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Open water coach offers top tips to improve race starts

John Wood is a qualified Level 3 Swim England coach with 16 years coaching experience and a history of swimming international open water races.

He has provided some top tips on how best to start your open water swims.

Starting an open water race can hold a large amount of nerves, worry and trepidation for some people.

If you’re used to swimming in the pool, then swimming in close proximity to many people can cause fear. Alternatively, you may be unsure about how to get away from the start quickly and cleanly and get into a rhythm as fast as possible.

The main start option for swim events is a deep water start, which means starting in water deeper than you can stand up in. The National Championships begin with a dive start, and in triathlons you may get a beach start where you have to run into the water.

With a deep-water floating start, the first thing to think about is where you position yourself.

If you’re nervous at the start or not sure about your speed relative to everyone around, you should look to place yourself at the side of the pack (as opposed to the back).

The reason for this is that it gives you the flexibility to move forward because you’re quicker, or drop back because you’re slower. It also means that you have more space around you to find your rhythm without getting bumped into.

If you’re a more confident/faster/competitive athlete, you can put yourself at the front!

Starting on the outside of the bunch is often best, for example if the first corner is left then start closer to the right-hand side or vice versa.

The reason for this is that it will allow you an easier and more open first corner, and more importantly it’s possible that everyone will gravitate towards the inside line, so being on the outside you’ll have a bit more space to find your rhythm.

Open Water National Masters Champs competitor information page.

When you set yourself up for your start, the best way to start is as horizontal as possible – hands out in front and legs up behind you. This does two things; firstly it means that as soon as the start signal goes, all your force is sending you forwards.

If you start from a vertical position, your first movements will be upwards so it will take you time to get moving and to accelerate. Lie flat in the water with your legs kicking up behind you gently, just to keep you up and in position.

Your hands can scull in front of you to stop you drifting forwards. As soon as the start signal goes, your head can drop into the water, and your arms and legs can start working as they would do normally; your kick from behind will get you moving quickly so you don’t have to grab too much at the water.

Because you can make sure that you are pointing in the right direction to start with, you shouldn’t need sight for at least the first 20-30 strokes.

You can practise this as a start in the pool – try starting under the flags, or just away from the wall, scull on the spot for a moment and then drop your head into the water and accelerate away down the length. This can be tied in with turns practise and do reps of 50/100/200 without touching any walls!

If you do a dive start event such as at the Open Water National Championships, then the start itself is very much the same as diving off the blocks.

Do a grab start dive – with both feet over the edge of the start pontoon –  to give you more grip and control of your start. But again, because you should be pointing in the right direction, you shouldn’t need sight for at least 25 metres.

For triathlon, if you end up doing a beach or running start, the trick is to pick your knees up to run through the shallows, so that you can get your legs up over the surf for as long as possible. Imagine you’re clearing little hurdles.

This will cut down your resistance to the water a little. Once you get to thigh deep into the water, jump and dive forward into the water with your arms streamlined over your head.