For competitive swimmers, performance, speed and technique are super important, but the start deserves just as much attention. An explosive start can mean the difference between a fast performance and exhaustion. The start is critical and has the potential to influence the outcome of every race.
What You Need to Know About Swimming Starts
Swimmers aren’t just waiting on the block to dive in. The start requires skill, technique, reaction time and concentration. Swimmers never throw their body into the water. They can’t afford to. As much as 15 to 25 percent of the athlete’s overall swim time is eaten up by the start.
Swimming starts are not a one-phase jump into the pool. The swim start has 5 phases:
- Block Phase: This is the time right after the signal goes off but before the swimmer’s feet leave the block.
- Flight Phase: This is the phase when the swimmer has jumped off the block but has not yet reached the water.
- Entry Phase: When the hands and feet hit the water.
- Leg Kicking Phase: The underwater phase when the swimmer is below the surface.
- Swimming Phase: This phase begins when the swimmer begins his or her first stroke. It ends when the swimmer’s head hits the 15-meter mark.
Elements of Good Swimming Starts
A good swim start has the potential to affect up to 2 meters of the swim if the swimmer executes the start properly and effectively. To do that, a good start must consist of these features:
- Quick reaction off the block.
- Hips should be high and eyes should be down.
- Legs aren’t too close or too far apart. Weight should be evenly distributed so the legs are comfortable yet steady. The toes must point forward for a straight jump into the water.
- Arms initiate the start, with a strong grip on the edge of the block before the arms are used to launch forward into the pool.
- Momentum in the thrust.
- Streamline body for a clean entry.
- Smallest entry point into the water.
- Well-timed stroke that does not begin too early.
5 Drills for Better Swimming Starts
Hula hoop jumps
Someone holds the hula hoop in the water—about 4 feet from the block—and the swimmer practices jumping through the small ring. The body must not touch the sides of the hoop. This helps swimmers reduce the surface area and improve streamline.
Get into the ready position for a start and grab the starting block. This drill helps swimmers react to the starting sound. When the starting sound alarms, react but only grab the block. Don’t jump in. Do this three or four times; on the fifth start, jump in.
Escape the kickboard
While the swimmer is on the block, a partner stands directly behind with a kickboard. As soon as the start signal sounds, the partner swings the kickboard. The swimmer should be off the board before the kickboard catches how or her legs.
Pulling drills with D-balls
Many coaches use D-balls in a dryland training program to improve a swimmer’s explosion from the starting position. Two balls sit on either side of the swimmer. The swimmer assumes the start position with a hand on each D-ball. When the start sound goes off, the swimmer pushes off the legs and pulls back on the balls.
Jump past a pool noodle
To improve distance, use a pool noodle. Have someone hold a pool noodle across the lane directly in front of the starting block. The swimmer has to jump past the noodle. After each successful pass, the pool noodle is moved farther away from the block.