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The Importance of the Start to the Backstroke

This is an excerpt from Swim Coaching Bible, Volume II, The by Dick Hannula & Nort Thornton.

Trends and Techniques in Backstroke

Teri McKeever

The Start

The start has a number of variations; any variation can be successful depending upon the swimmer. Both the swimmer and the coach should learn and experiment with variations because these physical experiences go into the swimmer's overall inventory and help make the athlete's chosen start style more athletic and effective. The following fundamental principles apply to all styles.

Keep the feet as high on the wall as possible. The backstroke start should be viewed as a dive. Therefore, more advantage can be gained from placing the starting platform as high as the rules allow.

Keep the body springy throughout the start. A jumping or pouncing animal stores springiness in its body when it is preparing to jump or pounce. The backstroker should take on this concept when preparing for the horn, and then maintain that springiness throughout the whole start process of uncoiling and into the first swimming strokes.

Use the whole body to dive. The swimmer should use the whole body to create the start. The “take your mark” position introduces a lot of closed angles throughout the body, and a swimmer can produce much acceleration when opening those angles to create the dive. Many swimmers who come into our program do the backstroke start by accelerating the head, arms, and legs out of sync with the body and therefore lose a lot of potential acceleration. Virtually all jumping movements in sport are dominated by the legs. A jumping sequence is instinctive and physically logical. However, the backstroke start is less effective if these same jumping instincts are used. In the backstroke start, the body is coiled and stabilized partially by the arms and then needs to uncoil and travel upside-down perpendicular to the line of gravity. A normal jumping sequence is not applicable. The body is bigger and slower than any of the extremities and the neck, so another way of looking at it is to emphasize the body and let the arms, legs, and head fit into the whole-body movement.

Make as small a hole as possible when going into the water. No matter which start style is used, the object is to slide into the water through as small a hole as possible. The water is heavy, and the less that needs to be moved out of the way the better.

A very good start (see figure 11.4) usually includes a hole that ends up being almost round and the same size as a cross-section of the widest part of the body. You can see the footprint of a good dive after the swimmer has disappeared under the water. If the disturbed water is circular, then the body slid into the water cleanly and efficiently. If the disturbed water is elliptical or oval, then the swimmer created drag as the body went into the water, which means that some of the acceleration from the dive was unnecessarily lost.

When starting, most swimmers find better success by making sure that the heel of the hand, rather than the palm of the hand or the base of the knuckles, is on the starting bar. Also, if an athlete has problems with the feet sliding down the starting surface, two things may help.

1. The athlete can set up with an image of the pelvis moving backward (toward the turning end of the pool) as he or she pulls towards the starting block. This set-up makes the angle of leg pressure into the wall less acute and more oblique. The force of the push from the legs goes into the wall rather than down the wall toward the bottom. This strategy makes slippage less likely.

2. The athlete can think of the arms as legs in the first part of the start. The arms leap away from the block and the legs push into the wall after the arms have propelled the torso, head and neck, and arms somewhat toward the other end of the pool. This strategy helps prevent slippage and assembles the body into an accelerating unit.

Learn more about The Swim Coaching Bible, Volume II.

More Excerpts From Swim Coaching Bible