Step-By-Step Guide: Swimming Starts Off Blocks

swimming start of blocks
Danila Novikov
All-American swimmer and founder of NYC based swim school.
Hi, my name is Dan. I am a professional swimming coach with 10+ years of experience. Here, I share swimming tips for beginners and advanced swimmers.

Today, we will talk about swimming start. You'll learn:

  1. Swimming start technique
  2. A step-by-step guide to learning swim starts
  3. Ways to improve your swimming starts
  4. And more

Let's dive in.

Swimming start technique

In the world of competitive swimming, every event of the swim meet begins behind the starting block. A great swimming start allows swimmers to carry power and speed through the underwater dolphin kick into the first stroke. In sprint events, fast swimming starts is one of the most important parts of the race.
start swimming technique

Swimming start consists of 4 phases:

Block phase.

That's when swimmers get into starting position on the block and push off after a signal. There are two ways to position your feet on the starting block: both legs on the edge of the block (grab start) or one leg in front and another leg in the back (track start).

Today, most swimmers do a track start as it's the most effective way to dive forward.

It gives swimmers a better balance and weight distribution on the block and allows them to get into a streamlined position much quicker, diving into the water with a clean entry. Additionally, track start has a lower reaction time, meaning that the swimmer's feet leave the block faster than in grab start. Lastly, the track start position allows swimmers to dive with greater power by pushing off with both hands and legs.
starting position swimming

Flight and entry into the water.

After the start signal, swimmers push off the block with a strong pull and jump forward. Once toes leave the edge of the block, arms and legs simultaneously form a tight streamline with toes pointed behind to enter the water.

Clean entry with a minimal splash into the water is the key to transferring the speed and forward momentum from the dive into the underwater phase.
track start swimming

Glide phase.

Once the entire body enters the water, swimmers enter a glide phase. The duration of this phase depends on the nature of the event before the swimmer starts leg and arm motion underwater.
reaction time ready position

Underwater phase.

That's the final stage before swimmers break the water surface. Here, depending on the stroke, athlete initiates movements with their legs and arms.

Freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly all have the same underwater phase: dolphin kick in a streamlined position. The breaststroke underwater phase, a pullout, consists of a powerful pull down with arms and one breaststroke kick.

The key here is to transfer all the speed and power into the first stroke that will set you up for a good race.
fast start off blocks

A step-by-step guide to mastering swimming starts

Now that you know what swim start consists of, I'll teach you how to do a dive start as a competitive swimmer. We will break down a start into 3 simple exercises that will make your learning process easier. Practice every exercise thoroughly before moving on to the next one.

Exercise #1. Kneeled start.

Before jumping on the block, let's start with a kneeled dive from the edge. For this drill, you'll need a kickboard.

  1. Start by kneeling on one leg with another foot forward, close to the edge of the pool deck. Put a kickboard under your knee to make it more comfortable.
  2. Put your arms in a streamlined position with your head between your elbows.
  3. In this position, lean forward with your arms positioned directly down forward.
  4. Push off the edge of the pool with your front leg. After your back leg leaves the edge, bring feet together.
swim faster start

Exercise #2. Grab start from the pool deck.

This start exercise is a great way to practice starts from a higher position before moving to the starting block.

  1. Start by putting both legs on the edge of the deck with toes gripping the wall of the pool. Keep your feet close to each other.
  2. Lean forward with your arms pointing down forward. Remember that the arms should be forming a tight, streamlined body position with the head in a neutral position.
  3. Push off forward with your feet with the weight of your body, following the direction of your arms.
  4. Once you dive in, remain in the streamlined position and glide for a little bit.

final push back leg

Exercise #3. Start of the block.

Now, it's time to push off the block.

  1. Position your legs the same we did on the pool deck, but now on the block.
  2. Lean forward with your knees slightly bent. Your hands should reach all the way down to the edge of the block. Keep your head between elbows, and don't try to look forward.
  3. To initiate a forward jump momentum, push yourself forward with arms and let your body follow the lead. The weight of your body should follow your arms, traveling downward forward in a streamline.
reaction time swimming


Congrats, you've made it all the way here, and the previous 3 exercises became too boring. If you want to learn how to do a track start, let's dive right into it.

  1. Step on the block and position your front foot close to the edge of the block and your back foot slightly behind. Find a comfortable distance for yourself where your feet are not too far or too close to each other.
  2. Lean forward and reach to the front of the block. Grab the edge with your hands.
  3. Practice leaning with your weight on your back foot first and then your front foot, and find what works for you when diving. Either way, your back foot should follow the lead of your front foot and connect in the air.
  4. Once you enter the water, start with only gliding first. Once you get comfortable with it, add an underwater dolphin kick while keeping your arms streamlined. Finally, add a couple of strokes at the end and try to transfer as much speed as you can into them.
front of the block

How to make your swim starts better?

  • 1
    Include them in every swim practice
    The best way to make your starts better is to make them your routine.
  • 2
    Practice with a start signal
    Don't forget that reaction time is the smallest yet one of the most important parts of your start. The quicker you take off the block after a signal, the higher your chances of getting ahead in the race.
  • 3
    Work on your body position
    Entry into the water is another key to starting off your race strong. An easy way to identify whether or not you have a clean entry is to film a couple of your starts. If you see lots of splashes upon the entry, it's time to make changes. Chances are your head, arms or legs are not aligned well (duh).