A Complete Guide to Swimming


Swimming! Some may describe it as peaceful, languid and a way of being at ease, while for some it may be energetic, fast paced and pulsating! Swimming is one of the most popular sports in the world. Each and every stroke not only exercises the entire body, but also proves to be a great stress buster and therapeutic in nature.


Swimming In A Nutshell

Origins of swimming can be traced back to the stone ages, with several paintings that highlight the sport. Competitive swimming gained popularity at the beginning of the 19th century, and since then has been enjoyed as a sport all around the world. Moreover, it is an integral part of international events such as the Summer Olympics, Asian and Commonwealth Games along with several international championships organized by FINA.

Both men and women can take part in competitive swimming, and there are 4 major strokes that are used namely; butterfly, backstroke, freestyle and breaststroke. Each stroke constitutes as an independent swimming event. Laps for competitive swimming can vary between 50-400 meters. Some of the legends of the sport include Michael Phelp, Bula Choudhury and Virdhawal Vikram Khade.


How Would You Describe Swimming?

what is swimming

Competitive swimming is an individual sport which requires a swimmer to be in prime form in terms of strength, stamina and agility.

There is a category for competitive swimming in the Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games. Besides that there are several international championships organized by FINA and SFI at international as well as domestic levels.

For competitive swimming the basic equipment required is a swimsuit, swimming cap and goggles. At the time of competition it is required that officials such as the referee, starter, the clerk of course, timekeepers, inspectors of turns, judges of stroke and finish judges are present. Their presence is required to judge and manage the game.

There are 4 main strokes that are used in competitive swimming; butterfly, backstroke, freestyle and breaststroke. Each stroke represents an individual category within competitive swimming. There are different lengths for swimming laps ranging between 50 m – 400 m.


Overview and History Of Swimming

swimming history

  • Swimming has its roots in prehistoric times. Historically, it can be traced back to the Stone Age paintings which are roughly 10,000 years old.
  • Even popular literature such as the Iliad, Odyssey, Bible and Koran refer to swimming as a leisurely or competitive activity.
  • The first book written on swimming was by a German professor named Nikolaus Wynmann in 1538. The book was titled ‘The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming’. It was originally written in German and was translated in English at a later stage.
  • In 1830, swimming was officially recorded as a competitive sport in England.
  • In 1828, St George’s Bath was opened for the public in England, and this was the first indoor swimming pool.
  • Within no time it was greatly appreciated by people, and various competitions were held thereafter. Even the National Swimming Society of England at that time started organizing localized competitions, and this helped in fanning the popularity of the sport.
  • By 1880 swimming became a very popular recreational activity as well as a sport. The same year in England, Amateur Swimming Association also came into being. More than 300 clubs were already present before the association was established.
  • In the beginning of the 19th century competitive swimming witnessed a great deal of popularity. The goal of competitive swimming was to set swimming records, and beat competitors. Speed and stamina were the key factors when it came to setting records.
  • Swimming requires a player to be fit in terms of having good stamina and excellent maneuvering skills under water.
  • Today swimming is a popular event in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Summer Olympics and several other world championships around the world.
  • Doctors today advise people to take up swimming for recreational purposes as it has several health benefits; Staying fit being the most important one of them.
  • In India, swimming is governed by the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) and internationally it is conducted by Federation Internationale de Natation which literally translates as International Swimming Federation. It is commonly known as FINA.


Rules Of Swimming

Competitive swimming has four major strokes for players:

different strokes of swimming

  1. Butterfly (known as fly)
  2. Backstroke (known as back)
  3. Breaststroke (known as breast)
  4. Freestyle (known as free)
  • Each stroke represents an individual event in competitive swimming. For each event there are different lengths; 50 meters, 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters.
  • When taking part in a competitive match a swimmer can only use one of these strokes depending on the event. If the competitive event is an individual medley then all four strokes will be used.
  • The medley can be done by one swimmer or by four swimmers as a medley relay. Either which way all strokes have to be used. Irrespective of which category the swimmer competes in, the distance will be equal.

