FINA Rule Changes, Including Loosened Lochte Rule, Take Effect Today

FINA’s batch of 2017-2018 rule changes officially take effect today, including a softened version of the unpopular ‘Lochte Rule’ in IM events.

The Lochte Rule – so named after world champ Ryan Lochte – classified underwater kicking on one’s back as backstroke, meaning swimmers could not do it in the freestyle portions of IM races, which require exactly 1/4th of the race to be swum in each stroke. The rule had been in place since late 2015, and was the reason for a high-profile disqualification to NCAA champion Ella Eastin at U.S. World Champs Trials this past summer.

The rule had been forcefully applied to the extent that swimmers pushing off of a flip turn on their back, as Eastin did at U.S. Trials, were disqualified. But FINA voted over the summer to relax that policy so that swimmers merely need to be on their stomach before executing any stroke or kick to stay legal.

Here’s the full wording from the FINA rulebook:

SW 9.2 In Freestyle the swimmer must be on the breast except when executing a turn. The
swimmer must return to the breast before any kick or stroke.

That and the rest of FINA’s summer rule changes go into effect today, September 21, and the NCAA will adopt all FINA rules as well. Here’s a quick refresher on the other rules changes our own Braden Keith reported on back in July:


  • Update on the number of required timekeepers;
  • Redefinition of the Inspector of Turns’ role;
  • Removed redundant wording regarding underwater kicking in butterfly.  Underwater kicking is permitted provided that the body position is toward the breast.*
  • In medley swimming, on the freestyle section, the “swimmer must be on the breast except when executing a turn. The swimmer must return to the breast before any kick or stroke”. Moreover, each of the strokes must cover one quarter of the distance;
  • Timing to 1/1000 of a second is no longer a possibility;
  • World Records can only be established in water with less that 3gr/litre of salt.

*We’ve received clarification of this rule from USA Swimming. FINA considers backstroke to be swimming on the back up to, but not including, tilted to the side 90 degrees. That means that being on one’s front or tilted to the side up to and including 90 degrees is considered “towards the breast.” So in butterfly events, swimmers can be on their side up to 90 degrees for underwater kicking and remain legal, but any rotation past 90 degrees and towards the back is illegal.


  • World Records are only accepted if recorded by automatic officiating equipment;
  • Introduction of Mixed Team events in Diving and Mixed Duets in Synchronised Swimming;
  • Revision of the required elements in synchronised swimming routines;
  • Update on the World Record application form.

You can read the full swimming rulebook here.

All FINA rules are here.

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6 years ago

Eastin did 2 underwater dolphins on her back, so she still would be DQ’d today.

6 years ago

Does this rule apply only to IM or Medley Relay races or does it also outlaw kicking on your back off a turn in a purely freestyle race?

Reply to  Stoyle
6 years ago

The rule only applies to the Freestyle leg performed during the Individual Medley or Medley Relay. This rule does not impact purely freestyle races.

6 years ago

For breast and fly the rule is “It is not permitted to roll onto the back at any time, except at the turn after
the touch of the wall where it is permissible to turn in any manner as long as the body is on the
breast when leaving the wall.”

What does this mean? The way it is worded, it sounds like your chest has to be completely parallel to the bottom when you leave the wall. Almost all breaststrokes and flyers are at some kind of angle when their feet leave the wall, mostly around 45 degrees give or take right after leaving the wall, and then rolling towards parallel shortly after.

If I remember… Read more »

Reply to  xenon
6 years ago

never mind, the article updated. However, the rule book still says “on the breast when leaving the wall”

Mr G
Reply to  xenon
6 years ago

Chill: “on the breast” is universally judged as (known to mean) “not past 90 degrees towards the back”.

Andrei Vorontsov
6 years ago

Let’s make it clear. The 1st ever swimmers who performed underwater kick on the back during competitive freestyle events was not Lochte, but Australian female swimmer Alicia Coutts. She did that technical element in a few occasions during Mare Nostrum circuit in 2011.
I was there at that time and my friend Greg Salter turned my attention to Alicia underwater kick execution.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Andrei Vorontsov
6 years ago

When did Natalie Coughlin start the practice? I believe considerably before 2011.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
6 years ago

Or maybe she kicked on her side only. Anyone else more knowledgeable about this point? TY

6 years ago

Seems a lot of top IMers start kicking while still on their side. This would DQ them, no?

Reply to  M L
6 years ago

During the freestyle leg of the Individual Medley or Medley Relay, the swimmer may leave the wall in a position toward the back provided they are toward the breast prior to executing a stroke or kick. Being in a position toward the back means up to but not including 90 degrees from the horizontal position. So they may be on the side and they may kick on their sides provided the swimmers is at (90 degrees) or past vertical toward the breast.

Again – this only applies to freestyle performed during the IM or Medley Relay.

Reply to  JayT
6 years ago

Well explained!

Reply to  JayT
6 years ago

Based on a re-look at the YouTube video (not the best resolution) it would appear to me that Eastin’s DQ at Nationals would stand even with this loosening. Looks to me like there is at least one butterfly kick while fully on the back and perhaps another before turning 90 degrees horizontal. Even with the clarification and loosening it’s ridiculous.

Reply to  Barbotus
6 years ago

Yes Ella Eastin would still have been DQed under the revised rule. She clearly was kicking while at or past vertical towards the back after leaving the wall. I think the revision overall makes sense and is easy to judge as an official. In this case I think FINA made an appropriate change while keeping their intention of not allowing any swimming on the back during freestyle in IM. Adding a discernible action like a kick to define a point of legality that can be easily observed relative to body position when off the wall makes sense. We now have a rule that can be judged.

Reply to  JayT
6 years ago

So how does FINA define dolphin kicking on or towards the breast? Is dolphin kicking towards the breast underwater actually “butterfly”? If so, then is any dolphin kicking during freestyle, towards the back, breast, on the side, or otherwise, not the extension of either backstroke or butterfly and therefore in violation of the same 1/4 of a stroke per event rule? What if somebody did a breaststroke pullout during a 200 IM but then came up swimming freestyle? Have they swum more then 1/4 of the race breaststroke?

Reply to  Michael
6 years ago

USA Swimming provides FINA rules interpretations for what constitutes swimming one of the first three strokes during an IM freestyle leg where there is not specificity in the rule itself. Backstroke has been defined further with the recent rule that being on the back and now being on the back and kicking (any kicking not just a butterfly kick) constitutes a repeat of the backstroke. For the other two strokes these are the interpretations: Butterfly: the swimmer must also perform a two arm simultaneous over the water stroke to constitute swimming the butterfly.
A Butterfly kick without the arm stroke is not considered performing the butterfly stroke. Breaststroke: Performing a breast stroke arm pull/arm recovery AND a breastrone kick… Read more »

6 years ago

They still got it wrong.

tea rex
6 years ago

FINA’s ongoing quest to make the rules as clear as mud continues…

6 years ago

This rule makes no sense whatsoever-_- Very stupid.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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