Backstroke Start

As with all starts, a good one can make or break a race.  Get off the blocks fast and it is like having a head start.  Slip off the blocks and you might as well get out and go home.  The backstroke start is no exception.  In fact, from our experience, a great backstroke start can usually provide a huge benefit to the swimmer because most backstrokers are average at best at their start.  Since there are a couple different types of starts in use today we'll try to cover the basic factors involved in a good start and discuss some of the pros and cons of each method.

Which One?   Some rules don't allow for the stand-up starts, so the choice is already made for you.  Additionally, if you haven't ever done a stand-up start, don't try one in a meet.  Other than those situations, if you have the option of doing a stand-up start and are good at it, use it every time.  As far as we are concerned, it is like being asked if you want to start a freestyle event by standing on the side or by standing on the block--the answer is easy.

Because of the added height out of the water and body position, the stand up start should beat other starts every time with all other things being equal.  But, since all races don't allow for this type of start, a backstroker should practice both often.

Pre Race.  The most important part of this step is DO IT!  Get out there and practice your start on the blocks and on the side of the pool--preferably in the lane you will be in.  Not all pools are alike and neither are all lanes alike.  Be prepared for your environment by practicing before the event.

Position. The preparation for the start is often as important as the start itself.  Regardless of the type of start you do, your body will be facing the starting wall.  As long as the rules allow, curl your toes over the side, but be sure to have your heels in the water (consult the rules for each meet).  Feet should be shoulder width apart or whatever you have found to work best for you.  

Your hands will either grip the bar of the starting block (hands facing down) or the sides of the block if you are standing.  On the "Take your mark" command you will pull yourself into a crouched position.  Regardless of the type of start you are doing this is the point where you get into the most comfortable position to make the jump backward.  If you are starting in the water, you will want to pull your body up out of the water to where just your butt in still under the surface.  If you are starting out of the water, you will make sure to bend your knees and crouch in preparation of the jump.

The Start. When the gun goes off, you will snap your head backward and push off the bar or the block.  Your arms should swing out and around until they are over and behind your head in a streamlined position.  When starting in the water, the trajectory of the push should about 45% up and out.  For those standing, the start is a little more out than up.  Otherwise, they are almost identical. 

Keep your head back, almost as if your are trying to sight your entry point into the water.  If you hit it right, your whole body should pass through the small hole created in the surface of the water by your hands.  Think of your hands as ripping a hole in the water, and your body passing through only that hole.  This reduces drag upon entry and allows the body to get completely under the surface as quickly as possible to where it is most efficient for the dolphin kick.  Entry into the water should also be at about 45% in the downward direction--not too deep and not too shallow.  Practice will help you master this.

Angle can be quickly adjusted by adjusting the pitch of the hands upon entry.  Pitching your hands downward will bring you deeper and vice versa.  Adjusting the position of your head will also determine your depth after entry.  The further you pull your head back, the deeper you will go.

Tips.  Don't assume the start position too soon.  Wait for the command "Take your mark".  Holding on for too long will cause your arms to tire more quickly and will drain the blood from them just prior to the start.  Streamline! (see Streamlining Archive).  Try to get your hips as far forward as possible and as comfortable as possible.  This helps to get your body in the best position to dive backwards.