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Stroke Basics

The following are basic descriptions of the strokes our swimmers will practice and compete in at meets:

  • The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. The combination of all four strokes is called individual medley.
  • In freestyle events, the competitor may swim any stroke. The stroke most commonly used is sometimes called the crawl, which is characterized by the alternate stroking of the arms over the surface of the water and an alternating (up-and-down) flutter kick.
  • Backstroke consists of an alternating motion of the arms with a flutter kick while on the back. On turns, swimmers may rotate to the stomach and perform a flip turn and some part of the swimmer must touch the wall. The swimmer must finish on the back.
  • The breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pressed out from in front of the breast in a heart shaped pattern and recovered under or on the surface of the water. The kick is a simultaneous somewhat circular motion similar to the action of a frog. On turns and at the finish, the swimmer must touch the wall with both hands simultaneously at, above or below the water surface.
  • Some consider the butterfly to be the most beautiful of the strokes. It features a simultaneous recovery of the arms over the water combined with an undulating dolphin kick. In the kick, the swimmer must keep both legs together and may not flutter, scissors or use the breaststroke kick. Both hands must touch the wall simultaneously on the turns and the finish.
  • The Individual Medley, commonly referred to as the I.M., features all four strokes. In the IM, the swimmer begins with the butterfly, then changes after one-fourth of the race to backstroke, then breaststroke and finally freestyle.
  • Similarly, the Medley Relay features all four strokes. Each swimmer on the four person team swims one stroke of the relay in the following order – backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle.

Stroke and Turn Judging Guidelines

Freestyle
  • After the start of the race or a turn, the swimmer may kick under water, so long as the swimmer surfaces prior to reaching the approximate midpoint of the pool.
  • Swimmer may swim any stroke during the individual freestyle event, but must be something other than back, breast, or fly, in the last lap of the IM of the freestyle leg of the Medley Relay.
  • Once the swimmer surfaces, some part of the body must be above the water. The swimmer cannot swim the entire event under the water.
  • Swimmer can turn in any style, but swimmer must touch the wall. (Okay to back up and return to the wall if the swimmer misses the wall in the turn)
Backstroke
  • After the start of the race or a turn, the swimmer may kick under water on his or her back before surfacing, so long as the swimmer surfaces prior to reaching the approximate midpoint of the pool.
  • Except for the turn, the swimmer must remain on his or her back.
  • Once the swimmer surfaces, some part of the body must be above the water.
  • When entering a turn, the swimmer may be past vertical toward the breast after which one single arm pull (or a continuous simultaneous double arm pull) may be used to execute the turn. After completing the single arm pull (or simultaneous double arm pull), the swimmer may not remain on the breast and kick into the wall.
  • Any part of the body can touch the wall on the turn.
  • Swimmer must be at or past vertical toward the back when the feet leave the wall.
  • Swimmer must finish on the back and cannot be completely submerged.
Breaststroke
  • One arm pull and one leg pull are allowed under the water at the start and after the turn. The head must break the surface before the widest part of the recovery of the second pull.
  • The body must remain on the breast at the start and after the turn.
  • The hands shall be pushed forward together from the breast, on, under, or over the water. The elbows must remain under the water, except for the final stroke before the turn, during the turn, and the last stroke at the finish. The hands shall not go beyond the hip-line, except during the first stroke at the start and the first stroke after the turn.
  • After the start and each turn, a single downward butterfly kick followed by a breaststroke kick is permitted while wholly submerged. Following which, all movements of the legs shall be simultaneous and in the same horizontal plane without alternating movement.
  • The feet must be turned outward during the propulsive part of the kick. A scissors, flutter or downward butterfly kick is not permitted except as provided herein. Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly
  • Some part of the head must break the surface during each cycle of one arm stroke and one leg kick.
  • The touch going into the turn or at the finish must be made with both hands simultaneously at, above, or below the surface of the water.
Butterfly
  • After the start of the race or a turn, the swimmer may kick under water, so long as the swimmer surfaces prior to reaching the approximate midpoint of the pool. (Swimmer must be at or past vertical toward the breast)
  • Only one arm pull is allowed under water, which must bring the swimmer to the surface.
  • Both arms must move simultaneously, although one arm may be higher than the other.
  • The arms must recover over the water.
  • All up and down movement of the legs and feet must be simultaneous. One foot may be higher than the other, but they shall not alternate in relation to one another. A scissors or breaststroke kick is not allowed.
  • The touch going into the turn or at the finish must be made with both hands simultaneously at, above, or below the surface of the water.
  • An underwater recovery is not allowed.
Relays
  • Ensure that a relay swimmer does not leave the starting platform before the preceding swimmer has touched the end of the pool.


REMEMBER, THE SWIMMER ALWAYS GETS THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT