Explanatory notes on frequently used swimming terms which may be unfamiliar to newcomers to the sport.
If you have any suggested additions or changes to these please email the BPSC webmaster.

Glossary of Swimming Terms

When you or your child first start swimming it can seem like everyone else is speaking a foreign language, so here is a glossary of some terms commonly used in swimming which can be hard for a newcomer to understand:

Age Group

Swimmer or competition for under 16s

Arena League

Competition otherwise known as the National Arena League.  This is a series of team galas running annually within a league framework.  Initial rounds are within regional divisions with winners from the top division of each region going on to a National final.  Team selection is by Coaches.


Amateur Swimming Association – UK swimming’s governing body

BAG Cat points

The A.S.A. 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 – BAG Cats for short.  When swimmers compete in a BAG Cat 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.  See also BAGCAT Points and Awards on our club website.

Club Championships

BPSC holds club champs once a year.  This is open to all club members.  Currently we aim to license the gala so that any county qualifying times achieved can be submitted for entry into the county championships.

County Championships

Essex County Championships usually take place during the months of January, February and March, but this can change.  Qualifying times must be achieved at licensed meets during the qualifying period (usually since the last day of the previous year’s competition).


Did not compete – Disqualification code used in competitive swimming events where the swimmer did not start the race.


Did not finish – Disqualification code used in competitive swimming events where the swimmer did not finish the race.


Disqualified – Abbreviation used in gala results which indicates the swimmer or team was not considered to complete the race correctly.  Swimmers may be disqualified for several reasons (e.g.  False start, incorrect stroke, incorrect turn, starting before the starting signal, arms not simultaneous etc.)

Essex League Gala

An annual series of team galas in a league format with clubs from Essex and adjourning areas.  Team selection is by coaches.  See Essex Swimming League website.

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 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 - however this does not mean they can swim slowly and put no effort in!

Form stroke

Backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly


In practice freestyle races are usually swum as front crawl as this is the fastest stroke.


Heat declared winner.  Term used in gala events where 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 each heat.


Individual Medley: All four strokes swum in the order of fly, back, breast, and frontcrawl are swum in the same race, either over 100m, 200m or 400m.  In a medley relay the order of the strokes is slightly different, back, breast, front crawl.

Junior Speedo League

A inter club team gala for junior swimmers with age restrictions with selection by coaches.  More correctly referred to as the Junior Swimming league (M11) (the sponsorship agreement with Speedo ended).

Kit Bags

Term frequently used to refer to a bag containing personal training equipment.  These contain items such as kick board, pull buoy, snorkels, flippers, hand paddles - all of this equipment is used by the swimmer to develop technique

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 ion lane 3 fourth fastest in lane 6, fifth fastest in lane 2, sixth fastest in lane 7, seventy fastest in lane 1 with the slowest qualifier in lane 8.  In theory this should produce a spearheaded race when viewed from above.  Sometimes later heats in HDW events will be spearheaded too.

Licensed Meets

Different galas are aimed at different levels of swimmers.  Competitions are often licensed by the ASA and described as being at one of four levels:

The times achieved by each swimmer at a licensed gala are loaded into a central British Swimming database.  Individuals can see their times achieved at licensed meets and relative prefromance versus others through the swimming results website: http://www.swimmingresults.org/individualbest and http://www.swimmingresults.org/individualrankings.

Long Course

Galas swum in a 50m pool- times achieved are usually slower than those achieved in a 25m pool

Mini League

A series of 6 team galas with time restrictions mostly aimed at swimmers who do not yet have a county time in the stroke they are selected for.  Team selection is by coaches


Qualifying time for the National Age Group or Youth or Open Championships swum in July/ August each year

Open Meet

Gala open to swimmers from any club, within specific age groups. Usually swimmers have to be faster than set qualifying times (lower limits).  Some meets will have cut off times (upper limits) which means swimmers have to be no faster than the set time.

Over the Top Starts

Phrase used during competitions where Swimmers stay in the water until the next race has started.  Approach is used to reduce time between events.


Personal best time - This is the best time achieved by a swimmer in a particular event so far. Swimmers may have times for short course (25m) and long course (50m) pools.

Regional Championships

The next step up from County Championships.  Times must be achieved at a Level 1, 2, or 3 licensed meet.


This is when 4 swimmers compete as a team in either a Medley relay or a Freestyle relay. The ingoing swimmer must not leave the side of the pool or the starting block before the incoming swimmer touches the wall.

Short Course

Galas swum in a 25m pool.  Because there are more turns, times are usually faster than long course (50m pool) events.


This is an event at a gala, whereby the fastest 50m front crawl swimmers across the age groups are involved in a knockout style race. Usually this would involve 8 swimmers depending on the size of the pool.  The swimmers repeat the 50m swim each time eliminating one swimmer until only two remain, the winner being the faster of the two in the head-to-head race. This can be a very exciting and demanding race.

Splash Night

This is an in house gala/time trial so the coaches can monitor swimmers progression.


The times from each race are broken down into 25m or 50m segments which enable swimmers to see how they have paced their race.  A negative split is used to describe a situation where a segment time is quicker than the previous segment (i.e. the swimmer got faster).

Swim down

Swimming after a race or at the end of a training session designed to relax the muscles after an intense or strenuous exercise.


Period of less intense training in the run up to a major event.

Time Trial

Swim made to secure a recognised time for a particular event.  Open galas organisers sometimes permit swimmers to make late entries on the day of competition which may not be included in the overall medals but will be recorded as official times.

Warm up

A period of swimming at the start of the session or competition designed to loosen up the body and prepare for more intense work or a race.

Glossary of Swimming Terms