The perfect competition dive.

Swimmers that compete in 50, 100, or 200 meters need the perfect competition dive.  Since swimming differs from other racing sports, finding the perfect competition dive is important. In swimming, we achieve the top speed in the beginning. After that, it is hard to maintain this top speed. After all, it is not easy to move through an element that is 830 times denser than air.

What is the perfect competition dive?

The goal of the perfect competition dive is to create top speed into the water.

In other words, get to the 5 meters mark as fast as possible. And more important, do it in a way that allows you to transfer this speed into your swimming.

The way to do this is as Ranomi Kromowidjojo comments in this interview. Quite individually.

It is not a certainty that the starting technique other people are doing is the best for you.

How can you get a quick start that gives a lot of speed?

We can divide the perfect competition dive into three elements.

  • The landing.
  • Trajectory
  • Kick-off

It is necessary to understand how these elements affect speed and trajectory. Thereby illuminating how to find the perfect competition dive for you. There will be individual differences for how this should be according to your strengths and weaknesses.

The landing.

I have placed the landing at the top of the list because every list points under will affect how you land. Consequently, you need to figure out how you want to land first. Secondly, you can decide how to adjust the air time and kick-off to achieve this. 

During the landing, we emphasize two elements.

  • The body position during the landing.
  • Angle of the landing.

Finding the body position for the landing.

“Land in one hole!”

You have probably heard this line more than once. At least if you have been an active swimmer. There is a reason why this advice is a usual recommendation. You may have noticed that you get much deeper into the water when you plunge into it like a spear than when you land flat on your stomach or back.

However, if you have no experience with the latter, then good for you. Just trust me on this. I have tried both from a height of up to 5 meters. And it is not very comfortable to land on either the stomach or the back.

Water surface tension.

One of the reasons why you lose so much speed in landing is the surface tension. If you are not familiar with what surface tension is for something.

This video comes from “Crash Chemistry Academy” and shows how surface tension occurs.

In other words, the water resistance is extra large when you break the water surface. Therefore, we want to meet the water surface with the least possible surface area. Your head, hips, and legs should hit the same hole made by your hands during impact when you hit the water.

That is how we make sure that this collision does not slow down more than necessary.

Easier said than done.

Picture 1 shows a junior athlete at the national level performing a competition dive. He hits the water at an angle of 50 degrees.  He keeps his arms in a tight arrow formation and holds his back straight. Legs spread slightly in the air, but he gathers them just before they hit the surface.

Picture 2 shows the same athlete as the hip and legs hit the water surface. As you can see, the hole became bigger. He keeps a good body line during most of the dive. However, he loses it some at the end of the dive. Probably because he is changing direction too abruptly when submerging underwater.  Consequently, his hips and legs hit the water behind the point where the arms hit the water.

Picture nr 2. The picture is showing the size of the entry hole. This entry hole is a bit bigger than we want. 

Trying to get the perfect competition dive requires a lot of practice with a focus on the details. Because when you are on the block and ready to race, then it is too late. Those small details need to be programmed into your spine and nervous system beforehand. The start goes too fast for you to adjust in the middle of the dive. Therefore, you must get the details in place beforehand.

The angle of landing.

The angle you hit the water with will affect how you hit the water. A flat trajectory could cause the hip and legs to hit the water too far behind the hole the arms make. Making a bigger hole than necessary. At the same time, a deep angle will make it harder to get the speed forward instead of down.

Choose the right solution for you.

Your goal is to get as much speed as possible in the right direction. If you have a fast underwater dolphin kick, you probably want to go a little deeper. However, if you do not, then it might be better with a shallow dive. Hence, letting you get to the surface faster.

In any case, you should have an angle that leads you deeper than 0.75 meters, as it turns out that the water resistance is somewhat lower below this depth [1].

The speed of the perfect competition dive will affect which angle you can use.

The time it takes from your hands hitting the water surface until your feet disappear into the water will affect how flat the angle you can afford. Your body meets the water surface with a constant acceleration of gN = 9.82 m / s2. Your goal is for your legs to have enough time to move to where your arms landed before you hit the surface of the water with them. Faster speed in the horizontal direction will help you towards this.

Picture nr 3. The picture shows the traveling distance for the legs before they can hit the same hole as the hands.

To illustrate, here you see that the athlete’s legs must move 2.26 m to hit the same point as the hands.

However, with a steeper angle, the legs will have a shorter way to move. Hence, less time is needed to get them into the same hole as your hands.

Picture nr 4. The picture shows the traveling distance for the legs before they can hit the same hole as the hands with a steep dive.

Here is a later photo of the competition dive. Notice that the athlete’s legs only have to move 1.92 m to hit the same point as the hands. That makes a difference of 15%.

Find the perfect angle for the perfect competition dive.

