Starts – Turns – Finishes Physical and Technical Preparation on Dryland By Monika E. Schloder, PhD (2006)


First of all, I need to emphasize that this presentation is based on my European background, education, and training in teaching/coaching pedagogy [science of improving instructions]. As a teacher/coach of gymnastics, swimming, athletic, and dance I have always used teaching/training methods that ‘borrow’ aspects from other sport activities. ASCA Director John Leonard talks about “enhancing the coaching toolbox” – I have developed a ‘super box.’

In my approach to long-term athlete development [LTAD] the most fundamental premise is the enhancement of ‘general athleticism’ – that is, foremost to develop athletes in all fitness and health-related aspects not just for success in swimming. This process does not occur separately but is a progressive sequence that is parallel to daily swim training, but in consideration of the developmental age, individual needs, and uniqueness of each swimmer.

I believe strongly that we can augment grassroots programs if all participants were exposed to more formative movement experiences and experiential learning [gymnastic-type activities and dance enhance general body and spatial awareness], ’Run, Jump, Throw activities [enhance strength, speed, and explosive power and many others]. Foremost, these activities are beneficial because water has no weight-bearing quality, which is important to decrease or delay osteoporosis. All activities are based on the Fun – Fitness and Fundamentals approach to keep young swimmers motivated and interested.

Starts, Turns, and Finishes are part of every swimming race and in many cases are the difference between loosing and winning. It has been stated that swimmers frequently win Olympic medals “by a fingernail” with superb finishing lunges into the wall as was demonstrated recently at the Pan Pacific Championships. These skills become ‘art and science’ requiring general athleticism, concentration during daily training, and daily refinement. At times, swim performances ‘go stale’ for one reason or the other. Renewed focus on Starts, Turns and Finishes can often provide the needed uplift.

According to recent research, Starts can contribute 25-30% of the overall performance time, especially in the shorter races (Lyttle & Benjanuvatra, 2005). However, in many cases, Starts and Relay-Take-over are only reviewed and practiced before competitions, not on a daily basis. This compares to gymnasts practicing mounts and dismounts a couple of days prior to competition. Self-efficacy [I can do it] leads to self-competence [I master that skill], which leads to self-confidence [I can do it any time, under any circumstance], which leads to self-esteem. The latter is a process and does not occur through some ‘osmosis.’ Swimmers execute continuous Turn and Finishing skills during daily workout routines but many tend to ‘go through the motions’ (lack of focus or fatigue). To be successful in racing, however, these skills require that said selfconfidence, ‘wall’ fitness, and continuous 100% effort every time these skills are attempted or completed because there are no ‘such things’ as slow Turns or Finishes.

Training sessions may nowadays be the only opportunity for children to improve their athleticism given the fact that many are less fit than ever. Therefore, physical preparation is the process of developing ‘general athleticism’ or so-called physical attributes in order to carry out athletic skills more successfully, not only in swimming but also in any other physical activity. Several questions arise: a) What does it take to successfully complete these skills? b) Which physical attributes are needed? c) How, where and when do we develop these attributes? and d) How can we teach theses skills on land before transferring them to the water?

Physical attributes are somewhat grouped according to their immediate importance in either general or specific developmental and training phases; some should be incorporated as soon as possible, while others should be added as needed, or when suitable, depending on the skill at hand. They should be developed through creative drills, game-like activities, swim-specific drills, and strength exercises on dry-land and ‘in water’ conditioning. Coaches are encouraged to look to other sports for compatible physical preparation (dance, gymnastics, athletics, soccer, synchronized swimming, etc.). Foremost, coaches need to explore new and creative methods to develop the essential motor skills for Starts, Turns and Finishes by teaching and training them on dry-land before transferring these skills to the water because skill complexity increases in the water.

