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5 stages of a great start in swimming

Taken from his presentation at the ASA Masters Conference 2016, Loughborough coach Dave Hemming explains the 5 stages of a great start in swimming.

Gaining that extra advantage

Every swimmer is looking to gain that extra advantage from the blocks.

There’s no one perfect way to start a race. When you look at the world’s best elite swimmers, it’s clear that each has a fairly unique style.

But there are also aspects across each stage of their start sequences that can be adopted to improve your own technique.

5 stages of a great start

  1. Stance
  2. Reaction
  3. Drive
  4. Flight
  5. Entry


  • Swimmers using a track start will position themselves with their weight either at the front or back of their stance.
  • Front weighted stances tend to produce a quick start off the blocks while rear weighted starts allow for a faster acceleration away from the blocks.
  • If you’re using a front weighted stance, your eyes should be looking straight at the water surface with your hips high in the air.
  • Your front leg should be almost fully extended while your back leg will be bent at an angle slightly wider than 90 degrees.
  • Your arms will be fully extended and you should be gripping the board with your fingers.
  • A rear weighted stance will involve your hips being slightly lower, although still above your shoulders.
  • Your back leg will be bent slightly narrower more than 90 degrees while your front leg will be straighter but not as extended as in front weighted stance.
  • With your shoulders lower, your arms will also be slightly flexed, allowing you to grip the board with your fingers and thumbs.


  • It’s crucial to begin your drive from the block in the most effective way possible so you don’t lose valuable time.
  • Your reaction to the gun should involve a sharp pull up with your back leg driving the momentum.
  • Your hips should move higher and your shoulders should move forward, with your hips remaining higher.
  • You should now be looking diagonally forwards in the line you are about to take.
  • Drive off the balls of your toes to gain the most possible momentum from the block.


  • Extend your legs explosively as your complete the second part of the drive and push off the block.
  • Your rear leg should drive upwards until it is either in line with your hip line or above it.
  • As your feet leave the block, you should once again be looking down rather than forward.
  • Arm motion during the drive stage of the start can vary quite a lot and there are benefits to both forward and backward arm actions.
  • Pushing you arms forward straight in front of you (or diagonally down) means you can get into a streamlined position very quicky.
  • But some swimmers drive with their arms back and their elbows high. This increases the power of their drive. Your chest and shoulders can be driven forward quickly and you are activating your posterior chain of muscles.


  • Your torso should reach extension mid-flight.
  • Your front leg should now form a straight line from your head to your toe.
  • If your arms aren’t already streamlined, you need to bring them in front of you before they reach the water.
  • Your head should dip between your arms to set up your entry line.


  • Your body line should be set before your hands pierce the water.
  • A slight pike in your body line (a bend at the hips) will help your transition to horizontal under the water.
  • It’s important to hold your legs in position as your upper torso submerges. The most streamlined entry is with one body part at a time.