Swimming Breaststroke Rules

Breaststroke Swimming Rules

There are four main competition strokes that are utilized in USA swimming competitions: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. Of the four, breaststroke is the most popular recreational stroke, as well as one of the most difficult competition strokes. Due to its unique kick and difficult timing of the stroke, it is often a stroke that most competitive swimmers struggle with and are most often disqualified for using while swimming. Below are the official breaststroke rules to help you improve your breaststroke and avoid getting disqualified.

Breaststroke Rules

The official rules for breaststroke competitions have four main components:

  • Start
  • Stroke
  • Kick
  • Turns and Finishes


As with freestyle and butterfly, breaststroke races begin on the starting block. According to USA Swimming rules, the front start is typically used. The front start includes the swimmer standing on the block with one foot in front of the other in a wide stance, with the majority of the weight being placed on the front (traditionally the dominant) foot. The starter will signal that the swimmer may take the starting position by saying, “Take your mark.” Following this, the swimmer will bend down and grab the front of the block with both hands.

If the swimmer does not assume the proper position at this point, the starter may release all the swimmers by asking them to stand. The starter will then give the starting signal, after which the swimmer will jump into the water. Any start that occurs prior to the starting signal is considered a false start and will result in disqualification. A swimmer won’t be disqualified if a starter releases the swimmers prior to the start or if the race is allowed to proceed as normal. 


Following the start is the pullout. A breaststroke pullout occurs after the start and after each turn. The swimmer pushes off the wall in streamline position with hands above the head resting over each other and biceps pressed to ears with legs pressed together. They are allowed one butterfly kick before transitioning into the breaststroke kick. After the start and turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs. The head has to break the surface of the water before the hands turn inward, which would be at the widest part of the second stroke. The pullout should not last for more than 15 meters (16.4 yards). The swimmer must have broken the surface by this time.


Following the pullout, the swimmer must complete one arm stroke and then one leg stroke. The arm movement must be performed simultaneously. The arm movement includes the arms starting in streamline position. From there, pull the arms and hands around and downwards. Tuck the elbows in and push them forward back into a streamlined position. The hands are pushed forward over the water from the breast either on, over, or under the water. The elbows must remain underwater, except during the final stroke before the turn, during the turn, and for the final stroke of the race. Following the turn and pullout, the hands must be brought back to the breast. The arm motion should never go past the hipline. During the cycle, the swimmer’s head should partially break the surface of the water.


Following the pullout, all kicks must be simultaneous, without alternating movement. The feet have to be turned outward during the propulsive part of the kick. The kick used in breaststroke races is the frog kick. During this kick, the heels are pulled inwards with the feet turned outwards. The heels will then drive backwards in a circular whip-like motion which will help propel the swimmer forward. The more force used to push the legs back into streamline position determines how much power and forward movement the swimmer will get from the kick. Scissors, butterflies, or any other alternating movements are not allowed. The feet may not break the surface unless a downward butterfly kick follows.

Turns and Finishes

For both the turn and finish, the hands must touch the wall simultaneously. This can happen above, below, or at the water level. In the last stroke before the turn and finish, an arm stroke without a succeeding kick may be performed. The head may be underwater after the last arm pull, provided it breaks the surface of the water during the last complete or incomplete stroke cycle before the touch.

Breaststroke Rules Summary

  • To perform the breaststroke, the head must emerge from the water and the hands must make an outward stroke from the chest all the way back to the legs, followed by a kick.
  • Except for during turns, the swimmer must stay on their breast, not their back.
  • All arm movements and kicks must be simultaneous and not alternating.
  • The hands cannot be brought back past the hip line, except for the first stroke after the start or a turn.
  • Elbows must be kept under the water, and hands must be brought back to starting position on or under the water’s surface.
  • At the start and after turns, a single butterfly kick is allowed.
  • Feet must be turned outward during the propulsive motion of the kick.
  • The feet cannot break the surface of the water unless followed by a downward butterfly kick (the only time this kick is allowed).
  • The touch made at the end of the race and at each turn must be made with both hands apart and at the same time. They may touch anywhere above or below the water.
  • The head is allowed to be submerged after the last arm pull before the touch, as long as it breaks the surface during the last complete or incomplete breaststroke cycle.