Improving Your Start from the Block – Leg Motion

Part IV: Coupling Motions, Leg Motion

Leg Motion

The third coupling motion is also important and that is the back leg lift. Elite swimmers, and particularly sprinters that depend on a great start, will lift the back foot quickly with a straight leg high into the air, creating a separation between the two feet in mid air of two or three feet. By the time the swimmer enters the water, the two feet are brought back together in order to align them at entry. The fast upward motion of this technique is done with a straight leg (lengthen the radius) in order to maximize the kinetic energy. Have you ever thought about how your back leg on your track start contributes to your propulsion?


Some of the coupling motions of the start take place after the propulsive forces have occurred. The head lift is occurring during the earliest part of the start, simultaneously with all three forces, back foot, arms and front foot. The back leg lift occurs after the arms and back foot have created their force, yet during the force from the front foot. The arm motion, head lift and back leg lift begin while the forces are taking place and end after all three forces are completed. In order for a coupling motion to be effective, the motion must take place either during the propulsive force or while the effect of that propulsion is occurring. Consider a long jumper, for example, who continues to swing the arms and legs in mid air, after the propulsive force of the foot has launched him into mid air.

As in all four swimming strokes, one must learn to use the three coupling motions effectively to get the very best swimming track start. Whether using weight forward or backward, these three motions can profoundly impact the distance one goes off the starting block.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

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

Read Improving Your Start from the Block – Part II: Coupling Motions, The Head

12 Responses to Improving Your Start from the Block – Leg Motion

  1. David McIntyre

    I was an early master swimmer beginning in 1974 but did not have coaching since college graduation in 1961. Lacked coaching all those years until 2013 when a group of six of us master swimmers took Dr.Hall’s four day course in the Florida Keys. Wow, the learning experience was so great that my times improved dramatically in the 75 age group from the Top 10 to the Top 5 and even had my first #1 National rankings. Thanks Dr. Hall. David McIntyre

  2. Jim Kwan

    Hi, thanks for all the articles. For someone who is generally off in 0.45-0.55 range using a weight forward start, but with week dolphin kicks, would you suggest switching to a weight back start? How much time do you think it would add to the reaction time and if done properly, how much time do you think could be made back engaging good coupling energies on a weight backs start?

    • garyhallsr

      I think the advantage of the weight back start diminishes if one does not have significant fast twitch component of the muscles and one does not effectively use the three coupling motions. Having said that, the only true way to know is to time yourself to 15 meters using both techniques and see which one gets you there sooner. With elite athletes, there is typically around .1 seconds added to the time to leave the block with weight back compared to using the weight forward start. The pull back should be minimal (maybe 5 degrees).

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

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  6. Cyrs

    Hi Coach Hall,

    Great article once again. I just had a question about the back leg lift motion in the first part. How can a swimmer learn to achieve this back leg lift off the blocks? Do they just need to think about straightening the back leg upwards as if they are doing a prone core exercise known as the ‘swimmer’ that works the lower back? Is it the same motion?


    • Gary Hall Sr

      It is important to know that in order to get a big fast leg lift the swimmer must also lift the head and arch the back when out over the water. Otherwise the leg lift will throw you off balance. Practice by putting your hands on the back of a chair, bending over with head looking down. Lift your back leg to horizontal position the snap it into the air straight with toes pointed several times. After that, do the start with that same motion.

      • Cyrs

        So should the arms, body, and the back leg before the snap be parallel to the floor and perpendicular to the front leg that’s supporting the body, creating a ‘T’ shape?

        • garyhallsr

          Yes..on this exercise, start with the back leg and body parallel to the floor and snap the leg as high and as quickly as possible several times from that position. When the leg is elevated quickly, it can create a lot of coupling energy.

          • Doc

            Hi Coach,

            Whats a good way to progress this motion from the dry land onto the block? Are there any drills to do on the block to be able to learn this skill?


            • Gary Hall Sr.

              This week while at camp one of the parents showed me a clever way to teach the back leg lift off the start. With his 10 year old daughter, we held a beach ball over her bum on the start. As she left the block, she would kick the ball high up into the air with her back leg lift. Set up a competition to see who can kick the ball the highest into the air. It works!


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