Lately I’ve been observing more and more starts, and have noticed that how you address the block ‘ how you position your feet ‘ is critical to getting maximum power on the takeoff. In golf, how you address the ball determines what direction it will take once you whack it. If your feet aren’t aligned correctly, your ball may end up in the rough. It’s the same in swimming. How you set yourself up on the blocks is, in a way, your foundation for a great start.
Although there are a couple standard types of starts, we’ll focus on the track start, which overwhelmingly is the most popular start these days. Personally, I think all swimmers, especially young ones, should learn both the standard AND the track start… but that’s a topic for another discussion.
Many of the swimmers I’ve been watching like to turn their back foot out to the side ‘ presumably for traction ‘ and place it way back on the starting block. At the same time, they don’t quite get the toes of their front foot over the edge of the block. Twisting the back foot for traction may feel like the most powerful position, but it does throw off your alignment, and it’s not the most effective way to grip.
This week’s drill will help you focus on grip and alignment. Although the video clip is short, pay particular attention to how much fine-tuning Dave does with his front foot to make sure he’s HOLDING ON to the block with his toes. And remember, he’s been doing this for quite a while.
Why Do It:
Setting up a solid foundation for your start is just plain SMART. Your toes may be short and small, but they are mighty when you wrap them over the edge of the block. Use your toes to help you PUSH from the blocks. If your front toes are locked over the edge of the block, then your back foot can ONLY drive you forward.
How To Do It:
1. As you climb up on the blocks, get yourself into a comfortable stance, and take a little time to sneak your toes right up over the edge.
2. GRAB the edge of the block with your toes. Wrap them right over the edge and feel how they take hold. This little extra focus will give you the best possible push from the block, and will reduce your chance of slipping as you drive off the block.
3. When it’s time to "take your mark,’ position your feet comfortably apart. Shoulder width should be as far as you’d put them, and you can see that Dave’s feet end up just a bit inside of his shoulders.
4. Make sure your feet are pointing in the direction you want to go in. If you twist your back foot, there is a possibility that when you explode off the block, you will push yourself just a bit off to the side. If you hit the water at ANY angle other than PERFECT and straight ahead, you will slow you down much more than you realize.
5. Place your back foot within a reasonable distance behind you. In this picture you’ll see that the block is short and that Dave has no choice but to keep his feet fairly close together. It’s actually good to learn on short blocks because if you practice on longer blocks, and show up at a meet with "short" blocks, you’ll be a bit confused, and feel awkward. It’s better to practice with a slightly shortened stance. You can always move the foot back just a bit, but it’s tough to shorten it if you’re not used to it.
Sorry for the quality of some of these pics; I’ve had to really zoom in to show the feet.
6. Make sure you’re relaxed in the starting position. I’ve been watching people lean back WAY too far, or be teeter-tottering on the balls of their feet… HOPING the gun would go off just prior to them falling over. Get comfortable, in a position that has a bit of tension, but that will allow you to remain steady and stable for a long period of time without falling over.
How To Do It Really Well (The Fine Points):
This is really about common sense, or about understanding. Make sure that you’re set to send yourself ONLY forward, and with great power. Although these points seem really small, again, it’s the foundation of your start. Get yourself stable, with front foot hooked into the blocks, and back foot ready to drive you ONLY forward. It’s best to practice a couple starts EVERY DAY. This is a HUGELY overlooked skill ‘ a make-or-break aspect of so many races — and I am amazed when I hear coaches throwing in a few starts a couple days prior to a meet.
Have fun and Go Dive (swim really).