Kalos is a LTAD longitudinal study [1996-2004] that investigated the development and progress of Non-swimmers who started at 4-years of age. The initial fitness test scores showed below-average fitness levels, based on Canadian National standards for that age. Fitness scores improved tremendously over the eight-year duration when 4x per week 30-minute dry-land sessions and 1x per week 60-minute special activity sessions were implemented. The program progress was monitored through annual pre-mid-and post-test administration. Swimming skills were evaluated in the same manner, i.e., Starts, Turns, Finishes [timed speed off the block for Starts; average velocity from flags to wall and past flags including distance and breakout stroke for Turns; from flags to wall for Finishes; stroke techniques during training and competition was monitored as qualitative assessment, including stroke count, initiated through playful methods in training].

The 2006 ASCA Presentation is based on the 8-year Kalos study showing that a dry-land approach for the required skills in the water can be very successful. Coaches have to be willing to experiment with teaching/coaching methods and be ‘open minded.’ The picture series represent the first clip of embedded movies shown at the 2006 presentation.

Starts – Turns – Finishes
Physical and Technical Preparation on Dry-land
“Every Gymnastics Teacher ought to be a Swim Teacher,”
(1912 quote in German Swim Instructor education)
The preparation is a progressive sequence built upon the LTAD [long-term athlete development] model, which centers on the developmental not chronological age of athletes.
Learning to learn – FUN-damentals…
Learning to train – refining…
Learning to compete – performing…
Followed by
Training to compete – performance perfection…
Training to win – elite performance…
Mastery and stabilization…
Training to keep winning – high performance…

Attributes needed for general and specific dry-land skills are identified such as:
General and specific physical components or abilities
Functional fitness Motor fitness
Mental fitness
Tactical abilities

The question becomes, how and when to incorporate these in daily sessions. It is important that a flow in the movement and skill training exists, that is…from component to component… sequence-to-sequence…from dry-land to the water. General and specific exercises depend upon …what is best – most beneficial – for the age – and the overall individual needs of athletes. “General Athleticism” is developed through motor function and motor fitness. This is different than developing physical fitness because fitness is a product, achieved through motor skills. Functional fitness is a process, related to overall motor function, health, and wellness. Motor function and motor fitness make up motor abilities that initiate and support controlled execution of movements. They enhance motor performance and/or ‘mechanical efficiency but they depend upon such factors, which have to be developed:
Kinesthetic sense or awareness
Neuromuscular coordination
Muscle balance
Kinesthetic (body) awareness… or proprioceptive awareness… and vestibular (balance)
Balance – static – dynamic – control
Spatial awareness
Coordination (motor)…and coordination (hand-eye.
Laterality and symmetry
Peripheral vision (without ‘looking’)
Rhythm And Flexibility – strength – speed – power
Cardio-respiratory and muscular or strength endurance

Gymnastic-type activities provide learning experiences that improve general gross motor movement patterns. Benches and mats are excellent for developing required upper/lower body strength, speed, power, dynamic balance, spatial and body awareness.

Functional fitness is developed through a series of dynamic movement sequences to encourage fitness aspects and movement flow, laterality, symmetry, and rhythm. Instead of typical stationary forward/backward arm circling routines dynamic movement series include various forward/backward/lateral/grapevine/carioca [from athletics, high knee lift crossing in front of body with grapevine pattern]. Movement patterns are adopted from sprint, hurdle, and jump training in athletics. The purpose is to keep the HR elevated.

A course is set up with plastic wands to encourage running without hesitation, maintaining rhythm, and dynamic balance. The activity requires focus and concentration to maintain speed and rhythm. Swimming is not an impact activity, like soccer, running, etc. and thereby does not provide health benefits essential for the prevention of osteoporosis in later life. Coaches need to consider such elements in programming.

Partner-support relay-type activities such as wheel barrel, kangaroo, crazy horse, bear, cricket, crocodile, crab, and crab soccer to name some, enhance upper body and core strength. It should be noted that the picture purposely shows the incorrect support, which is very common. Rather, the support is at the upper part of thighs, closer to the center of the body than on ankles. The latter weakens the lower back, and may even lead to injuries due to weak core strength.

Running over sticks is followed with hurdling over mini wands set up as hurdles. This activity develops flexibility, mobility, strength, speed, power, and rhythm.

Lateral movement, touching cones set up on both sides, increases mobility laterality, speed, and spatial awareness as well as agility [change of direction without loss of dynamic balance, speed and rhythm].

