The start is an incredibly unique part of a swimming race. More so than any other athletic movement a swimmer performs, the start is a “dryland” activity. It is an anomaly in that the swimmer must with a wholly different environment (the air) and transition into the water with as much speed as possible.
As is commonly cited, there is no point in a swimming race when you will be moving faster than when you enter from your start. The physics of that are easy enough for almost anyone to understand. What is more curious is how many swimmers work against themselves in really basic ways when executing the start.
The following is the first part of several detailing really common start flaws (with pictures/movies), along with tips on how to fix them. Today’s topic:
The swimmer above has actually been working to improve his posture for months, but still has a ways to go. When I say “posture”, I’m talking about in all phases- the way the swimmer stands on the block, what body position they have taking off, in the air, and upon entry to the water.
First, take a look at the way this swimmer is standing on the blocks. Specifically, the portion of his body from his neck and shoulders to his hips. There should be a straight line, with the body in perfect alignment. In this example, the swimmer has a slightly rounded back, and the neckline sits at an angle to his back.
Standing with good alignment on the blocks does not guarantee good posture later on in the start, but it certainly helps. As the video progresses, you can see the affect this posture will have.
The second postural moment I look at it is on the takeoff, Here the swimmer should have the line they created pointed straight in the direction they want to go (forward!) as they drive off the front foot. In this case, the swimmer does a good job of aligning his back from a rounded position to a straighter line. However, because of his initial posture he is unable to get his line perfectly out and is angled slightly towards the pool in this position.
The final position I look at is the posture as the swimmer aligns themselves to enter the water. In this case, the swimmer ends up rolling his shoulders over a bit, causing his back and shoulders to be out of alignment on contact with the water. He actually is correcting for it as he is entering the water, and the alignment gets better as he goes, ending with a pretty solid entry.
However, because of earlier alignment issues, he does not have his entry point where it could be. Look at where the swimmer’s waist is when his hands enter the water. With a good jump out, the swimmer could have his waist past the black “t” on the bottom of the pool instead of in front of it.
How to fix it:
Many swimmers end up with postural issues because of poor stretching habits and/or stretching technique. In order to stand with proper posture on the blocks, you need to have a good amount of flexibility in your hamstrings and shoulders. However, few swimmers I have observed stretch these areas properly (if at all).
Hamstring stretching should be done with straight back, from hip to the top of your head. Many swimmers will be frustrated by how little flexibility they have in this position, but this is true hamstring flexibility (instead of back flexibility).
Likewise, the true measure of proper range of motion in your shoulders is whether you can make a proper streamline without arching or bending your back. Try sitting against a wall, aligning your hips, shoulders and head against it and moving your hands into a streamline while keeping every part of your hand/arm on the wall as well.
When you get to practicing the start, video analysis is key. The start is very fast (in this case, a little over a second from when the swimmer initiates until the body is totally submerged) and video review will allow you to slow it down and view each phase individually.
Use your favorite video review app (mine is Coach’s Eye). Swimmers should get feedback after every start so that they can see what they actually did. Another option is to set up a DVR and a camera and have it delay 60 seconds so that swimmers can walk back around and watch their start on their own, while performing another start.
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.