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by Scott Bay

June 14, 2021

Eliminate question marks before you get up on the block

Ever false started, missed the start, or been the last off the blocks? The truth is the race starts long before you get to the blocks. Yes, the hours and hours of training and working on technique are critical for racing success, but so are rituals that mentally prepare you to race. Developing solid habits—things you do consistently before you get to the block—not only provides a stable routine but also clears your mind so you can focus on your race.

Now that we’re getting back to racing, here are a few things that champions have in common when it comes to race habits.

  • Behind the block. One of the things successful swimmers do is visualize the whole race. They rehearse every detail in their head before being called to the block. Visualize your start, your breakout, your turns, your finish, everything.
  • At the block. Before even stepping up to the block, make sure your goggles are on, cap is adjusted, and suit is adjusted. These are NOT things to be doing on the block as they take away from focus.
  • On the block. Step up and place your feet right away—get in an athletic stance, close to the take-your-mark position. Officials are all different with their cadence for the start and you don’t want to be shuffling your feet or just coming down when everybody else has set or worse, started.
  • Take your mark. This is a split second most of the time so prior to the horn, make sure you’re a coiled spring ready to explode off the block. If you’ve done everything else right, the rest is just focus on the start.

Developing a Prerace Routine

Many coaches incorporate starts into taper workouts leading up to a big event. If you’re fortunate to have a facility and a coach where this is possible, take advantage of it.

Many swimmers who compete, however, don’t have blocks at their training facility or don’t have the ability to practice starts. This means they only get a chance to practice starts at a meet, and that’s a problem because it’s a question mark to deal with. Here are some tips for you if you don’t have the opportunity to use blocks at your pool.

  • The side of the pool. Even if the safety plan at your pool doesn’t allow for ANY diving, you can still practice your prerace routine without actually diving into the pool. Get a friend to help with the starting sequence and visualize yourself at your event.
  • Bench or chair. This can be done in the locker room or at home. Pretend the chair (a sturdy one) or bench is the block. Go through the routine a bunch of times. The skill will transfer to the race.
  • At the meet. Give yourself enough time to get at least a few dry runs in. At nationals take advantage of every opportunity to get off the blocks, even if it’s on a day when you don’t swim or don’t swim the morning session. Distance days are usually a little less busy. Also, at USMs nationals, volunteer coaches are often on hand in designated warm-up lanes to help you with your starts, and that includes stepping up, taking your mark, and starting.

We’re Back

Now that we are back to racing, there are so many question marks, such as, “What did the time off do to my training?” For some, the adapted fitness routine has actually helped. But whether you took a step back or a step forward last year, being mentally ready to race when you step up on the block doesn’t require you to be stronger or fitter, just to have better habits.


  • Technique and Training


  • Mental Training