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Glossary of Swimming Terms Words Used to Talk about Swimming

Posted Oct 28 2009 10:46pm

The following are terms that will help you better understand articles about swim technique. While the list is not exhaustive, it covers many confusing swimming terms.

Words about Body Position

  • Anchor  When swimming drills such as  catch-up  and the one-arm drill, one arm stays extended above your head as the other arm strokes. The stationary arm is your “anchor,” serving as a place for the stroking arm to return to, and promoting long strokes.
  • Body roll  Efficient swimmers  roll from side to side  as they stroke. This allows them to churn through the water like a propeller, and engages the large muscles in the core (midsection) rather than using the less powerful arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Streamline  A streamlined position is the position that gives a swimmer the least drag from the water by reducing frontal surface area. In a streamlined position, the hands are stacked, arms are stretched flexed and rigid above the head with the shoulders pressed against the swimmer’s ears. The swimmer’s abs and glutes are tight (think of squeezing a dime between your butt cheeks), and ankles are pressed close together.
  • Swimming from your hips  Swimmers who swim on their stomachs (using their shoulders and arms rather than their lats) swim from their shoulders. Swimmers with good body roll swim from their hips, rotating their entire torso as they stroke.
  • Windmilling  During the recovery phase, the recovering arm should be “floppy,” with the  fingertips hanging just above the surface. Swimmers with poor body roll have to engage their shoulder muscles to hold their recovering arm above the water. The recovering arm stays straight and rigid, going round and round fully extended and looking like a windmill. This wastes energy and fatigues the arm that is supposed to be recovering.

Words that Describe Parts of the Stroke

  • Catch  Novice swimmers (and some experienced ones who aren’t very efficient) push down on the water when their hands first break the surface. This does nothing to propel your forward. Better swimmers “catch” or grab the water and use it to push themselves forward right from the time their hands enter the water. Imagine yourself climbing a ladder. When you reach into the water, “catch” a rung, and fling yourself past it. Ideally, your hand will stay stationary as your body glides past it.
  • Glide  Gliding is any time that you are not stroking (or kicking) and relying primarily on momentum to move forward. There are substantial glide periods when you push off the wall, or when doing drills such as the catch-up drill that have periods when you are not stroking.
  • Pull  Your pull is the part of your stroke from when your hand enters the water above your head to when your hand leaves the water by your hip. The pull generates the most propulsive force in swimming (more than kicking). Concentrate on grabbing as much water as possible while pulling.
  • Recovery  The recovery phase of the stroke is any time when your arm is above water. Since no propulsive force is generated during the recovery, keep the recovering arm as loose and limp as possible to conserve energy.
  • Front quadrant swimming  The length of a vessel (a boat, or you) is correlated to speed in liquid. The longer you are, the faster you can move through the water. Front quadrant swimming is a means of keeping a swimmer as long as possible throughout their stroke by keeping the non-stroking arm extended over her head almost until the recovering hand has entered the water.

Words that Describe Body Parts

  • Core  The powerful muscles in your midsection or trunk are called your “core.” The core muscles important to swimming are the  latissimus dorsi  (lats), obliques, and abdominals.
  • Lats  Short for  latissimus dorsi, your lats are the large, fan-like muscles in your back that cover much of your rib cage. The lats are responsible for lowering the arm, which is the movement that generates most of your power while swimming. A good body roll maximizes lat engagement.

Doing drills is an important step to becoming a faster swimmer, perhaps  the most  important step. Elite swimmers set time apart in every workout to improve their technique through drills. By now you should have a better understanding of the terminology used when describing swimming technique, and can apply it when reading about new drills to improve your strokes.


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