long distance, moderate intensity swimming, that focuses on building endurance.

  • Anaerobic: short distance, high intensity swimming, that focuses on building speed and power.

  • Steady: an easily maintained pace that allows you to be consistent over a certain distance.

  • Tempo: similar to a moderate pace.

  • Threshold: generally described as the pace you could hold for 30 minutes without needing a break; a speed that is slower than your race pace (see below), but still allows you to build your fitness and may be ‘comfortably uncomfortable’.

  • Race pace: the pace you’d swim in your chosen race – hopefully pretty quick!

  • PFQ: Pretty f**king quick!



Each swim session will be structured differently and there are so many different drills, sets and efforts that could be included which you’ll only learn through experience. We have a few different descriptions that might help explain some of the techniques you’ll do during your session:

  • Drills: the part of the swim session that focuses on technique generally through a series of specific exercises that may or may not involve equipment.

  • Bilateral breathing: taking alternate breaths to the left and right, generally every three or five strokes.

  • Kick: refers to the movement of your legs in the water, generally a drill that does not involve normal stroking by the arms.

  • Pull: refers to a drill using your arms to propel your body through the water, generally without any assistance from your legs.

  • Negative splits:swimming at a faster pace in the second half of a certain distance.

  • Descending: swimming each repetition faster than the previous repetition.

  • Build: starting slow, finishing fast within a single repetition (ie. ‘4 x 50 metre build’ means starting each 50 metre lap slow and finishing it fast).

  • Medley:swimming all four strokes, in the order of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.

  • Choice: swimming whatever stroke you choose.

Poolside Banter

And here are some other terms you might commonly hear poolside:

  • PB (personal best): your quickest swim over a certain distance – turning up to swimming each week should see you achieve new PBs!

  • TT (time trial): swimming a set distance and generally attempting an all out effort. A TT measures your fitness, improvements and hopefully, you’ll achieve a new PB!

  • Tapering:reducing the intensity, frequency or length of your workouts in the lead up to a race to allow yourself to feel fresh on race day.

  • Recovery (a portion of stroke): when the arm is out of the water and coming back down for the next stroke.

  • On the top: starting to swim when the poolside clock is at the 12 o’clock, or 60 seconds.

  • On the bottom: starting to swim when the poolside clock is at the 6 o’clock, or 30 seconds.

So can you decipher exactly what it is that your coach wants you to do now?

Hopefully, this list has given you a far better understanding of the terms you might hear from your swimming coach. However, every coach is different and my number one tip is to always ask when unsure. It is never a good feeling when you realise halfway down the pool that you have no idea what you’re doing!

Happy swimming!

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