1. Sports
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Olympic Swimming Rules

Part II - Breaststroke, Butterfly, IM, and Relays

By

Kaitlin Sandeno, Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming - January 21, 2008

Kaitlin Sandeno, Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming - January 21, 2008

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Breaststroke or Breast Stroke

The breaststroke is the slowest stroke!
  • Swimmers are "belly-down" and use a simultaneous arm pull, with the arms pressing out (a "Y" shape), then sweeping in, with the hands meeting under the face then extending forward. The elbows must be underwater during the pull and the hands are not allowed to pull past the waist/hips (with one exception on pullouts).
    • A pullout is a "giant" pull, ending with the arms against the sides.
    • Then the swimmer moves the arms to a forward position and does one breaststroke kick.
    • A swimmer is allowed one dolphin kick off of the start and the turn before the end of the "giant pull" of the pullout.
    • Then regular breaststroke swimming begins, including the head breaking the surface of the water during each stroke cycle (1 pull + 1 kick = 1 cycle).
  • The kick resembles a frog kick, but it is not exactly the same. The legs should not break the surface of the water.
  • The breaststroke requires that the left and right half of a swimmer do the same thing at the same time - if one arm is pulling, then the other arm is pulling; they must mirror each other.
  • The head must break the surface of the water once each stroke cycle (1 pull + 1 kick = 1 cycle).
  • Breaststrokers use a forward start from starting blocks and are allowed to do one breaststroke pull-out before they begin actually swimming.
  • Breaststrokers do open turns. They touch the wall with both hands simultaneously, then rotate and push off of the wall. The swimmer must be "belly-down" when their feet leave the wall. They may do one pullout off of the wall.
  • There is no distance limit on how far breaststrokers may go underwater, but they may only do one pullout before they begin to swim regular breaststroke, to include the head breaking the surface of the water.
  • Breaststrokers finish the race by touching the wall with both hands simultaneously, just as they would for a turn.

Butterfly

Butterfly grew out of breaststroke in the 50's and 60's, finally becoming its own separate event at the 1956 Olympics.
  • Swimmers are "belly-down" and must use a simultaneous arm pull, sort of like doing the front crawl pull with both arms at the same time; the arms are recovered over the surface of the water.
  • The kick is a butterfly kick; sort of like a freestyle kick but with both legs doing the same action at the same time. The legs must stay in the same horizontal plane relative to each other. They may not change their relative position to each other. Most butterflyers will have their legs lined up parallel to each other, as close together as possible, trying to create a big fin with their legs and feet (toes pointed in or pigeon-toed). They cannot do a breaststroke kick.
  • Most butterfly swimmers breath forward, but a few flyers breath to the side, like a freestyle breath.
  • Butterflyers use a forward start off of the starting block. They do a few dolphin kicks or fish-kicks off the start before they surface.
  • Butterflyers do an open turn. They touch the wall with both hands simultaneously, then rotate and push off of the wall. The swimmers must be rotated towards "belly-down" when their feet leave the wall, but they might be a little twisted, not 100% "belly-down" until they start their arms. They do a few dolphin kicks or fish-kicks off the turn before they surface.
  • During butterfly, the swimmer's head must break the surface at or before 15-meters from the start and from each turn.
  • Butterfly swimmers finish by touching the wall with both hands simultaneously, just as they would as if they were going to do a turn.

Individual Medley or IM

The IM race uses all four strokes, in order, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
  • Within each one of those portions of the race the swimmer must follow the rules for that stroke.
  • Before switching from one stroke to another, the swimmer must touch the wall in the same way they would as if it was the end of the race for the stroke they are using as they approach the wall.
    Butterfly is a two hand touch, belly down.
    Backstroke is a one hand touch, belly up.
    Breaststroke is a two hand touch, belly down.
    Freestyle is the finish of the race, usually a one hand touch, belly down.
  • IM races often feature lead changes as different swimmers are better at one style than others, and they might fall behind or move ahead depending upon what stroke they are swimming.

Relays

There are two types of relays, freestyle and medley. The strokes used in the relays must follow the same rules as used for individual races.
  • Freestyle relays follow the rules of a freestyle race - any style may be used, but the swimmers will all be using front crawl.
  • The medley relay has each swimmer performing one of each of the swimming styles, in order, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. The freestyle swimmer is not allowed to use any of the strokes already used, but the swimmer wouldn't they will always use front crawl.
  • Relays begin the same way as individual races, with the swimmer on the starting block (freestyle) or in the water holding the hand grips (backstroke swimmer in the medley relay). The subsequent swimmers all start from the starting block and may be moving or use a "rolling" start. As long as some portion of the swimmer is contacting the starting block when the swimmer finishing touches the wall, the start is legal. This used to be judged visually, but now the automatic timing system normally fills this role, with a tolerance of .04 seconds.

Back to Olympic Swimming

Suggested Reading

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.