|by Dust Mason|
This article assumes you are already familiar with the basics of the track start and the basics of a good start and will build on top of that knowledge.
First key part of the start is the stand a swimmer (you) takes on the block. You should not feel tense and overstretched, so a bit of a flexibility plays a role here (hamstrings in particular). How far apart you put your feet is fully your preference, so play with the distance. It also depends how tall your legs are. Try to spread your feet a foot apart and then two feet and see the difference. Make sure you have a good grip on the block with both of your feet. If the blocks are slippery, feel free to wipe the block with a towel as well as the soles of your feet.
Now to the head. The head is not tucked under or watching where you go. Your head is just watching the toes of the front foot, so that is simple. Your weight is a bit of a different story. Your weight could be in many places on the block. Either on the front foot or a bit forward or in the middle, spread evenly to both feet or on the back foot (slingshot start). I suggest you try all of these scenarios and see what works for you. I personally like to be on the front of the block, leaning even a bit over the edge of the block, so on the starting gun sound I just explode forward without having to spend the time to travel the distance of the block like I would if I was in the slingshot position. That said, if you are in the slingshot position, it might take you a bit longer to get off the block, however, you will have a much more powerful dive. Another thing to note about the slingshot (lean back) dive is that you do not need to get into this position until the referee commands you to take your marks.
Finally, what you do with your arms? Hold the block as well as you can. Forget about pointing your elbows out to the sides, just grab the block hard.
Second is the actual take off from the block after the starting gun sounds. This is hard to believe for most swimmers, but your arms play a very important role in getting off the block as fast as you can. You need to pull on the block with your hands as if you’d want to rip it off the ground, this in turn will get your hips moving forward while staying nice and low. The use of your arms in this way is quite interesting and if you watch some of the top elite powerful sprinters, you can even see the block move as they do this motion.
Third would be the direction of the jump. Think of the jump as a forward horizontal motion, so all your power from your body should go into a forward motion. Since your arms are pulling on the block at the beginning they will be a bit behind you, however, you need to get them to your chest as soon as possible. The movement goes something like this. Gun sounds, you pull up on the block which causes your hips to move forward, your head is now on the way up (be careful here, don’t throw your head up too high, the goal is to stay very low), your back foot is pushing forward leaving the block. At the same time as your back foot is leaving the block, your elbows are rising to your side and are priming themselves to go into the streamlined position. Your elbows actually go up passed your body helping you lift your upper body of the block. Then as you use your front foot to finish your push off the block, your arms start moving into the streamlined position giving you more forward momentum and preparing you for the clean water entry.
Fourth and the last part is the entry. You have only a few seconds to get your body aligned in a streamline like position, so you retain as much speed that you gained while getting off the block. I already compared the water entry to a javelin getting stuck in the ground, but another analogy comes to mind. Have you ever competed in throwing rocks in the water with the least amount of splash? If so, you know that the rock has to be smooth and you have to throw it up very high, so it enters the water in a vertical position. You should focus on a similar effect during the water entry of the dive. No, I am not saying you should enter the water in a vertical position, but what I am eluding to is that you need to focus on entering as smooth as possible, so there is a very little splash. Small splash equals a perfect streamlined water entry after a dive.
Sometimes you can see swimmers bending at the hip and also bending their knees and then extending them right before they enter into the water. This is thought to create and extra push right when you enter, however, in my opinion this is bogus. Think of it this way. Your body is moving in one direction and then you take your tucked legs and shoot them in the opposite direction slicing through the air with nothing to grab on to. What you have done there is basically told the body to go back the other direction, so the force applied to your body is the other way. During this maneuver you are also most likely not going to be in a perfect streamline and if you watch these swimmers carefully, you will see two splashes. One small splash when they enter the water with their upper body and one huge splash after their legs enter the water as they didn't have enough time to put their feet upright.
Hope this helps in your path to a perfect track start. Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below. Happy diving!