Recommendations vary between 30 to 45 degrees. The research report of M.T. Gallivan and T.B. Hoshizaki, «Optimization of swimming starting performance» [2], reinforces this recommendation. Moreover, it points out that a deeper angle (40-45 degrees) is used more often for butterfly and breast swimming. Likely because the underwater work is used more actively in there. Although, you should be careful to follow objective recommendations blindly. Instead, adapt the start to your skills and strengths. Because they will affect what is the best solution for you.

The perfect competition dive angle:

  • Choose a precipice angle where you can land in one hole.
  • Greater horizontal speed from the starting block allows you to choose a lower impact angle.
  • Find an angle that gives you the optimal depth for your underwater work. Minimum 0.75 m.[1]

Sources:

[2] M.T. Gallivan and T.B. Hoshizaki, McGill 1986. «Optimization of swimming starting performance» University.C’litrea.J. PQ Canada

Trajectory.

The trajectory is reasonably easy to predict. When you are in the air, it is only a force that affects your airway. That is the force of gravity that pulls you towards the water with a constant acceleration of gN = 9.82 m / s2. The air resistance is usually too small to affect the trajectory significantly.

In other words, the kick-off from the podium is the only time you can influence the trajectory. You can certainly change your body position during the trajectory. You can do this by bending the hip and straighten your upper body down so that you hit the water better. But the trajectory and trajectory will not change despite any alteration in body position. The only thing you can alter is how your body position will be when you hit the water.

The high competition dive.

With the high competition dive, the athlete plunges high to utilize the acceleration from gravity to create speed into the water. This trajectory also allows the athlete to dive quite far. The disadvantage is that the angle into the water often becomes quite abrupt. Consequently, the athlete gets too deep into the water. As of today, almost none of the best athletes use this variant.

The long dive.

As of today, Caleb Dressel has one of the best competition dive in the world. One of the qualities of his competition dive is the length of his dive. He lands a little further ahead than his competitors. And this may make a big difference.

Video of Caleb Dressels best starts.

However, it is not wise to get hung up on a single technique detail. Caleb has many qualities that make his competition dives to one of the best. In other words, it is difficult to determine whether it is the length of the competition dive that is the deciding factor. In this case, it is perhaps more interesting to look at how his explosive jumping strength makes it possible to dive far and still land in one hole.

In other words, you should let your explosive strength be one of the deciding factors whether you choose to dive long or short. If you have explosive jumping strength, then go for it. Dive long and with as a flat angle as you can and still hit one hole. However, athletes with weaker jumping strength might not get the same results. That is because it will be harder for them to hit in one hole with that angle.

The short dive.

This technique is used frequently by female swimmers. For example, take a look at the picture from the final of the 50 freestyle for women during the 2020(1) Olympics.

Picture nr 5. Picture from the final of the 50 freestyle for women during the 2020(1) Olympics.

Unfortunately, this image is not good enough for you to see the position of the starting podium according to the athletes. However, you can follow this link and consider this yourself. Click here.

The picture shows how the Chinese swimmer closest inn the picture chooses a short dive directly into the water. This variant may be beneficial for athletes who are good at keeping a good line into the water. That is because it allows you to hit the water at a higher speed to be transferred to your underwater swimming.

Which trajectory should you choose?

The angle you want to hit the water with affects your choices. For example, a flat angle will give you more speed into the water. And it will allow you to resurface again earlier.  In this, there is an advantage to the short competition dive that goes obliquely straight into the water. In addition, it will give you more speed in the horizontal direction. On the other hand, gravity does not have enough time to increase your vertical speed.

If you want to use your underwater dolphin kick, then a deeper competition dive is better. That is something you will achieve better with a longer competition dive.

Since this competition dive will go a little higher than the short one, gravity will also lead you a little deeper into the water. It is also possible to use the short competition dive with a deeper angle to get the correct depth. But this variation does not provide as much free energy as you can take with you from gravity.

Ultimately, you should choose the trajectory that best suits your explosive jump strength and underwater skills. The most commonly used variant is trajectory straight out of the starting block with a relatively long soar. This with an angle that is flat enough to transmit the speed in the horizontal direction and vertical to take you deep enough into the water. Try it several times to measure which variants will give you the most speed in the horizontal direction. You can use Tracker to measure the speed.

Kick-off.

A good kick-off from the starting block is crucial for the perfect competition dive. Every technical element after this is directly affected by how your kick-off.

Speed and direction from the starting block will determine the trajectory, which again affects the angle and velocity into the water.

We can divide the kick-off into two sub-moments:

  • Reaction time. (The time from the start signal passes until you leave the starting block).
  • Power and your power trajectory from the starting pallet.

Reaction time.

Today, most starting blocks have sensors. So that the reaction time becomes quite clear. As a result, this might also be one of the reasons why the reaction time has received so much attention when it comes to training the starting technique. Personally, however, I ask one question about how much the start time affects the final performance. Here is a comparison of the reaction times for the best athletes in the world by the best in Norway.

