In the last 15 years or so, the track start has become the default way that swimmers enter the water for races. It has proven to be significantly faster than it's predecessor, the two-foot dive. The track start allows swimmers to get into the water faster which gives swimmers the opportunity to have more explosive speed entering the water that is then carried through into their underwater work. This way of thinking has changed significantly over the past 20 years. When I was a young swimmer, it was all about how much height and distance you could get off of the blocks. It was believed that if you could basically exploding out to the flags through the air. This thinking was that if you traveled through the air then you would gain more ground to help you once you entered the water.
Improving your start is a bit different than most of the tips we share on MySwim. A start falls into the realm of dryland training. You can't improve your start by swimming more laps or doing drills. You can only improve your start on land. In fact, you can only improve them by doing more starts.
One of my favorite drills to do and one our swimmers seem to love is called the Runner. The Runner is executed by running 5-10 feet along the pool deck then diving in. This drill can be combined with turns, but I caution this to only advanced swimmers who are properly trained and supervised by lifeguards and coaches.
Once you've run along the pool deck for 5-10 feet then you leap into the water, while maintaining a straight and narrow body form. Think of yourself as an arrow or the example I like to use frequently is a knife. The pool becomes a giant block of cheese and you need to slice, not smash, into it. This exercise helps you gain extra speed as you enter the water.
If you aren’t in tight streamline, entering cleanly, and don’t have your body straight you are going to hit the breaks the moment you enter the water. Once you hit the water, glide for a second or two. This is one of the hardest concepts for swimmers to understand. They think that they need to start kicking immediately, but what happens when you start moving your body is you lose your tight body alignment, which means you start to slow down. If you wait until you naturally start to lose speed and then add to it by using your dolphin kicks underwater, you'll actually maintain your speed for a greater distance.
It has been recorded that certain elite competitors like Bill Pilczuk and the great Alexander Popov would occasionally do around 50 starts or start drills such as the runner per workout session.
Below we have included an Instagram video of Natalie Coughlin executing a flawless runner drill.
Remember that most pool decks are inherently unsafe when wet. Only practice the runner drill while being properly supervised by lifeguards, coaches or other trained staff. Most pools have the rule that running on the deck is prohibited so please only do this drill in safe locations. Wet swimmers, slippery pool decks make for terrible injuries.
We'll leave with an example of Nathan Adrian's explosive start. Watch as he enters the water in a tight streamline utilizing the explosive power he got from his push off. Also, note the small pause before he starts his underwater work.