For ‘crab’ or ‘crab soccer’ fingers point toward the feet for safety. Otherwise, the incorrect position becomes a habit, resulting in broken or snapped arms during a fall. Crabwalks [note the fingers] are used with a flat object [paper plate, rubber disc] placed flat on the stomach. This not only creates core and upper body strength but also postural and body awareness [helpful for Back Crawl hip position].

A single bar set up at pool site is used for daily conditioning. The required grip is overhand or- regular versus reverse grip commonly used for chin-ups. The latter is less conducive because few sports skills depend on muscle groups in that position. A series of chin-ups is executed. Kalos swimmers were able to do one chin-up, with chin above the bar in the beginning of the study. This was the norm by children in national testing; only one out of six elementary age school children was successful in doing a single chin-up. It shows the lack of strength in children. At the end of the study, the highest score was 27.

In the “L-Hang,“ legs are lifted and extended parallel-to-the-ground. This requires core strength [Parallel to the floor means nine or three o’clock position]. Most swimmers ‘dangled or hung’ the feet at about 5 o’clock due to weak core strength. At the end of the study, the record hold was 55 seconds.

The ‘Three-man’ roll is designed for reaction, rotation, strength, speed, and power. The movement is more difficult when carried out on a 12” safety or ‘crash’ mat that is somewhat soft [one has to push more and increase speed). Swimmers of all ages love this FUN activity.

‘Bull Frog’ jumps develop lower body strength, speed, and explosive power, height and flight for distance – an excellent preparation for Starts and Turns. The fun is to ‘clap’ hands in 1x-2x-3x-4x-5x patterns because increasing the number of claps also requires longer and/or higher leaping.

Floor balance beams, 2x4s or benches [as shown, turned over, or sideways narrow the balancing surface], are super to increase static balance [Starts]. The width variations increase kinesthetic and spatial awareness. Activities include: ‘Stork or Flamingo Stand’ and ‘Scales’ with different leg positions. Holding the leg parallel to the floor also increases flexibility and core strength.

The ‘Whobble board’ is a favorite ‘toy’ to increase static balance, kinesthetic awareness, focus and concentration (Starts).

No, these are not gymnasts but swimmers. Where did the myth originate that flexibility is gender or race driven? [Our black male swimmer was just as flexible] The ‘Frog-Tailor or Butterfly-Sit’ stretches thighs and the groin [Breaststroke]. The feet are placed close to the body. Swimmers always press on thighs, never on knees. The same stretch can be executed in the prone [on stomach] position, knees turned out – sole of feet touching. In many cases, the pelvic area is not flat on the ground, which indicates tightness and often an unequal growth of limbs during growth spurts [affects motor performance].

The ‘V-Sit’ can be done with legs against the wall/nose to knees or back against the wall/nose to knees. Here, the back remains straight against wall – sliding down is avoided. Note the correct finger position!

This series also includes:
‘Butterfly-Sit’ with forward stretch/nose/chest/head flat forward [resting on feet] – ‘play the piano’ with fingers
Slider mat – sliding/gliding skating forward and back in crouch position – legs bend and extend to maximum [hamstrings] – hands push along the floor
Sit alongside the bench – legs extend against bench bottom – reach across bench to other side – grasp edge and hold [hamstrings]
‘Inchworm’ on bench – on bench – bend forward/hands grasp bench edge – move hands forward as far as possible – legs remain stationary – move legs up to hands as close as possible to pike position [hamstrings] – continue – move hands then feet – move down the bench [upper body strength/hip awareness/trunk flexibility/hamstrings]
Partner ball Pass in sitting position – ‘Straddle-Sit’ [legs split as wide as possible] face partner – lean forward as far as possible – push-pass any size ball to partner. Variation: After push-pass follow with supine lie [on back] – 2-hand pass-throw to partner
‘V-Sit’ – in that position, roll the ball from side to side – maintain position [balance/ hamstrings/core strength]
‘L-Sit’ – in that position [legs are fully extended] push the ball around legs and all around the body [behind] by bending trunk – both sides
2-foot jumps with elevated hips in straddle position– Straddle leg stance [bench between legs] – arm support on bench edge –2-foot jump along the bench with hip elevation as high as possible – legs extend in air, feet point to floor [hamstrings/upper body strength/lower body strength/hip awareness. Move forward. Variation: Move forward but face backward.

