Forward Flat Start (free, fly, breast – individual event swims)
Two basic styles: both feet forward or ‘track’ start
Both feet forward start:
- feet about shoulder width apart
- slight bend of the knees
- fingers rest on the edge of the block
- do not grab the block; rest fingers on the edge and use them to give you a push forward at the starting signal
- body in neutral balance position
- do not hold on to the edge of the block and rock back, thinking your body is like a spring and you will ‘unleash’ forward at the starting signal. When you rock back you are moving your center of mass backwards. Now at the starting signal you are starting further back than someone in a neutral position. The time it takes to make up that extra distance is greater than anything gained from the ‘spring’ affect.
- When you take the starting position, the top of your head should be down and you should be looking backward through your legs.
- At starting signal, make your strongest leap forward. Head comes up in mid air and ducks back between your hands at the entry to the water.
- Do not throw your hands backward, or swing them around, at the starting signal.
- ‘Hole in the Ice’ dive: when you enter the water you want your body to go through the smallest hole possible. One way to do this is to imagine the pool is a sheet of ice, with a fishing hole that you are going to dive through. The flatter the dive the more water you displace = slower. Of course we must always be highly aware of the pool depth. If this dive is new to you, only practice in very deep water. USA Swimming recommends a pool depth of at least 9 feet for novices learning diving.
- one foot forward, toes wrapped around the edge of the block. The other foot is back. The widthwise distance between the feet is narrower than the ‘both feet forward’ start.
- Your forward foot should be the one you would leap from if you were trying to jump high.
- For fastest start almost all your weight should be on your forward foot. The rear foot has only light pressure, and is for stability - Editor’s note: some people might be willing to accept more weight on the rear foot as a more stable position, even if its slower – I’ll include myself in this group. - Other details are the same as the ‘both feet forward’ start
- The rule for a relay start is ‘fingernail to toenail’ – that is that the fingernail of the finishing swimmers must be on the wall while the toe of the starting swimmer is still on the blocks. Generally in our masters swim meets we want to play it a lot safer than that. Swimmers on college teams might practice relay starts off the same incoming swimmer all season – they can be aggressive about the timing. In masters swimming we will likely have little experience with our relay mates, and should be fairly conservative.
- How do you time your reverse arm-swing on a relay start to the incoming swimmer? This depends on the speed of the incoming swimmer. In general it would be safe to start your reverse arm swing when the swimmer is 3 feet away from that wall. If you have a coach to watch you, and can do this in practice, then have your coach watch your relay start and tell you whether you were slow (too long between swimmer finish and your relay jump), just right (a few tenths of a second overlap), or too close (fingernail to toenail, or even a false start). Its sort of like riding a bike, you need to learn and then have faith in your timing. If your eyes see the hand(s) of the incoming swimmer touch the wall, that is a slow start.
- The one big additional feature of a relay start is that it is an advantage to swing your straight arms in a full reverse circle (i.e. starting with your arms down, they come up by your ears, then down around until they are pointing downward again). Time the arm swing with your leap and the momentum of your swinging arms will give you greater leaping distance for the relay start. The reason we should do this on a relay start, but not on a flat start, is that for a relay start we have the time to anticipate the arrival of the swimmer and can use this time to swing our arms. On a flat start the time it would take to swing the arms is outweighed by the benefit in leaping distance.
- hands on the back start bar on the blocks. Feet may be together (like the ‘feet together flat start) or separated (like the track start).
- When you take the ‘set to start’ position, you should be in a squat position, i.e. hips should be sticking out a bit. Then pull yourself ‘in’ towards that wall, not up in the air, at the ‘set’ command.
- your hips should be back with a slight bend of the knees. Do not crunch up too much.
- Drill: take ‘set’ position then spring back while leaving your arms by your side. Do this a number of times, experimenting with your foot placement, hip position, etc. until you find the most powerful position.
- At the starting signal, throw your head back, arms swing backward, arch your back, and enter the water while trying to make the smallest hole you can in the water.
- when you enter the water on any start, you want your hands and arms in the streamline position. One hand place flat on top of the other, thumb of the top hand wrapped around the side of the hand underneath. Biceps should be clamped on the back side of your head, behind your ears, with elbows completely straight.
- the underwater dolphin kick has been described as the ‘fifth stroke’. Your peak speed in any race is right as you enter the water off the start. Locking into a tight streamline and doing several underwater dolphin kicks (except in breaststroke) is a way to maintain that peak speed longer.
- the faster you can react to the starting signal the better. Keeping a clear mind and concentrating for the starting signal can help. One way a group can practice this is for all the swimmers to stand on deck with eyes closed. The coach can make a sudden loud sound and everyone tries to jump as soon as they can after hearing the sound.
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