There are two options for the track start using the back footplate, weight forward or weight backward (slingshot). Before the introduction of the footplate, on the elite men’s side, there was an equal mix of both techniques being used, with neither having a clear advantage over the other. On the elite women’s side, most women used the weight forward technique.
Once the back footplate was introduced, the dynamics of the start changed and today, most elite swimmers prefer the slingshot technique, shifting their weight to the more favorable angle of the back plate. But not all do.
The advantages of the slingshot start are that one can more effectively use the arms, shoulders and both legs to create the propulsive forces, first the back leg, then the front. With the weight forward start, while virtually all of the propulsive force comes from the front leg, this technique generally allows the swimmer to get off the block faster.
With either technique, when the command to take your mark is given, the fingers must grip the front of the block or the bars that run parallel on the top of the block tightly while the arms pull upward. It does not seem to matter too much if the arms are straight or bent slightly for this motion, so long as there is tension on the arms. At The Race Club, we believe that given the option of the bars on top of the block, it is better to grab a hold of them as far forward as possible, rather than grabbing the front of the block. That allows the bend of the knee and waist to be slightly less, creating a mechanical advantage.
If using the slingshot technique, while pulling upward with the arms, you want to feel the weight of the body shift from the front foot to the back foot, being careful not to lean back too much. If you are leaning backward too far, it simply takes too long to get off the block. Moving the body just five or ten degrees backward will cause the shift in weight to occur. Once you feel the majority of the weight on the back foot, stop the motion backward and wait for the beep. The back foot should not be flat, but the heal slightly off the plate. The head should be kept in the neutral or slightly forward-extended position. If using the weight forward technique, the body weight will remain on the front foot, while pulling upward with the arms.
To be in the best possible readiness for the start, there is a right amount of tension one needs to place on the arms and legs. If one is too tense, putting too much pressure on either arms or legs, there is a good chance of flinching, resulting in a disqualification. Too relaxed and one cannot react fast enough or with the required force to get a great start. On a scale of one to ten, where one is completely relaxed and ten is like a twig ready to snap, the right amount of tension will be around a seven. That amount of tension seems to enable a swimmer to create enough force without losing control.
A lot of attention is being given to so-called reaction times, posted for each swimmer on the scoreboard after the start. These times represent the time lapse between the sound of the beep and the front toes leaving the block, which is not really the reaction time. Since the weight-forward starters do not have as far to go to get off of the block, they will nearly always post faster start times. What really matters, however, is where the swimmer breaks out in comparison to all the other swimmers in the race, not how fast they left the block. Most of the elite weight-forward starters that I have seen stay under water for seven to eight fast dolphin kicks, so the speed of the dolphin kick can also influence the technique one chooses.
With either technique you prefer, by following these instructions, you will now be cocked and ready for the starter’s beep. Get ready for our Swimisodes Slingshot Start to launch next week. Watch the first video in our start series: Swimisodes -Swimming Starts – How to Position Your Feet https://theraceclub.com/videos/swimisodes-swimming-starts-position-feet/
Yours in swimming,