Decoding a Swim Practice

Walking into a swim club, Masters or triathlon club swim session for the first time can be an intimidating and confusing experience. Fear rises in you as you stroll across the deck, working your way through the gear and fit bodies to a crowd standing around a dry erase board.

As you peer through the crowd, you realize you have no idea what the fellow dressed in the Speedo polo shirt with a whistle and stopwatch is saying. You are even more confused when you glance at the board and see nothing but brackets with numbers and letters. What is going on here?

Ideally, when a newbie inquires about joining a swim club, the coach provides a quick personal orientation session, and thus spares him or her much of the potential stress of that first workout. But it doesn't always work out that way, so here is a different sort of orientation to help you decode the swim workout.

The Language of Swimming

The language of the swim workout is fairly simple and basically made up of abbreviations, numbers and a few terms. While most of what is written on the board will be fairly consistent among all coaches, there will always be variations, and it will still take a week or two to get to know your coach's swim set language.

Here is a list of the most common terms and abbreviations:

FR = Freestyle stroke

EZ = Easy

Fly = Fly

RI = Rest interval

BR= Breaststroke

w/ = With

BK = Backstroke

Dr = Drill

w-up = Warm-up

CH = Choice

c-d = Cool-down

PP = Pull + paddles


Here are some less common terms and abbreviations:

IM = Individual medley (all four strokes swum in the order of Fly/ BK/ BR /FR)

Lung busters entail purposely restricting the number of breaths you take while swimming. For example, "breathe 5 or 7" would mean "breathe once every 5 strokes or 7 strokes."

SG = Swim golf, a fun drill in which you add your stroke count for a given interval (say, 50 yards/meters) to your time for the same interval to generate a composite score

Band = Band only, a strength drill where one wears a band around his or her ankles to limit the kick

DPS = Distance per stroke, a drill where the swimmer tries to get as much distance as possible out of each stroke, usually measured by counting strokes for 50m

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