The track start has become a staple part of swimming in recent years with its prevalence at both local and international meets increasing as swimmers opt to try something different from the more conventional grab start. While studies have shown that there is little difference between the two starting techniques in terms of mechanics, with the faster reaction time afforded by a track start being largely cancelled out by the increased force applied to the block in a grab start, many swimmers will be able to perform one better than the other and will hence achieve a performance improvement by using a track start. It can also be more stable on the blocks which can help to avoid false starts and disqualifications. Here are some pointers to help get the most of your track start with the help of Jodie Henry (left) and Thomas Rupprath (right).
the set up
There are two subtly different variations employed in the track start; the conventional version and the slingshot version, both of which can be used with success. In both instances, one foot is placed at the front of the lock with toes curled over the edge to give a good grip, while the other is placed at the rear of the block. Exactly where the rear foot is located will depend on personal preference but don’t put it too close to the rear of the block and make sure that it has got a solid purchase to help you keep balanced. It’s largely down to personal preference which foot goes forward and which foot goes backwards, so practice with both. Most people naturally have one side stronger than the other and this should usually be the foot that goes to the front of the block.
Conventional or slingshot?
In the conventional track start, the body weight is kept over the front foot, while in the slingshot version the weight is transferred to the rear foot, with tension in the arms holding the front of the block to keep the swimmer steady – hence you can’t shift your weight back until you have a good hold of the front of the block. Most swimmers will wait until called to their marks before shifting the weight backwards. Studies have shown little difference in speed between the two methods, but again one may work better then the other for you, so try both. Indeed many swimmers adopt a position somewhere in between, with the weight equally distributed over each foot so try out a few variations to find what works best for you.
On the gun pull with your arms which ever method you are using – this will make sure that your body weight is immediately moving forward. In the slingshot variation it is critical that you exert a large pull on the block with your arms to generate forward momentum, since your centre of gravity is further back and needs to move though a much greater distance before you will move off the block.
Up and Down
Lift your head and drive with your front foot, bringing your arms up to shoulder level as you leave the block. If you’re using the slingshot method your arms will naturally be left behind you and you will need to bring them forward into a streamlined position ready to enter the water. Your legs will naturally be apart since they have started from different positions so you need to bring these together whilst in the air.
In the air
From this point, the technique converges largely with that of a grab start, except that typically a track start will give less elevation but more horizontal speed. Consequently it’s important to get into a streamlined position early to ensure a clean entry and to minimise the loss of speed at entry; a slight pike can help with a clean entry rather than a belly flop.
Keep your hands locked and your head tucked in as you enter the water and remember to keep your feet still with toes pointed until completely submerged. Kicking before your feet are in the water will only slow you down.