With some swimming strokes you start in the water, and others on the blocks. Achieving a fast start is essential in any swimming style, it allows you to get ahead of the competition at an early stage giving you that extra breathing room whilst improving your time.
In this post we are going to look at the block start, the most common and the most talked about. The blocks themselves can come in a variety of styles depending on the pool you are at. They can be low or high as well as having an angled fin at the back to enhance your start. Learning about how different styles of starting blocks affect you in different ways can be key to improving your times.
There are four major areas in a swimming start from the blocks, these areas all have a impact on your performance and times!
This is the first step to getting a better start. The block phase is from the moment the starting sound is heard to the time your feet leave the block. Positioning on the block is key in allowing you to propel yourself into the water at the instant the starter's pistol is heard. All swimmers approach the blocks and set up in multiple ways, it can be a trial and error process of finding out which one works best for you.
The most common stance is the 'track racing start' which involves one foot behind the other with the leading foot's toes just over the edge of the block. With this stance you need to ensure your weight is distributed evenly to allow a stable start, you don't want to lose balance and fall off the blocks before the race has started! Reaction time is a huge part of the block phase but needlessly jumping in the water isn't going to improve your times, you need to combine reaction time with body momentum to achieve an optimal start.
The flight phase is the time you are in the air before your hands enter the water, lots of swimming styles use different amounts of time in the air and some try to cut out air time all-together. Choosing a style that suits you is key to improving your times off the blocks. No technique is considered correct due to different techniques having certain drawbacks and bonuses such as loss of speed when underwater because of a deeper dive or more resistance when entering the water due to the angle of the body.
The entry phase is from the moment your hands touch the water, until your feet are fully submerged. Ensuring your entry phase is optimized can provide high levels of momentum to be carried from the blocks to the water, but if you enter the water at the wrong angle you'll be doing some serious harm to your times. Hitting the water is always going to slow you down a bit, but keeping your body flowing through the entry point that your hands created allows you to not break the water twice, resulting in a smoother transition from air to water.
This phase is quite interesting due to the amount of time people have spent investigating how to enhance swimmers' momentum before breaking the water's surface. It's a massive topic to 'dive' into, but to keep it simple, when you're under the water keep kicking and propelling yourself forward and make sure your head breaks the water's surface before the 15 meter mark else your swim will be over due to disqualification under FINA's competition rules!
The four main phases combined together leave room for a variety of different starting styles, as your skill level progresses you will most likely find yourself adopting one of the following three styles depending on what feels most comfortable:
Involves a long flight time and then having the body slice through the water due to the angle and momentum being carried forward. Decreases splash and resistance on entry but does involved a slower block phase and longer underwater phase.
Fast block phase with yourself almost skimming across the waters surface before breaking it but it does involve you having more water resistance on entry and a shorter water phase.
A popular style, the flight start incorporates a fast block phase followed by a longer flight phase. It suits swimmers with high, explosive power in the legs and a combination of arm propulsion off the blocks. Hard to master but great potential.
All of the styles have positives and negatives but it is up to you to see which fits you the best! And the way to do this? Simple, time yourself or have a friend help. We currently have some great stopwatches on offer that will allow you to track each swim and see how you're improving over time, so you will be as fast you can possibly be!
The swimming brand "Mad Wave" recently uploaded a useful video about swimming starts. Watch it here: