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Mental Physical Technical Swimming

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: Front Start Technique

Front Start Technique

30 Oct

In a holistic approach, starts are defined as what takes place on the block, off the block, underwater, and during the breakout phase. Starts make up approximately twenty-five percent of total time in all twenty-five-yard/meter races, approximately ten percent of total time in all fifty-yard/meter races; and approximately five percent of total time in 100-yard/meter races. With the exception of breaststroke, the head must break the surface by the fifteen-meter mark. In general the teaching of starts is severely overlooked and a good start is more the exception than the rule. In a holistic approach, race-quality starts are performed frequently throughout the week.

This section features four forms of front starts. The front starts are the weight-forward track start, the slingshot start, the grab start, and the relay start. Each start consists of four phases, including:

  1. launch pad
  2. blast off
  3. splash down
  4. underwater travel/breakout

In both the weight-forward track start and the slingshot start, the feet split, with one foot placed at the front of the block and the other foot placed at or near the rear of the block. In the grab start, both feet are placed at the front of the block. The track start is the most popular start in the United States. At the 2004 US Olympic trials, 99.8 percent of all swimmers used some version of the track start. On the contrary many international superstars prefer or have reverted back to the grab start. As one can see, one start does not fit all, nor should it.

The weight-forward track start and the slingshot start are considered more stable due to the placement of the feet, thus reducing the risk of a false start. When perfected, the weight-forward track start can result in a faster reaction time off the block with less time spent in the air. The slingshot start, when perfected, can result in increased power production off the block, greater time spent in the air (as compared to the weight-forward track start), and greater entry speed.

The grab start provides a stronger leg drive off the block, as both legs are used at once. It is not uncommon for elite-level swimmers to depart the block at speeds in excess of fifteen miles per hour. When perfected the grab start encourages a higher arch of travel over the water, increasing the amount of time spent in the air. In light of the fact that water is approximately 800 times denser than air, a higher arch may be desirable. A higher arch of travel also increases entry velocity and entry depth, thus improving the speed and distance traveled underwater. Contrary to popular belief, a fast departure off the block is not the single most important factor in determining the best start but rather which start places swimmers in the lead at the breakout point. In a holistic approach, swimmers are given the opportunity to experience all three forms of starts to determine the best fit.

Relay starts are performed in either a conventional manner or a step up fashion where swimmers step forward into the start from the rear of the block. In either case a well-timed relay start can provide a half-second to a full-second advantage over a signaled start.

Warning: All starts must be practiced in deep water only. USA Swimming rules state: “minimum water depth for teaching racing starts in any setting from any height starting block or deck shall be 5 feet or 1.53 meters for a distance of 16 feet 5 inches or 5 meters from the starting wall.” In addition starts should be practiced only under a coach’s supervision in a lane free of other swimmers.


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