How to Position Yourself for a Better Swim Start

This week in Lanes 2, 3, and 4 on our subscription service you can witness in slow motion one of the most impressive swim starts you will ever see, that of Olympian Brad Tandy. It is a thing of beauty. Brad is an Olympic finalist in the 50-meter Olympic freestyle sprint from South Africa. While he did not medal there, he was clearly ahead of the field after the start….by a lot.
While Caeleb Dressel was not in that race, he and Brad, and perhaps Ben Proud of the UK have arguably the best starts in the world today. Curiously, they each set themselves up differently on the block to position themselves for the take your mark command. Once that happens, they each take a very similar weight back position for the beep; what I call the cocked position. The backs are rounded and the heads are down. One difference is in what they do with their arms.
Caeleb uses the most common approach. After climbing onto the block at the starter’s whistle, he positions front and back feet, then bends over and grabs the front edge corners of the block loosely with his hands. His elbows are bent and his head is down. This is the safest position to reach the cocked position as it takes the least amount of time to get there.
Ben Proud is at the other end of the spectrum. He begins from a standing position. At the command of take your mark, he must bend all the way down, grab the front of the block and then lean back. While it is true that the least amount of time that the muscle is spring loaded (in the cocked position), the better for the start, there is risk in this approach.
In the 2004 Olympic Trials Men’s 100 meter free finals, my son, Gary Jr, started from a stand and did not even get his hands on the block before the beep went off. The result was he was last off the block and missed earning a spot to swim in Athens by a few hundredths of a second. In my opinion, starting from the standing position entails too much risk. You never know when you will have a fast starter.
Brad’s approach is in the middle. After positioning his front and back feet on the block, he bends down until his hands are just below his knees. From that position, he doesn’t have as far to go to grab the front of the block, nor does he take as much time as from a stand. The result is that he is in the cocked position for less time, without taking so much risk.
Brad and Ben both lock their arms straight to the front of the block, with no bend in the elbows. Caeleb bends his elbows slightly. Last week we tested an elite male swimmer from Croatia, with arms locked straight and with elbows bent slightly, to determine which way works best.
We will share the outcome of that study soon in one of our upcoming webisodes. In the meantime, on this week’s webisode, you can see Brad’s amazing start and hear his explanation of why he sets himself the way he does prior to the start. You will love this webisode.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.