Men.

Championship

Reaksjonstid

Tid

Semi-final Long-course World Championship 2019

0,63

21,78

16 best results from the heats in the Norwegian Long-course Championship 2017

0,66

23,78

Differences

0,03

2,00

Women.

Championship

Reaksjonstid

Tid

Semi-final Long-course World Championship 2019

0,69

24,53

16 best results from the heats in the Norwegian Long-course Championship 2017

0,69

26,74

Differences

0,00

2,21

Tab 1. Shows average reaction time in the semi-finals of the World Championships Long-course in 2019 and the 16 best athletes from the long-course NM in 2017.

On the men’s side, there is only a difference of 0.03 sec between the average time from Norway and the average time for the WC athletes. However, there is no difference at all on the women’s side. Even though the final time of 50 meters still has a difference of 2.00 to 2.21 sec. In other words, the reaction time is not enough to account for the difference of level.

In this case, the reaction time is not a good enough indicator to tell us whether the start was good or not. A quick reaction time can often mean that the athlete has not taken enough time to move his body mass forward in front of the starting block before getting airborne. Therefore, the kick leads the athlete more upwards than forwards. In other words, the athlete dive with a higher trajectory than is optimal. As described earlier in this post, this is not an optimal airway for competitors.

Power versus reaction time.

More time on the podium gives better time to develop power. The race between Alexander Popov and Gary Hall Jr shows a great example of this. Observe their starting technique.

Alexander Popov vs Gary Hall Jr.

Alexander Popov is in lane 5 seen from below. Gary Hall Jr. is in lane 4. Take notice of how both athletes use two different starting techniques. Popov uses an old starting technique with both legs placed in front. This technique provides better conditions for developing power in the kick as both legs are used fully in the kick-off. Whereafter, only one leg dominates the kick-off when using the track start position. 

However, the disadvantage of this technique is that you spend more time moving your body mass forward and in front of the starting block. Therefore, you will see that Popov leaves the starting block later than Hall. On the other hand, when Hall uses his track start technique. He can leave the starting block a bit faster than Popov. However, you are not able to generate as much power in the competition dive. That is why Hall is faster from the starting block, but Popov, who has created more speed from his dive, is in front after 10 meters.

In other words, the force and trajectory of the dive are more important than your ability to reduce the reaction time by 0.1-0.2 sec.

New starting blocks.

While there has been a lot of discussion in the past. What is the best starting technique?  The traditional starting technique that Popov uses or the track start? However, this discussion has subsided after the current Olympic starting block came. The extra ledge angle for the back foot allows you to develop even more power with the track start technique. At present, we refer to this starting technique as the kickstart technique. This change in the starting pallets and the fact that athletes make better use of the underwater work now are two of the main reasons why athletes are faster the first 15 meters now than before.

The kick-off for the perfect competition dive.

During the kick-off, you want to develop as much power as possible with the right trajectory.

In other words, you need to move your entire body mass in front of the starting block as quickly as possible. At the same time, you must be able to develop power and speed in a horizontal direction.

To achieve this, you should acquire these skills.

A balanced starting position.

Any movement before the start signal is considered a false start. Therefore it is paramount to choose a starting position where you are stable and ready. In addition, it is much easier to develop power when you are in balance. As an illustration, you can lift in squats when standing on a stable ground compared to unstable.

You can try this exercise from Ranomi to train the balance in the starting position:

This exercise is also perfect for training in bodyline posture and for landing in one hole.

Should you lean forward or backward?

Over the years, athletes have tried out different starting positions. For a while, it was popular to lean back. As a result, that you get a better time to create power in the kick-off. However, this led to an increase in reaction time. The second version was to lean as far forward as possible. Consequently, the reaction time was shorter, but the power output was weaker.

Today, most athletes place themself perfectly balanced on the front foot. You can observe how Ranomi is showing this in her video. Like this, you have a better balance and can react fast. In addition, it is easy to move your body mass out in front and to the correct trajectory angle.

Start the dive by moving your body mass forward.

Start the dive by pulling your body forward with your arms and simultaneously kick hard with your back foot. As a result, your hip moves forward and, you tip in front of the starting block. Hence, your body mass will move in front of the tipping point of the foot.

Picture nr 6 & 7. The pictures show the effect of pulling down with your arms. 

Also, make sure to position your back foot correctly. To get a better grip when you kick-off. Pace it with a stable footing like in the pictures above.

Conclusion.

  • Find yourself a well-balanced starting position.
  • Kick-off with a trajectory that gives you the optimal speed into the water.
  • Hit the water in one hole to create less water resistance. 
  • Hit the water with an angle that transfers the speed in the horizontal direction.

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