This is second part of a series devoted to common technique problems swimmers face in the start, and what to do about them. For the first part of the series, addressing posture, click here.
One of the hardest skills to learning in the swimming start is the art of propelling yourself straight forward. The block in swimming doesn’t naturally lend itself to this motion. The vast majority of the available surface area on any given starting block (even a newer track block) is angled upwards. On most starting blocks, there is maybe a couple of inches or so of available real estate to push against to jump forward. Pushing right off at tiny area is one of the keys to making a great start.
Going straight off the blocks involves precise timing. If this timing is off, there can be two possible results. The first is that the swimmer jumps up instead of out. This is caused by the swimmer driving off of the blocks too early, and can both limit the distance achieved by their start and give them a very deep point of entry. The deep entry can be minimized by good underwater work but can really hurt a swimmer who is not fast in that phase. Here is an example of a swimmer who leaves the blocks too early and sets up a deep entry:
The key area to watch to see if a swimmer is driving off the block correctly is the front shin. When the swimmer begins to push from the block, the shin should be on a parallel line with the water. Look at where this swimmer decided to start pushing:
Another symptom of leaving too early is evident in this picture. Because the swimmer left too early, he couldn’t get the right starting position with his upper body, which should also be parallel with the water. As a result, he gets a short jump, and his entry comes at the following angle:
What to do:
For many swimmers, leaving too early is instinctual. What I mean by that is that it is not natural to fall into the correct position, your body will tell you to release from the blocks too early in many cases. Again, video review with focus on the position of their shin when leaving the block will go a long way. Another training tool I have used to correct this is a waist belt elastic, fastened safely to something directly behind them. This allows a swimmer to lean forward without leaving the blocks and feel where the position that will lead to them jumping out is.
Finally, an easy and simple drill can eliminate some other factors and allow the swimmer to focus on what their legs are doing. Have the swimmer make a streamline and extend that streamline forward until their entire upper body and arms are parallel with the water. Then have them simply roll forward into a start. The drill will look something like this:
The drill has a lot more applications than this one problem, as it teaches the fundamentals of posture, entry and balance as well. In the next installment, I’ll discuss what to do when a swimmer has the opposite problem- falling into the water without jumping out or up at all.
Chris DeSantis is currently working as a swimming consultant focused on technical skills and individualized mental training. For more information visit the Chris DeSantis Coaching page on Facebook.