As per the international standards the dimensions of a competitive pool are extremely important. Given below are the key pointers that have to be complied with:

  • Pool must be 160 ft long.
  • The width must be kept at 82 ft with 10 lanes categorized from 0 to 9.
  • Each lane must be 8.2 ft wide along with starting blocks at the start and end of each lane.
  • Official equipment for competitions such as touch pads and sensors must be placed to record time for each relay.
  • The minimum depth of the pool should be kept at 2 meters.

In a competitive swimming event following officials are required to present:

Referee: The referee has complete authority in the match and is a watchdog for the other officials present at the event. It is important that the referee complies with all the rules set by FINA during the competition. It is largely in the hands of the referee to ensure that the event runs smoothly and he is also supposed to decide the final winner of the competition.

The Referee also has the power to call swimmers using his whistle and arrange them on their respective blocks before the competition commences. Once the whistle is blown, swimmers are allowed to take their positions and after the referee blows another long whistle, the swimmers start swimming.

Starter: The starter’s role is to control the swimmers as per the referee’s instructions. The Starter sends the swimmers to the block and instructs the swimmer when to start. If the swimmer leaves before the instructions are given, the starter has the authority to call it a false start.

Clerk of course: The Clerk of course is also known as the ‘bullpen’. Its primary duty is to assemble swimmers before each event and organize them into heats based on timings of the swimmers. Heats are basically time based categories for swimmers; from slowest to fastest.

Timekeepers: There are more than one time keepers present at an event. The primary duty of the timekeeper is to monitor the time of the swimmers individually i.e., time taken for one lap. The timekeepers are allotted a lane in the pool. In some competitions there are even two timekeepers per lane. For competitions where video facility is available services of a timekeeper may not be required.

Inspector of turns: Only one inspector of turn is assigned to each lane. The role of the inspector is to ensure that the swimmers in the competition comply with the rules of turning (i.e., no cheating) and properly start and finish each lap. If the inspector notices any form of violation regarding the rules, they can report it to the chief inspector of turns who then reports it further to the referee. It can also lead to disqualification of the swimmer, if found guilty.

Judges of stroke: These judges are situated on each side of the pool. Their purpose is to observe the style of swimming for each player, whether the player is adhering to the appropriate stroke for the event or is mixing all kinds of stokes in the competition.

Finish judges: Their primary role is to ensure that the race is being finished as per the rules of the competition. The main focus is to see if the stoke being used is kept uniform throughout the lap.

If any of these officials report any form of cheating to the referee during the competition, the referee can disqualify the swimmer for not obeying rules and regulations of the sport. In extreme cases a lifetime ban can also be imposed.


Specifications Of Swimming

requirements of swimming

Given below are list of items that are essential for competitive swimming:

Swimsuit: The primary usage of a swimsuit is to offer skin protection and maintain modesty in the pool. According to the rules formulated by FINA, suits made with polyurethane are banned. For men suits that go up to the naval or are below the knees are not allowed, whereas for women the suit must not cover their neck and shoulders.

Swim cap: The swim cap is extremely important for both men and women. Hair obstructing a swimmers vision and speed can hamper a swimmer’s overall performance in the competition. A swim cap effectively takes care of covering your hair without it causing any obstruction. Swimming caps made of latex, silicon, spandex or lycra can be used in a competition.

Goggles: The primary purpose of using swimming goggles in the pool is to protect the swimmer’s eyes from chlorine, since prolonged exposure to direct chlorine can cause redness in the eyes. Prescription goggles can also be used for swimmer’s who wear contact lenses.


Governing Bodies Of Swimming

Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA)

Federation Internationale de Natation which literally translates as International Swimming Federation (FINA) is the international governing body for swimming.

FINA is recognized by the International Olympic Committee which empowers it to administer international competition pertaining to Aquatics (includes sports such as swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming).

In 1908, FINA was established in London, UK. Swimming federations from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, German, Sweden and Hungry helped in establishing the body. Member of FINA are categorized according to continents, therefore in total there are 5 continental associations:

  • African Swimming Confederation (CANA)
  • Swimming Union of the Americas (ASUA)
  • Asia Swimming Federation (AASF)
  • European Swimming League (LEN)
  • Oceania Swimming Association (OSA)

All members of FINA meet once in every 4 years. Within the federation there are two main power structures; General and Technical Congress. The highest authority has been given to the General Congress whereas technical matters related to aquatic sports are taken care by the Technical Congress.