Dynamic Stationary-Active Flexibility is used for dry-land Warm-up or Warm-down training or conditioning. If the PNF principle is added it should be incorporated in the Warm-down phase since muscles are warm and injuries are avoided. Functional strength exercises should be included [see picture below].

Body alignment or proper posture is a critical component in any sport performance and daily living skills. Modern lifestyles with abundance of electronic gadgets [computers/video games] add to children’s ‘slouch’ position while swimming contributes to the ‘rounded shoulder’ syndrome. Postural training therefore is not only beneficial for athletic skill development but also to general health.

Body streamline in swimming is a key component and is taught as early as possible. We all know that but to develop it without boredom is the challenge. Gymnastic-type activities teach alignment and awareness for body tightness [not tension]. The similarity between the handstand in the vertical and the streamline in the horizontal position is obvious – except the gymnast topples over which provides immediate feedback of the incorrect position. The swimmer experiences no such feedback. Note the weak [arch – off center] and correct alignment [pencilstick- like].

Streamline jumps on dry-land and in the water serve as skill training and conditioning before and after daily sessions. The far right picture denotes the importance of body alignment during Turns. There are specific postural exercises to correct body position [awareness of body arch versus alignment].

On the floor in the supine position, tuck one leg to knee [sailboat skill in Synchro] or extend leg vertically [ballet leg in Synchro] – the back is ’flush’ to the floor [press pelvic in to floor – contract buttocks]. We use a long narrow stick to ‘squeeze’ underneath the back to check the ‘flush’ position. Core and back strength are also improved.
Swimmers line up against the wall – back on the wall/shoulders press against the wall – crouch into demi-squat position – maintain back/shoulders on wall – contract buttocks – roll/tilt pelvic forward. The position is ‘flush’ against the wall like on the floor. The demi-squat is also excellent for developing lower body strength.

‘L-Bend’ with flat back – hold ball on top of back – maintain bum/hip to head alignment.

The ‘Cat Curl’ is another excellent postural exercise. On all four – start by sitting back on heels – rise to big ‘Cat Curl’ position – lean forward using arm support – push forward as far as possible [low to the floor] – pretend to ‘push a peanut along the ground with the nose’ – after reaching full body extension [weigh is taken on arms] – curl again and return to start position.

Many of the exercises are adapted from the high jump where body position and body awareness is crucial to clearing the attempted height. Jumping activities such as the standing long jump, 2-foot and one-foot vertical jump [alternate feet] develop lower body strength/ speed/explosive power/and distance [Starts and Turns]. We incorporate these into special training sessions and into daily dry-land training. A variety of Plyometric exercises increase lower body strength and power [See Chart and note safety cautions. High intensity and shocktype are avoided for younger athletes]. The simplest form of Plyometrics is rope jumping. Use variations [2-feet/1-foot/ with turns, different swings, etc]. We use the ‘add on’ jump game. One jumper starts over an extended rope [15-20 feet long] – one by one is added as group rhythm is maintained [add as many as possible]. This is also improves focus and concentration.

Benches are used to teach block stance for Frontal Starts, for balance, and the elevated hip position. Shoes are removed later to develop toe grasp on the block platform. We also work with proper foot placement because many swimmers turn out the feet, resulting in unequal force application during the take-off [very common error in Track and Sling Starts]. Note the bench and hip with arm support drill [See earlier exercises].

The bench exercise is transferred to the pool site. Swimmers work off the block with the back to the water. Block action – take-off – flight and landing in prone position is carried out from the block into a safety mat [see pictures below].

The hoop is used the teach ‘blocking’ action of the arms and the sighting of the entry’ [see pictures below]

The hoop is used for ‘spotting’ the entry created by the arms and for elevation of thighs and feet instead of touching down those body parts onto the water, i.e. we want a ‘clean entry.’

