Your start can make or break your performance in a swim race. A bad start can be the difference between achieving a personal best time or missing it by a hair.

Knowing this, what should you work on to ensure your starts are powerful and fast? 

Whether you’re just learning how to do a racing start or you’re looking for technique tips to optimize your start before your next swim meet, you’re in the right place! Read on for our top tips to perfect your swimming start.

6 Tips to Improve Your Swimming Start

1. Foot Positioning

It’s common for swimmers to end up with a crooked body position on the block — they aren’t facing straight forward! A crooked start can mess with your entry into the water. 

Fixing this issue starts before you step up on the block. Stand behind the block and make sure you’re facing the other end of the pool straight on. It sounds obvious, but trust us…some people need the reminder! 

Related: How to Drop 1 Second in the 50 Freestyle

Whether you are doing a staggered start with one foot offset, or a relay start with both feet next to each other, make sure your toes are pointed straight ahead.

For staggered starts, your front toes should grip the front of the block. Lift onto the ball of your back foot. Play with moving your back foot forward and back to find the most comfortable, powerful position.

2. Hip & Shoulder Positioning

Similar to your feet, your hips and shoulders should be square to the other end of the pool. Keep this in mind as you bend over to grip the front of the block. Try to push your hips straight back! If you aren’t particularly flexible, you may have trouble with this, but don’t worry. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel!

3. Avoid Leaning Back

So many swimmers think they’re giving themselves an edge when they crouch down and lean back before the buzzer sounds. The truth? It’s actually a disadvantage! 

Think about it: When you’re racing, you want to move forward. Leaning back in your start adds an extra few inches that you’ll have to push through before hitting the water, which in turn adds a fraction of a second to your final time. 

When you crouch down, remain in a neutral position and focus on exploding forward, rather than launching yourself off of the block like a slingshot. 

4. Hand Positioning

As you lean forward, grip the front of the block with your hands. Rely on your hands for extra stability, but don’t put too much weight into them.

Related: How to Dive into a Pool | Beginner Tips

When the buzzer sounds, initiate your start with a strong pull to launch yourself into motion. There’s a slight delay between when the buzzer sounds and when you’ll be able to power through your legs fully, and your arms can help bridge that gap.

Ilya Shymanovich (photo: Mike Lewis)

5. Push with the Legs

If you’re doing a staggered start, a lot of your power will come from your front leg to start. Power through that leg, and use your back leg to give yourself one final push off the block. If your diving block has a fin on the back, that will give your back leg an extra edge. Use it!

6. Entering the Water

After leaving the block, your next order of business is to get your body into a tight streamline as quickly as possible. Your arms should be squeezed tight to your ears and your legs should be engaged with the toes pointed. Become a torpedo!

Courtesy of the ISL

Ideally, you should enter the water with minimal splash so you carry as much speed as possible into the water. Think about diving into a narrow tunnel!

You may think that the goal of a fast start is to enter the water as far away from the block as possible, but doing so may actually be inefficient! If you shoot too far, you’re likely to land a little too flat in the water. This can cause your legs to smash into the water, which creates a ton of resistance that slows you down. 

Instead, focus on maintaining your speed and entering the water with minimal splash.

The Anatomy of a Good Swim Start

To recap, your start should have 4 phases:

  1. Pull with your hands
  2. Power through front leg
  3. Power through back leg
  4. Tight streamline

Ultimately, perfecting your start comes with lots of practice. If you have access to racing blocks, incorporate start work regularly to get comfortable and maximize your power for your next race!

What tips do you have for fast swimming starts? Share your advice in the comments! For more swimming tips and workouts, download the MySwimPro app! Start a 30-day trial of ELITE to unlock personalized Training Plans, Analytics and resources.