Swimming is by far one of the healthiest sports to take on as a hobby! But if you want to take it to the next level and start swimming competitively, there are some rules that you will have to familiarize yourself with. Each swimming stroke, the start and turn, underwater phases and also the finish, has rules which are set by FINA, the international swimming federation. In order to help you better understand the general rules of competitive Swimming, we have created a list of all the things you have to know before participating in your first swimming competition. So here are the competitive swimming rules you need to know.
Check all Competitive swimming rules below
Freestyle Swimming Rules
Freestyle, or sometimes called front crawl, is not only the fastest stroke but also the stroke which has the most flexible rules. The only rules are that swimmers may not use the bottom of the pool to push off, they may not pull on the lane lines, and they must touch the wall when turning or finishing a race with some part of their body. Other than these rules, any stroke can be swum to finish a freestyle race.
However, there is one very common way of swimming freestyle, which is fast than any other stroke. Swimmers are face down on their stomach with alternating arm strokes, breathing to the side, and fast, alternating up and downward kick with both legs. Races begin with swimmers doing a front dive from the starting block and they end with the swimmer touches the wall with one hand. Freestyle races can be 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 Meters long.
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Breaststroke Swimming Rules
Breaststroke is very similar to a frog’s style of swimming. The arms and legs of a breaststroke swimmer move simultaneously on the same horizontal plane and identical to each other. While the arms and legs generally stay underwater, the head and shoulders break the surface with every stroke in order to take a breath.
The arm stroke and the kick begins and ends in a streamline position. For the arm stroke, swimmers are not permitted to pull their hands below their hips and the elbows must always stay in the water. For the breaststroke kick, swimmers have to point their toes out to the side, when the feet sweep out, do a half circuit around and then go back together. There is only one kick permitted for every arm stroke in breaststroke.
Races, which can be 50, 100 or 200 Meter long, begin with a forward dive from the starting block. After the start and each turn, swimmers can do a so-called breaststroke pull down. This is a breaststroke arm stroke which goes all the way to the thighs and a strong breaststroke kick, which helps the swimmer push the arms forward again. On the first stroke after the pull-down, the swimmers head must break the surface. For a turn or the finish of the race, swimmers must touch the wall with both hands. Turns are done as an open turn, and not a flip turn.
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Backstroke Swimming Rules
Backstroke is very similar to freestyle swimming, however, it is done on the back. The arms are alternated with always switching between the left and right arm doing the pull. The kicking is also alternating with rapid up and downward movement of the legs. When swimming Backstroke, swimmers are not allowed to turn their shoulders more than 90°. The only time swimmers are allowed to turn more than 90° is when they are doing the flip turn after a lap.
For the turn, swimmers turn onto their stomach and do a regular flip turn like in freestyle swimming. After the turn, swimmers must push off the wall on their back again. Backstroke races are started not from the blocks, but from within the water. Both feet are placed against the wall and the hands are holding onto the grip of the starting block. After the start signal, they do a backward jump into the water. The maximum distance which can be spent underwater after a start or turn is 15 meters. The backstroke race is completed on the back with one hand at the wall. The race distances can be 50, 100, and 200 Meters long.
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Butterfly Swimming Rules
The Butterfly stroke was first introduced in the early 1950s when competitive swimmers were trying to figure out a way of swimming faster breaststroke races. The two significant differences to breaststroke are double over the water arm recovery and the dolphin kick with both legs at the same time. During a butterfly stroke, the arms pull underwater simultaneously from the front of the body, all the way to the hips, and then move above the water to the front of the body again.
The rules state that both hands must exit and enter the water at the same time for every stroke when moving the arms forward and backward. During each arm pull, two dolphin kicks are completed, one when the hands and arms enter the water and one when the hands and arms exit the water after a pull. Breathing is done during the arm pull. Swimmers lift their head and shoulders to the front while pulling and take a short breath.
Butterfly races include 50 Meters, 100 Meters, and 200 Meters. Swimmers must enter the water with a forward-facing dive and finish each lap (or the race) with both hands. That means touching the wall with both hands simultaneously on the same horizontal line. Butterfly turns are completed as an open turn and not as a flip turn.
After the beginning of each lap, swimmers push off from the wall and do underwater dolphin kicks in a streamline position with both hands and arms in front. The maximum distance swimmers can do underwater after the start or a turn is 15 meters. At exactly 15 meters (or earlier), their head has to break the surface.
Individual Medley Swimming Rules
IM (Individual Medley) Races are either 100, 200 or 400 meters long. Swimmers complete in an IM Race ¼ of the Distance of each stroke. All IM races start with a front dive from the starting block and a butterfly segment, then, with an open turn, swimmers move on to the backstroke segment. After they touch the wall, swimmers will again use an open turn, or (for more advanced swimmers) a reversed flip turn in order to start the breaststroke segment. Lastly, they will do another open turn and start the freestyle segment. This order is the same for every IM Race. Just the distance of each stroke varies from 25 to 100 meters.
Open Water Swimming Rules
Recently, Open Water Swimming has started to get a lot more attention. Swimmers don’t compete in the pool for this event, but they swim in lakes, rivers, and oceans. On a competitive level, swimmers swim freestyle in the open water and the don’t swim laps, but they swim in around course which is marked by massive buoys. The Distances are 2,5 Kilometer, 5 Kilometer, 10 Kilometer, and 25 Kilometers. All swimmers start at the same time with a front dive from a pier or from the within the water.
More Resources on the Rules of Competitive Swimming:
The competitive swimming rules we shared above for every stroke are just a general summary of rules for competitive swimming. If you would like to have a more in-depth description of each stroke and the rules that go along with it, we recommend the following resources: