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Rules Committee Blog

Butterfly Stroke Disqualifications

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"Why was I disqualified in my butterfly event"? Most swimmers agree that butterfly is one of the most difficult strokes to swim, so it is not surprising that we get lots of questions about the rules. Here we break down the rules for the butterfly stroke and some of the common reasons for disqualifications.

Beginning with body position, the rules say that after the start and after each turn, the swimmer's shoulders must be at our past the vertical toward the breast. (In one location, it says that the body must be "on the breast", but this is one of the confusing points in how the rules are worded. We use this language because it matches the FINA wording, but if you look closely "on the breast" in this context means the same thing as "towards the breast".) The swimmer is permitted one or more butterfly kicks underwater (but only one breaststroke kick), but only one arm pull, which must bring the swimmer to the surface. At the start of the first pull, the body must be on the breast.

Does that mean that I can leave the wall on my side or without being perfectly on the breast? Yes, it does. Does that mean I can kick butterfly on my side underwater before I take the first pull? Yes, that is also permissible, as long as the body is on the breast at the first pull.

Can I kick underwater as long as I want? No, because the rules also say that the head must break the surface of the water by the 15-meter mark after the start and after each turn.

The arms must recover over the surface of the water. The glossary defines "arm" as the part of the body from the wrist to the elbow. Therefore, some part of the arm from the wrist to the elbow must clear the water surface during each stroke.

A common infraction is when swimmers are attempting to recover the arms by moving them forward, but the body position is such that the arms dont break the surface the water before beginning the recovery. It is not sufficient for only the hands to break the surface, some part of the arm from the wrist to elbow must break the surface while the arms are moving forward during the recovery phase of the stroke. This does not mean that the entire arm must clear the surface of the water or that there needs to be a space between the bottom of the arm and the water surface. Typically, the officials will see this infraction clearly when standing behind the swimmer, but it can be called from the sides as well.

Another common infraction occurs when swimmers take a partial stroke, then move the arms forward underwater from the breast before finishing the propulsive phase of the stroke. Sometimes this happens prior to a touch at the wall before the turn or finish. It most commonly occurs with incorrect body position or breathing and results from not being able to complete the propulsive part of the stroke without an adjustment.

All movements of the arms must be simultaneous. That means that arms must consistently move together during all phases of the stroke, backward during the propulsive part and forwards during the recovery. Does that mean that they must be perfectly symmetrical? Not necessarily, but if the official observes one arm clearly ahead of or behind the other arm, that may constitute an infraction. A one arm pull, freestyle stroke, or other type of stroke would be a more obvious non-simultaneous arm pull.

Reaching up to adjust the goggles? Also a non-simultaneous action. Stopping in the middle of the pool to catch a breath or wave to a friend? Definitely non-simultaneous movements of the arms.

At the wall, a legal touch may be made at, above, or below the surface of the water, but must be made with two hands simultaneously. A one hand touch is not only a common infraction, but it is also one of the easiest things for an official to spot. The hands must be separated when the touch is made. In other words, the hands cannot be stacked on top of each other.

Once a legal touch is made, the swimmer may turn in any manner desired. Stopping momentarily after the touch to hang on the wall and catch your breath? Thankfully, that is legal! As long as the body is toward the breast when the feet the leave the wall after the turn. However, walking on the bottom of the pool or leaving the pool is not legal in any stroke.

What if I make a legal touch, stand on the bottom of the pool for a moment, and then push off the wall? You might be surprised to learn that this is legal. Although the rules say that it is not legal to stand on the bottom of the pool during the stroke in any stroke other than freestyle, the action described here occurs during the turn, not the stroke. And, the rules say that a swimmer may turn in any manner desired once a legal touch is made. Standing on the bottom before or after the turn is illegal, but during the turn is OK.

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  1. srupe's Avatar
    Can a swimmer take multiple dolphin kicks into the wall?
  2. JPEnge's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by srupe
    Can a swimmer take multiple dolphin kicks into the wall?
    I believe so as long as your arms don't do anything wrong.