Blast Off the Blocks Like a Rocket (Perfect your Start from the Block)

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Feb 22, 2011

Blast Off the Blocks Like a Rocket (Perfect your Start from the Block)

We have now discussed the basics of diving at the beginning of your swim. So if you are comfortable with sitting dives lesson and then mastered the standing dives exercises or if you are already a competitive swimmer who just wants to improve at the start of your race, you can move on to more advanced tips for your dives.

You have probably heard this a few times already, but the key aspects of every dive are the following:

1) fast reaction to the start buzzer
2) strong push off the block
3) clean entry into the water (next post)
4) efficient, fast underwater kick in streamline (next post)
5) powerful and smooth breakout (next post)

If you can master all of the key characteristics of a great dive you will see the difference it makes in your racing. You will leave your competitors in the dust and come out for your first stroke in front.

1) Fast reaction to the start buzzer - How fast you can get of the block after the start whistle blows is called the reaction time. Reaction time is influenced by many factors, including gender, psychology, experience, health etc. As you can see there are a few factors we cannot influence, but some can definitely be improved. So for example, if you warm up your body before the race with light jogging and stretching, your reaction time will improve. If you listen to some adrenaline pumping music before you go on the blocks, it will also increase your alertness, so reaction time should be faster.

There are also many fun drills you can do in the gym and in the swimming pool during your practices. Any drills that you can think of that involve reacting on a command will work great. Drills such as, kick slowly next to your buddy, suddenly coach whistles and upon the whistle you sprint to the end of the pool. Another great drill could be during the practice of regular starts. Have a teammate stand behind the block, holding a kickboard with both hands in the air. Upon the buzzer/whistle the person with a kickboard needs to hit the kickboard to the back part of the top of the block and then smack you in the butt with the flat part of the kickboard. The goal is to get off the block before you are smacked in the butt. This reaction time drill also serves as an extra incentive to have a fast reaction time as being hit on the butt is not pleasant if your teammate is strong:).

2) Strong push off the block - Powerful dive depends on how good of a jumper you are and how well you are positioned on the block. You should aim to become a primed spring, so when the whistle goes off, you will explode off the block like a rocket. So, there should be no rocking back and forth after the buzzer. Focus only on forward motion.

Here is a good time to mention the two main different starts that are commonly used among top competitive swimmers: the track start and the conventional grab start. The one you choose is fully based on personal preference and what you are trying to achieve in your dive. Some swimmers swear by track starts and on the other hand some swimmers say that track starts are not as good. Both of them are correct in my opinion, because we are all individuals, so do things differently. Some basic rules, however, do apply. Track start (feet are staggered behind each other on the block) is thought to be slightly quicker, so is used mainly for sprint events (50-100 meter races). Track start also usually provides a slightly shallower dive. On the other hand the grab start (feet are about a foot apart with both feet's toes curled over the edge of the block) is more powerful as you are using both legs for the dive. The grab start should be used in for example breaststroke events where you do want to go a bit deeper to perform your underwater breaststroke pull. Then again, nowadays the fifth stroke, the dolphin kick, is used so frequently that having a powerful deeper dive would be to a benefit to the swimmers who have mastered the underwater dolphin kick. The discussion on how to perform each of these correctly, is for longer writing, so I'll leave that until some other time.

As usually, the post is a bit longer than I anticipated, so the next 3 phases of a great swimming start will be discussed in the next post. Happy diving.
Be seen, keep your stuff dry and take a break when needed.

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