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Swimming is one of the oldest and most popular sports in the world. Since ancient times, human beings have ventured into the water out of necessity.

Over time, the practice has become a form of entertainment as well as competition. It’s no wonder that several professional tournaments are held, such as the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

In this complete and up-to-date guide, therefore, you’ll learn a little more about the origins, disciplines and rules of swimming.

Check it out 👇

History of swimming

The history of swimming goes back to ancient times, with evidence of aquatic practices in civilisations such as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

For both the Egyptians and the Greeks, swimming was an activity that combined leisure and more practical purposes, including military training. In Greece, swimming was even part of the ancient Olympic Games.

During Ancient Rome, the Romans continued to value swimming, establishing public swimming pools known as “Roman pools”.

These spaces not only provided entertainment, but were also places for physical exercise and socialising.

However, during the Middle Ages in Europe, the practice declined considerably due to cultural and religious changes.



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It was only in modern times that the sport re-emerged as a popular activity. Interest grew again during the Renaissance and Victorian era in Europe. By the 19th century, it had become an essential part of the physical education curriculum in some Western societies.

Competitive swimming began to develop more formally in the 19th century, with the establishment of rules and fundamentals.

In 1844, two schools in London held the first documented competition in history. From that point on, the popularity of professional swimming grew even more, leading to the sport’s inclusion in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens.

Today, many athletes take up swimming as a profession. Competitions are held in every country in the world, both nationally and globally.

How do swimming races work?

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How do swimming races work?

Swimming is an aquatic sport that involves propelling the body through the water, usually using the upper and lower limbs.

Competitive disciplines include different styles of swimming, such as crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, as well as relay. The main objective of the races is to complete the distance as quickly as possible.

Swimming disciplines

Swimming events are divided into seven categories: freestyle, butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, medley, relay and open water.

In freestyle competitions, athletes use the crawl style to complete the course, as it is the fastest swimming technique.

There are also races using breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. These are slower swims, but require a lot of technique and concentration.

In medley races, athletes use the four swimming techniques to complete the race: crawl, breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke.

Relays are team events. They involve teams of four, meaning that each athlete swims a specific section of the race. They can be freestyle or a mixture of breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke.

Finally, there are also open water swimming events, such as the aquatic marathon. Competitions are held outside the pool, i.e. in seas, rivers or lagoons.

Swimming disciplines – Freestyle

  • 50 metre freestyle
  • 100 metre freestyle
  • 200 metre freestyle
  • 400 metre freestyle
  • 800 metre freestyle
  • 1,500 metres freestyle

Swimming disciplines – Breaststroke

  • 100 metres breaststroke
  • 200 metre breaststroke

Swimming disciplines – Backstroke

  • 100 metres backstroke
  • 200 metres backstroke

Swimming disciplines – Butterfly

  • 100 metres butterfly
  • 200 metres butterfly

Swimming disciplines – Medley

  • 200 metre medley
  • 400 metre medley

Swimming disciplines – Relay

  • 4×100 metre freestyle relay
  • 4×200 metre freestyle relay
  • 4×100 metre medley relay

Swimming disciplines – Open water

  • Water marathon

Types of stroke in swimming events

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Types of stroke in swimming events
  • Crawl
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • Backstroke

What is the crawl?

In the crawl, swimmers alternate arm movements, keeping one arm in the water while the other is out.

The elbows are slightly bent and the legs perform an alternating kick, similar to scissors. Breathing occurs by turning the head to the side during the stroke to inhale and to the opposite side to exhale.

What is breaststroke?

In breaststroke, the arms move simultaneously forwards and sideways in a circular motion, ending with the hands together before starting the next stroke.

The legs perform a duck kick, moving the feet outwards and inwards. Finally, breathing usually takes place during the forward movement of the arms.

What is butterfly swimming?

The butterfly involves a wave-like movement of the arms, where both move forwards simultaneously.

The legs also contribute with an undulating kick. Turns and arrivals should be done while the swimmer is on their stomach.

What is backstroke?

In backstroke, swimmers start in the water on their backs and perform alternating arm movements.

The legs perform a kick similar to the crawl, and turns and arrivals are made while the swimmer is on their back.

Swimming rules

As well as performing each type of stroke correctly, there are some common rules for all swimming events.

Athletes may not, for example, invade another participant’s lane or start the race before the start buzzer.

In addition, competitors may only remain submerged for the first 15 metres of the race at the start. This technique is important to provide momentum after the jump, but should not exceed the stipulated limit.

Olympic swimming pool size

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Olympic swimming pool size

Olympic swimming pools have standardised dimensions according to the regulations of the International Swimming Federation (FINA). The standard size is 50 metres long by 25 metres wide.

Swimming equipment

  • Swimming cap: Protects hair from chlorine and reduces drag in the water, improving hydrodynamics;
  • Goggles: Provide eye protection against chlorine and allow clear vision underwater, improving efficiency on the course;
  • Swimsuit: Designed to minimise drag and improve aerodynamics, modern swimsuits are often technologically engineered.

That’s it! Now you know all about swimming. Are you ready to follow professional competitions? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to visit us every day, eh? We’re always publishing new articles 👊



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