Swimming - How to Play?


Four major styles have been established in competitive swimming. They are −

  • Butterfly
  • Back Stroke
  • Breast Stroke
  • Freestyle


In this style, swimmers dive into the pool stretching their arms and shoulders width apart. They enter the pool either flat or slightly downwards. They rotate their arms in a semi circle to raise the body. The body propels as they push water toward their feet by moving their hands simultaneously. They push water backwards by synchronously moving their feet up and down. They can use dolphin or butterfly kick. This style was originated from the breast stroke and is considered to be the most difficult style.

Butterfly Swimming

FINA, the international swimming regulating body, accepted this stroke and formed a set of rules in 1952.


  • Swimmers should keep their body on the breast at the start of the race and at each turn.

  • They are not allowed to roll onto their back at any point during the race.

  • They should synchronously move their arms.

  • They should move their legs simultaneously, though need not be at the same level, but they are not permitted to move them alternatively.

  • They are not permitted to use breast stroking leg kick.

  • At each turn and when the race finishes, they should touch the board with both their hands and at the same time.

  • They can use one or more leg kicks and one arm pull, but cannot remain in water for more than 15 meters, at the start of the race and at the turns. They should remain on the water surface unless they have to turn again or they are about to finish the race.

Back Stroke

In this style, swimmers swim on their back. They can breathe easily as their head will be above water throughout the stroke. However, swimmers cannot see where they are heading. In swimming pools with artificial lanes, most swimmers know how many strokes they take to reach the end.

Swimmers are allowed to turn their heads to see where they are heading, but it slows them down. This stroke looks like an inverted front crawl. Swimmers move their arms in semi circular motion, one after the other, to push water towards their legs. While they catch water with one arm the other arm recovers.

They kick water with pointed toes and try to reduce drag by keeping their legs as straight as possible. Their semi circular arm movement provides them the required push. The axis is longer and is along the swimmers body from head to toe.

Back Stroke

At the start of the race, swimmers place their legs shoulder width apart, facing the wall and clinging to the start block. They usually bend their knees at right angle and get ready for the race. Once they hear the start signal they push themselves away from the start block with their feet. They swing their hands and dive into the water on their back.


  • At the beginning of the race, swimmers are not allowed to stand in or on the gutter. They also cannot bend their toes over the lip of the gutter.

  • Swimmers can push off at the start of the race and after turning.

  • At turns, swimmers can turn their shoulders over the vertical to the breast. After that they can use a continuous single arm pull or a continuous double arm pull to take a turn. They should get back on their backs after leaving the wall.

  • Swimmers can slightly roll their bodies over their backs but their body should only make an angle less than 90 degrees with the horizontal.

  • Swimmers should take care to swim with some part of their body over water surface throughout the race. However, they can stay completely in water at the turns and at the finish of the race for a distance not more than 15 meters.

  • While turning, swimmers should touch the wall with some part of their body.

Breast Stroke

This style is considered to be the oldest. In this style, swimmers stretch their arms forward and tilt their hands slightly downwards. While pulling their hands towards the waist, they bring their feet closer to the hips and fold their legs and kick water with their feet. This propels their body forward and gives them speed. The leg movement is similar to that of a frog, so it is also known as frog kick or whip kick.

Breast Stroke

In this stroke, the greater angle the swimmers’ body makes with the water surface while trying to push the water backwards, induces drag and slows down the swimmer. Swimmers master this stroke by learning to reduce drag at the start of the race by keeping their body, from head to hips, as straight as possible.

To gain speed while pushing water backwards during a frog kick, swimmers should try to keep their heels immersed in water, but as close to the water surface as possible. They need to learn to manage their breath, by pulling in their stomach and bringing their face above the water surface, while moving their hands towards their hips.

Most long distance swimmers use this stroke. Captain Mathew Webb was the first man to swim across the English channel in 1875. He managed to cover the huge distance using this stroke. The relatively smaller arm stroke puts less pressure on swimmers and makes this stroke ideal for long distance swimming.


  • They should start the race by swimming on their breast.

  • They should separate their hands and take an arm stroke at the start of the race.

  • They should take a leg kick after an arm stroke. An arm stroke and a leg kick together make a stroke cycle.

  • At any point during the race, they cannot turn on their back.

  • They should move their hands simultaneously.

  • They should keep their hands at the same horizontal level.

  • While pushing water from the breast, their hands can stay on, under or over the water surface.

  • Their elbow should always remain in water. However, it can stay above the water surface at the final stroke before a turn, during the turn or at the end of the race.

  • They can bring back their hands on or under the surface of water.

  • They cannot bring back their hands beyond the hip line, except during the first stroke and each turn.

  • They should turn their feet outwards during the propulsive part of the kick.

  • They can break the surface of water with their feet, but they cannot take a downward butterfly kick immediately after that.

  • At each turn and at the completion of the race, swimmers should touch the wall with both their hands simultaneously above or below the water level.

  • They can submerge their head after the last arm pull just before the touch, but they should break the water surface at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.

Free Style

In free style races, very few restrictions are placed on the swimmer. The swimmer can choose to swim in any style. However, front crawl and free style have become synonymous as almost all swimmers across the world use front crawl in free style competitions. In this style, swimmers move their arms alternatively forward, pulling water backwards.

They flutter-kick their feet simultaneously. They move one of their arms in a semi circular motion in vertical plane while they catch water with the other arm and push it backwards. They might also choose to whip kick their feet. This variant is called the Trudgen.

Free Style


  • Front Crawl is the fastest of the four major styles. Since this style is not regulated, various variants of front crawl like Australian crawl, American crawl can be used in races.

  • In free style events swimmers can swim in any style. But, in individual medley and medley relay events, swimmers can swim in any style other than back stroke, breast stroke or butterfly.

  • After swimming through a lane length and at the finish of the race, swimmers should touch the wall with any part of their body.

  • Swimmers should swim with some part of their body above the water surface, throughout the race. They can remain submerged in water while taking a turn and for a distance not more than 15 meters after the start and each turn.