Race Prep: Backstroke Starts

Unlike the regular dive, the BK start is more difficult to generate the power and speed. While the BK Start seems easy, it is very complex to do in a way that benefits the race.

Take Your Mark

Let’s start with the set up for the start first. If you do not start in the correct position, you will not engage the muscle chain in the correct order which will hinder the speed, reaction time, and power of the start. Here are a couple things I focus on when I am teaching the BK Start.

  1. Shoulders are set back and down. They should not be shrugged as this will put all of the body weight on the biceps and not on the shoulders, lats and other back muscles. The swimmer will tire before the start
  2. Elbows at the sides.
  3. Feet are between hip and shoulder width apart. Not too close together, not too far apart.
  4. Knees are in line with the feet. With some swimmers the knees will want to go outside or inside the body. This indicates tight hips.
  5. Head position. There are a ton of opinions about this, but in my opinion, the head should be in a neutral position. If the head is too far back, the swimmer pushes straight back and has no height to the start. If the head is tucked into the chest the head has to move too much and it is unnecessary movement.

After the BEEP

Now, I have told you what I look for in my kids Start position, we will look at the muscle chain. As a reminder, a muscle chain is the sequence of muscles engaged during the movement. This is everything that happens after the beep.

  1. Lats / Back
  2. Glutes / Hamstrings
  3. Quads
  4. Calves
  5. Core

Let’s talk through this now. In our opinion, the first thing that has to engage is the lats and back by pulling down on the backstroke handles. This allows the swimmer to be in a good position to engage the legs AND helps the swimmer get height from the start. Next, the lower body is generating all of the power as the arms are swinging around to streamline and the back is arching into the water. As soon as the hands hit the water the swimmer should be thinking of kicking the legs up and making them enter in the same ‘hole’ as the arms. When they kick their legs up, they achieve the right depth for the underwaters.

At Practices

Actually, teaching this is difficult since everything happens in a split second. A couple things that help my swimmers learn how to do this are BK Ledges and the FINA Ledge) helps the swimmers get a good height and teaches them to use their legs and arms to generate power. It also prepares them for the meets that have ledges. BK Wall. I leave this in my pool 100% of the time during practices. This helps their turns and BK Starts.

Building the Start Position

The biggest thing for the start position is getting the swimmers comfortable enough to hold the start position. For the start position, swimmers have to hold the start position by engaging the lats and not holding the start position by the biceps and traps. To build this muscle engagement, I like to use resistance attached from above. The movement to practice is like a row. Lean back, squeeze shoulders down and back, elbows pull down to the sides. This engages the back and lats. Practice this motion often and make sure to explain the importance and connection the BK start.