In India the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) is the main governing body for swimming. SFI too has a direct affiliation to FINA. SFI was formed by combining National Swimming Association and Indian Swimming Federation under the leadership of the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

SFI has affiliations with various Indian state based swimming federations. Swimmers from all over the country are recruited through local championships, which represent India on global platforms.


Swimming Championships

On An International Level

Olympic Games: Swimming has been a sport in all Summer Olympic Games. However, it was not till 1912 that women were allowed to participate in the sport.

Both male and females compete in 50, 100, 200 and 400 meter races and individual relay. USA has always dominated swimming at the Olympics. Till 2015, it has obtained a total of 520 medals in the sport, followed by Australia with 178 medals.

India has not been able to make a significant mark in Olympic level swimming. Even though swimmers like Virdhawal Vikram Khade qualified to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they did not win any medals.

In Rio 2016, Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Matthew Biondi in men’s category and Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin in women’s category are the top medalists for swimming championship.

Commonwealth Games: Till 2015, India has won a single bronze medal in Swimming. The sport has been a part of the Commonwealth Games since it first started in 1930. Till 2015, Australia has dominated swimming with a total of 660 medals followed by England which has a total of 350 medals.

Asian Games: Swimming has been a part of the games since the first official tournament, which was held in 1951. India has won a total of 9 medals in the sport. Countries such as Japan have dominated the sport with a total of 646 medals followed 352 medals won by China. Swimmers such as Virdhawal Vikram Khade and Rehan Poncha have made India proud at Asian Games on several occasions.

World Aquatics Championships: This championship is held for aquatic sports such as swimming, diving, high diving, open water swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo. This championship is organized by FINA and all the events are held in a long course pool of 50 meters.

On A Domestic Level

At a domestic level the Swimming Federation of India organizes local tournaments such as Junior and Sub Junior National Aquatic Championships, National Men and Women Championships through which swimmers are recruited for international platforms.


Famous Personalities In Swimming

Virdhawal Vikram Khade: He is one of the top swimmers in India. He has taken part in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics competing in the men’s category for 50 m, 100m and 200 m. Though he was not able to qualify for the semifinals during the Olympics, he surely impressed the crowd and judges with his swimming skills.

Virdhawal Khade - The fastest swimming champion of India

Some of his achievements are given below:

  • Bronze medal at the 2010, Asian Games held at Guangzhou.
  • Recommended for the 2010, Arjuna Award in Swimming.
  • Has a record of 22.58 seconds in 50m freestyle swimming at 2009 Asian Games.

Michael Phelps: This American swimmer is one the finest swimmer’s of the 21st century. He holds a record of winning a total 22 medals in three Olympiads. Phelps has an overwhelming collection of 77 medals which he has procured during international competitions. Out of these 77 medals, 61 are Gold medals, 13 Silver medals and 3 Bronze medals.

In 2008, after the Beijing Olympics, Phelps opened Michael Phelps foundation which promotes swimming and healthy lifestyle habits amongst youngsters. Given below are some of his achievements:

  • 8 Gold medals in the 2008, Beijing Olympics
  • Won the FINA Swimmer of the year award in 2012
  • He won the Male Swimmer of the Year award in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012 by the Swimming World Magazine.

Bula Choudhury: This swimmer has made women swimmers proud in India. Being the first woman to cross seven seas, Choudhury has swam the English Channel twice; once in 1989 and the second time in 1999. Given below are some of her achievements:

  • Arjuna Award for swimming in 1990.
  • Her first national competition was at the age of 9, with winning 6 Gold medals in her category.
  • 6 Gold medals at the 1991, South Asia Federation Games.

Do you have a story to share regarding the thrilling sport of swimming, or have questions for our experts? Feel free to get in touch with us at YoGems and we would be more than happy to guide you in this sport.



Shivangi Gupta is a Content Writer Expert at YoGems. With years of experience in writing blogs, articles and guides, she writes about every sport. Also, she is good at sports and expert in shooting and won numerable awards at various events. She started receiving shooting training under her father at the age of 6. To get updated with her posts, stay tuned to the website.