YES! You may swim any stroke in a triathlon. People often choose Freestyle, but you don’t have to do Freestyle. We strongly encourage triathletes be proficient at Freestyle and Backstroke at a minimum, both to add variety to their practices and give them the ability to roll onto their back and breath freely should an emergency situation arise. While Breaststroke is much slower than Freestyle or Backstroke, it makes it easy to lift your head to see during the breath. You may also use modified versions of the strokes or even tread water or float (there’s no “official” way to float, so really anything goes). You may also stand on the bottom or hold an inanimate object like a buoy or boat, so long as the object does not help them progress forward.
Many people get routed to our blog wondering if they can swim backstroke during a triathlon. Many others wonder if they can wear hand paddles. The answer to that question is no, as hand paddles create artificial propulsion and fall under the category of “Illegal Equipment” for that reason.
Here is a link to the official USA Triathlon Competitive Rules. They also have a downloadable .pdf file available. Below are the official rules pertaining to the swim leg:
Article IV: Swimming Conduct
4.2 Bottom Contact and Resting. A participant may stand on the bottom or rest by holding an inanimate object such as a buoy, boat, rope or floating object. Excluding the bottom, a participant shall not use any inanimate object to gain forward progress. A violation of this section shall result in a variable time penalty, unless the Head Referee in his/her sole discretion determines that (i) the violation was substantial and resulted in an unfair time advantage, or (ii) the violation constituted endangerment under Section 3.4(1).
4.3 Emergencies. A swimmer experiencing difficulty and in need of assistance shall raise an arm overhead, and pump it up and down, and call or seek assistance. A swimmer, who has received official assistance, whether voluntary or involuntary, must retire and withdraw from the remainder of the race unless such assistance did not aid the swimmer in making forward progress. No swimmer shall return to the race if the official rendering assistance requests that the participant withdraw from the race or receive medical assistance.
4.4 Wet suits. Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wet suit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wet suit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wet suits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The wetsuit policy for elite athletes shall be determined by the USAT Athletes Advisory Council. The AAC has set the wetsuit maximum temperature for elite athletes at 68 degrees for swim distances less than 3000 meters and 71.6 degrees for distances of 3000 meters or greater.
Any swimmer wearing a wetsuit with a thickness measured in any part greater than 5 millimeters shall be disqualified.
4.5 Notice of Wet Suit Policy. The wet suit policy for any particular race shall be included on all race literature that is intended for distribution to potential participants. The wet suit policy shall conform to Section 4.4, unless a change is granted in compliance with Section 1.4. The wet suit policy on such literature shall include the following information, if applicable;
a. Any changes from Section 4.4;
b. Any specific restrictions on equipment;
c. Any disparity between the wet suit policy for age group athletes and the policy for elite athletes.
4.6 Measuring Water Temperature. It is recommended, but not required that the water temperature for a race be finally determined by a measurement made within 2 hours of the race start. A water temperature measurement should also be taken prior to any pre-race meetings in order to forecast to the athletes as early as possible the likely water temperature on race day and the likelihood of whether wet suits will be allowed on race day.
4.7 Official Equipment. If provided by race management, a swimmer shall wear the proper official swim cap corresponding to his wave. The penalty for an infraction of this rule is a variable time penalty. For safety reasons if no official cap is provided, all swimmers should wear their own brightly colored swim cap.
Categories: Triathlon Rules