When it comes to competition, the first 10-15 meters of your swim are almost entirely reliant on your start. A bad start off the block could spell disaster for your entire race, while a well executed start will leave you meters ahead of the competition before you even take your first breath. If you’re looking to improve your start time, even if by a fraction of a second, take a look at our tips for swimming starts below.
Tip #1: Tuck your head
Many inexperienced swimmers have difficulty getting a solid start off the block. The most common cause is head positioning. It’s a natural tendency to want to look out across the pool, at the finish line, or even out into the crowd before a race. But if you’re serious about getting off the block faster than anyone else in your heat, then your head should be tucked up close into your chest with eyes looking down toward the pool bottom. While this might not give you the greatest view of the pool, it will help put your body in the ideal position for a smooth entry. Keeping your ears firmly between your biceps will remind you to maintain this head position.
Tip #2: Lift your hips!
Because swimmers are often so focused on their hands and feet during their swim starts, they often forget about hip position. Even advanced swimmers who have developed a slower start may be the victim of low hips. While on the block, it’s important to lift your hips as high as possible and tilt your “sit bones” to point upward. This will increase power and put you in the perfect starting position. Incidentally, tip #1 – tucking your head – will align your hips properly.
Tip #3: Point your fingertips up and out
Another mistake characteristic of many new swimmers is pointing the fingertips too far down when diving off the blocks. Your fingertips should literally lead the way for your entire body. Instead of aiming them downward – which will only pull you deeper under the surface and give you a minimal glide – point them outward, at about flag level. This will force your body to lengthen and enter the water in a more horizontal position.
Tip #4: Choose your preferred start
There are two basic ways to perform your swimming start. The ‘grab start’ technique requires a swimmer to place both feet at the front of the block and grip it with both hands. The ‘track start’ begins with one foot staggered slightly behind the other and also has the swimmer grab the block with both hands. Consider the advantages of each: A grab start typically gives you more power off the block. In this position, your body mimics a coiled spring and releases with force as you ‘unravel’ out of the starting position. The track start technique gives swimmers the advantage of quick reaction time. So, depending on your needs out of the gate, choose the best starting position for your next race.
Tip # 5: Practice
The last thing you want to happen while on the starting blocks is to be caught off guard. That’s why it’s so important to practice your starts regularly. Make sure that you follow the same routine each and every time. And even practice with a start gun to get used to the cadence and sound of the pistol. This will help build muscle memory, keep you on your toes, and prepare you for the start no matter what happens on race day.