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When you’re ready to work on your start, you have to make some decisions. The first is whether you’re going to do a GRAB START, which looks like this...with both feet over the edge of the block and both hands holding the block...
...or a TRACK START, which looks like this, and which we’ll cover in the next chapter.
If you’re a young swimmer or a Master swimmer, the grab start is a great place to start because it can make you feel more stable on the blocks.
All starts begin with a solid foundation or “footing.” Get a firm grip on the starting platform by wrapping your toes over the edge. Use every inch of your toes. Feel them GRAB the edge of the block.
For the most power, place your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your body nice and relaxed. At this point, you should be focused on your race and on the commands from the starter.
As you reach down to grab the block, you have a choice about where to place your hands. If you place them BETWEEN your feet, it’s a little easier to get into streamline as you leave the blocks.
If you place your hands OUTSIDE your feet, you may feel more stable and comfortable.
There are advantages to both hand positions. Use the one that feels more comfortable and gives you more power and speed.
Another choice you need to make is thumbs forward or thumbs back. Try both positions and find the one that makes you feel more comfortable and ready. Make sure you get as strong a grip with your hands as you do with your toes. Stay relaxed, but take advantage of every part of the block...and every part of your fingers and toes
You also have a choice of how to position your head, neck, and eyes. A lot of swimmers like to look straight ahead -- toward the other end of the pool. This may seem like the obvious place to look, but it keeps the rest of your body from “loading” or coiling for a powerful pushoff.
One good option is to hold your head in a neutral position, with eyes focused directly down at the water or at the edge of the starting platform. Notice that when Cullen looks down, his arms are slightly bent. This helps him stay relaxed, but it also makes him feel alert and ready to take off.
A third option is to tuck the head so that you’re looking BACK through your legs. This creates a bit more tension through your arms, spine, and hamstrings, and helps you prepare for an explosive start.
The most important thing is to find a starting position that makes you feel stable and comfortable...but ready to explode off the blocks. You want your body to be symmetrical and balanced. Relaxed but ready to go. Keep experimenting and working with your coach until you find what’s right for YOU.
Once your find your best “ready” position, it’s time to dive in. Here’s a grab start at regular speed.
If we slow it down, you can see that Cullen starts by THROWING the arms forward to initiate the start. His eyes look forward slightly, then his head tucks into streamline so that his body is narrow and straight when he enters the water.
Here’s another angle. Notice that Cullen’s eyes are down at the entry, and his head is tight between his shoulders.
A great start is a clean start. You want everything -- your hands, head, shoulders, and feet -- to slip through one hole in the water. Every swimmer leaves a “footprint” when they dive in. You want yours to be clean, precise, circular, and SMALL.
Remember: Your goal is a clean, streamlined entry. You want to slip every part of your body through one small hole in the water.
Before we move on to the track start, let’s review the grab-start basics one more time.
Grip the block with your toes and fingers.
Look down or slightly back with your eyes.
Keep your head, neck, and spine in one continuous line.
Stay balanced and symmetrical.
Coil your body to explode, but keep everything relaxed.
Explode forward with the hands.
Streamline your entry, with head between your arms.
Hold your streamline to maintain momentum.