Improving Your Start from the Block – Fast Swimming Starts

Part II Coupling Motions: The Head

With either type of track start, there are three important coupling motions that will augment the forces of the swimmer leaving the block and result in a better dive. A coupling motion is a movement of some part of the swimmer’s body that produces no propulsive force by itself, yet increases the forces that create propulsion. The three coupling motions are the head lifting up, the arm motion and the back leg lift for fast swimming starts.

The adult head weighs approximately 12 pounds, so if one moves it around quickly, it can create quite a bit of energy. In martial arts, students learn to use their head as a weapon. It can also become a weapon for the start, if used properly.

The energy that the head provides on the start is related to the square of the speed at which it is lifted. If a swimmer takes his mark with the head extended forward, there is little room to further lift it and less kinetic energy that can be attained from its motion. Further, in the extended position, the swimmer is less relaxed, as the neck muscles are working to maintain that position.

Head Motion

At the sound of the starter’s beep, the head should be in the neutral position (looking down) and snapped upward to full extension as quickly as possible simultaneously with the push off of the block with the feet. This motion also helps project the swimmer forward. If the head is held in the neutral or down position, not only does the swimmer lose out on the coupling motion of the head lift, but he also tends to go downward toward the water, rather than forward.

Of course, once the head is fully extended, it must be immediately fully flexed back down, so that the chin is touching the chest, enabling the arms to get into the streamline position behind the head. With practice, there is enough time on the dive to lift the head fully, and then press the chin back down to the chest, prior to entering the water. How much are you using your head to add to your propulsion on your start?

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.

Read Improving Your Start from the Block – Part I:Track Starts

Read Improving Your Start from the Block – Part III: Coupling Motions, The Arm Recovery

Read Improving Your Start from the Block – Part IV: Coupling Motions, The Leg Motion

Read Improving Your Start from the Block – Part V: Five Techniques to a Great Start

14 Responses to Improving Your Start from the Block – Fast Swimming Starts

  1. Marshall Smith

    You’re the best.
    Thanks for all your knowledge.

  2. Pingback: Improving Your Start from the Block - Track Starts - The Race Club | The Race Club

  3. Joe Rainero

    Hello Coach Hall,

    What do you think about Adam Peaty’s starts? His head is pointing straight forward before the start. How does this impact his swims?


    • Gary Hall Sr.

      Adam is weight forward starter with the head up. It is only weakness in the race, so far as I can tell. He breaks out significantly behind most of the other swimmers, yet he is so good, he catches them quickly. I would love to experiment with a different start technique for Adam….as if he needs more help!

  4. Tim Ritchie

    What is your opinion of a flat back on take your mark. I have found in order to do that, the head has to come up which negates the head drive. I have found the flat back keeps some from going too deep. Your thoughts?

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      It is a good question and the flat back may keep some swimmers from going too deep, but it may come at the price of reducing coupling energy of the head. I am not sure. Going too deep, in my experience, is a function of entering the water with too straight of a body at too steep of angle (greater than 30 degrees) or lifting the hip too much at entry. In the finals of the men’s 50 free in Rio, all 8 swimmers had rounded backs…some more than others. All 8 lifted their heads significantly and started from the head down position. Some (like Brad Tandy) lift the head more than others.

  5. Pingback: Improving Your Start from the Block - Arm Motion - The Race Club | The Race Club

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  9. John Hensler

    So does the head snap forward immediately? We have been experimenting and it seems that the hips should roll forward (over the head) a little before throwing the head.

  10. John Hensler

    I ask that as I look at the men’s 50 Free final from Rio and the swimmer in lane 8 (RSA I think) who I think has the best start, rolls his hips forward a little before he explodes into his massive launch.

    • Gary Hall Sr.

      Yes, the head snaps forward immediately but from the looking down position, not forward, and as Brad does, it should stay looking forward as long as possible. The forces from the feet are straight forward, not down nor up. The hand and arm motion begin as soon as each leaves the block and continue throughout the in air flight. Chin on chest, arms in hyperstreamline, hips lift and toes point all just before entry.


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