Race Details: 3 Ways to Improve your Start

At the end of your season, all the training is in the bag, and you are shaved, tapered, and ready to race. Perfecting your race details, such as starts, turns, and breakouts, will give you the best shot at making finals, finishing first, or hitting a qualifying time. Indeed, how races go mostly depends on the work you have put in, your mental focus, and sheer ability to swim fast that day. Let’s discuss how to improve your race details so you can reach your goal. Today, it’s all about starts.

1. At meets, limit your starts. Part of having good starts at meets is knowing when to not over-do it. Many swimmers get to big meets and rehearse several starts in each warm up, tiring out their legs and ruining their taper at the last minute. Earlier in the season, practice your starts with regularity to get consistent with your technique. When you reach the meet, practice one or two on the first day to get a good feel, and then limit yourself to 1 per session (by the third or fourth session of a meet when you have completed several dives in races already, you may not need to practice it again). The need to do a start in competition warm up can be reflexive—a simple habit or nervous tendency. If you rehearse starts early and often in the season, you will have the confidence to limit yourself later and save your legs.

2. Harness your flexibility. To generate power in a start, you need to be propulsive from your end range of motion—in no time at all you must ricochet from a bent position to full extension into the water. This motion must be fluid and efficient, so your flexibility is crucial. Especially at meets, take time to stretch out your hamstrings, quadriceps, lats (latissimus dorsi, the broad muscle on your back posterior to the arm), hip flexors, and calf muscles. Supplement this with foam rolling to loosen up particularly stiff areas. These are low-intensity movements that will help you execute the dive on race day.

3. React and Go. By the time you reach the meet, your technique for starts is set. Good starts have little to do with finesse and perfection, so do not bog yourself down in the technical minutiae. The best starts get you from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time. This requires a strong pull on the blocks to swing yourself forward, an aggressive push from your legs, and a lock-tight streamline to enter the water cleanly. You do not need to think at all when you are on the blocks for a race—just react quickly and be aggressive with your dive. The more you practice this in workouts, the more automatic your dives will become in competition.
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Nick FolkerNick Folker is the Co-Founder and Director of Elite Performance at BridgeAthletic. Nick’s roster of athletes includes 35 Olympians winning 22 Olympic Medals, 7 team NCAA Championships and over 170 individual and relay NCAA championships.   Megan Fischer-Colbrie works as the Sports Science Editor at BridgeAthletic.  Megan was a four-year varsity swimmer at Stanford, where she recently graduated with a degree in Human Biology.

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Scott H.
7 years ago

I find dead lifts to be a very good exercise for practicing my start. I also would like to practice my starts before the meet, but my practice pools don’t have the latest block technology, or sometimes any blocks at all. I try to build up enough leg strength so that a few starts don’t ruin my taper.

8 years ago

Do many top swimmers practice starts in a diving foam pit? I struggle with getting a start that covers enough distance. My masters coaches are helping me some, so I don’t seem to slide in right in front of blocks, but I can’t help but wonder if I should be going to a dryland pit.

Reply to  FlawLESS
8 years ago

Flawless, What matters most is body position upon entry – something a ball pit would not do a good job simulating or helping to troubleshoot. IMO, good starts are directly related to strength of core and practicing diving through the hole in perfect streamline.


Reply to  FlawLESS
8 years ago

One good thing to do to train starts is to put buoy(even a kid one) to cover the minimun distance you have to cover at start.If you hit the buoy, you know your start is not good enough.

Kirk Nelson
8 years ago

“1. At meets, limit your starts.”

Good advice and I would add “don’t decide it’s finally time to work on relay exchanges two days before your taper meet.” That will fatigue your legs for sure.