A Tweak to the Weight-Forward Start?

swim start.jpg

Last year, I was thinking about the weight-forward start, and how there has to be a way to get the body moving much more quickly than through simple muscular force. This thought eventually lead me to this lever-type concept. We spent much of last year working on it, and a few of our swimmers are getting the hang of it. Our best starter, Kylie Day, at 13 was regularly getting reaction times of 0.60 – 0.65 off the block in swim meets.  Not earth-shattering, but certainly at the faster end of start performances even for elite swimmers.

The idea is to have a typical weight-forward position, with the arms and shoulders past the edge of the block. The other key is that the rest of our body, other than the arms, must be completely stiff. By this I mean the body has to be locked in place like a stiff inanimate object.

Upon hearing the beep, the swimmer then gives a very hard tug on the block. If the body is stiff, then this tug will pull the whole body forward ridiculously fast. In fact, its not unusual for our swimmers first learning this start to give out a small scream when they get it right.  The jerk forward is so fast they aren’t prepared for it.

An instant after the swimmer starts moving, the swimmer needs to convert to a conventional starting move off the block, complete with legs driving, head coming up, etc. Click on the picture below for a short video of the start in action. Kylie in the red and white cap does it best.

screenshot-2016-11-20-20-31-50

To be fair, I imagine that this start is already in use by many swimmers and clubs.  My problem is that I just haven’t found anything online about locking the body for an instant after the beep. Even the outstanding 5-part series on the racing start by The Race Club (here) just mentions that the hands are pulling upwards on the block or the bars. And I can tell you that without locking the body, pulling on the block does very little. (For information on what to do after that brief tug, visit The Race Club site. It’s incredible.)

Now, there are some aspects of this start that need to be mentioned.

1)  The swimmer starts moving so quickly that it takes a lot of practice to get the body in the right position in time to enter the water.

2)  The swimmer leaves the block early and hits the water early, so this start may not be best for those with powerful legs.

3)  The swimmer will hit the water at a relatively shallow angle, which means the swimmer can get into dolphin kicking earlier. This means it won’t be good for those without a strong underwater kick.

Like I said, this start is probably already in use by many swimmers. I’m very happy to hear from people as to how they teach and fine-tune this start, or even if its been abandoned completely.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I’ve had a very reasonable request to better explain what I mean by the body being “locked in”.

By locked in, I mean that the whole body except the shoulders and arms are stiff. Think of it as your body being like an alphabet block that young children play with. If you push on that cube, the whole cube moves instantly. If you push on jello, there’s a delay and then the jello moves in all directions. With the body as a cube, when the swimmer tugs hard on the starting block, their whole body will move almost instantly forward. As soon as the body starts moving, the swimmer needs to quickly transition to a normal start, with legs driving, head coming up, etc. 

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    I like your description of how to teach this and the concept of being “locked in”. I feel the use of a “weight forward” vs. a “weight backward” start depends on the individual. Getting off the blocks quicker (reaction time) doesn’t always translate to a faster 15m time (which I use to measure starting ability). I really haven’t been able to determine what factors or qualities of a swimmer favor either technique. Some who are great dolphin kickers excel with weight forward, some excel with weight backward. I usually have swimmers try both and see what fits.

    1. Hi Doug,

      You’re absolutely right in that not every swimmer can do the weight-forward start effectively. However, I also teach my swimmers both this start and the weight-back start. It’s a combination of reaction time, leg power, underwater kicking and flexibility that ultimately determine which is best for them. Interestingly, the weight-forward start cured one swimmer on his awkward start where he angles up, then pikes and comes down. It was a lack of flexibility and a fast popping head that caused the problem start. By practicing the weight-forward start he fixed his limitations and was able to go back to a powerful weight-back start. Strange, I know.

I love comments, especially when they disagree with my view.

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