Swimming Competition

Competitive swimming events follow specific rules set by governing bodies like FINA, NCAA, USA Swimming and high school leagues. Knowing the basic rules helps swimmers avoid disqualification and ensure fair competition. Here is an overview of key swimming event rules every athlete should know.


For freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and IM, swimmers may take one step on the starting block to prepare for start.

Backstroke starts begin in the water with both hands gripping the starting block or the wall.

A starting signal must sound before swimmers leave the block or wall. Leaving early is a false start and disqualification.

No additional kicks or strokes are permitted prior to surfacing after the start.


Open turns with no somersaults are used for freestyle and backstroke.

Butterfly and breaststroke require two-hand touch turns.

For IM, proper turns must be used for each stroke segment.

No walking or springing on the bottom of the p

ool is allowed at turns.

Swimmers must return to original starting position after turns before resuming strokes.


Freestyle Rules

Any stroke style may be used but front crawl is most common.

Swimmer’s shoulders must roll side to side, not remain flat and motionless.

Some part of the swimmer must touch wall at each turn and at the finish.

Swimmer must stay on surface except for first 15 meters from start and turns.

Backstroke Rules

Swimmer must stay on back using an alternating arm stroke and fluttery kick.

Shoulders must be in line with water, not rotating sideways.

Somersaulting flips are not permitted at turns.

Swimmers must surface within 15 meters after start and turns.

Breaststroke Rules

Body must remain on breast, shoulders in line with water surface.

Arms move symmetrically and simultaneously using heart-shaped pattern.

Legs execute simultaneous whip kick with each foot moving in same horizontal plane.

Swimmers touch wall simultaneously with two hands at turns and finish.

Head must break water surface at least once per arm stroke cycle.

Butterfly Rules

Body must remain on breast with both arms moving simultaneously over and under the water.

Dolphin kick must be used symmetrically up and down.

Arms recover forward over the water surface.

Shoulders must be in line with water surface.

Two-hand touch required at turns and finish.

Individual Medley (IM) Rules

Four strokes swum in order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle

Equal distance, usually 1/4 total distance, is swum for each stroke.

Rules for each stroke must be followed in the IM segments.

Intermediate turns conform to rules for that stroke (two-hand touch for fly and breast).

Knowing and following the rules ensures fair competition. Having a disqualification can be disappointing but serves as a lesson for swimmers to improve technique.

Swimming Game

Relay Rules

Each swimmer must leave from and return to original starting position after their leg.

The starting swimmer may be held or released when the starter gives the command.

Swimmers must remain in contact with the platform until prior teammate touches wall.

Drafting off another swimmer is not permitted during relay exchange.

Entering water before previous teammate finishes is an automatic disqualification.

Additional Rules

No flotation aids like pull buoys or snorkels are permitted in competition.

Tape or device use is prohibited unless approved for medical reasons.

No coaching is permitted from the deck during active racing.

Equipment like cap, goggles, nose clip and standard swimsuit must conform to guidelines.

Unsportsmanlike conduct can result in disqualification.


Knowing the rules makes swimming meets fair, consistent and safe for all. They guide stroke techniques and ensure an even playing field. Following regulations is a key responsibility for every competitive swimmer.

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