Frontal Start progressions occur from the floor into the safety mat [above] and from a box into the mat [below] – an excellent way to examine proper body or feet position [open or closed]

The body arch can be enhanced with the use of a gymnastic roll [mat]. Swimmers arch over the roll with proper head and arm position.

The Back Crawl Start position requires a curvi-linear body arch in flight position, easily developed with various gymnastic-type activities. In fact the back handspring in gymnastics is a super exercise to teach the arch and ‘quick foot’ take off – the explosive spring off the wall with distance. However, one does not expect swimmers to master a back handspring [most Kalos swimmers did. Note my introduction quote] – but we can keep it simple by assuming a demisquat position – ‘throw backward onto the mat.’ We developed a progressive series of these exercises.

The skill transfers to the pool site and the entire Back Crawl Start sequence is executed with coach assistance [See pictures]. The kick up of the feet is an integral part of the task. The series on dry-land and from a box is done with partner assist; incorrect action is immediately corrected.

Forward rotation is improved when implementing a ‘wedge mat.’ The incline automatically provides rotational speed. We also place the wedge at the pool edge and execute single rolls [salto] into the water. A second roll is added in the water while maintaining rotational speed attained from the first roll down the incline. For fun and movement variation, the rolls are practiced in forward/backward direction. Spotting assist occurs at the back of the neck and the hips.

We always introduce the Back Crawl Roll-over Turn on dry-land as a movement pattern from gymnastics. It is, in essence, a log-roll combined with a forward somersault. The series is taught on land in separate skills; then it is combined as continuous movement [flow]. The safety mat is used to increase speed and correct foot placement on the wall. We transfer the skill to the water with the same approach [log-roll – forward roll m – combine movements].

Frontal approach Turns [Breaststroke and Butterfly] are practiced against the wall on dryland. The entire movement is first carried out in stationary position [top] – Wall touch with both hands – 1-foot on wall – pivot – arms move to streamline position.

Years ago, I heard Stanford coaches talk about “quick feet.” My ‘brain was working overtime’ – How does one teach that effectively so swimmers know and feel that? I came up with the wall and mat drill [pictures]. Swimmers walk ward the wall with Breaststroke or Butterfly arm action to. At the appropriate distance from the wall, a jump is executed – both feet are placed on the wall – the body turns and the push-off takes place with flight over the mat and landing on the mat in streamline position. Ha, swimmers discover quickly the meaning of ‘fast feet’ and correct push-off. The series also reinforces the correct approach distance.

The Race Finish is aggressive into the wall. It is the ‘icing on the cake,’ as I call it. We teach this skill with the ‘Lunge’ movement adapted from Fencing. Swimmers love the ‘Musketeer’ image, which somehow brings about that desired aggression. We teach the Lunge –Soccer balls are added – the kick and forward Lunge occur at the same time. Swimmers wear rubber cones on the lunge hand [from Toddler gymnastics] to target the center of heart posters attached at the wall.

Starts – Turns – Finishes depend upon focus and concentration. It is the ‘mind over muscle’ game. Often, mental skills are delayed until later. I strongly believe that they should be taught as early as possible. After all, the difference at the elite level swimming is that desired level of mental focus [given that all athletes usually are physically prepared]. Focus and concentration are functional fitness skills, in my opinion and they need to be practiced. We use the ‘Red’ [Stop] and ‘Green’ [Go] light images for ‘parking potential distractions.’ We create noise and other distractions in gym and pool sessions so that swimmers learn to ignore them.

Swimmer on the right side ‘role plays’ the distraction

We have created an entire series of exercises for focus and concentration. The skills are practiced before or after daily training session (used for relaxation as part of the Warm-down]. ‘Centering’ or ‘growing roots,’ and images from the movie ‘Karate Kid’ are used to introduce and strengthen these skills. In fact, practice sessions are stopped when focus and concentration deteriorate. The lack of focus is discussed and at times a game is inserted to re-focus or reenergize. It is important to develop, practice, and refine these skills in daily session to feel confident in competition. Therefore …

All Kalos progressions on dry-land are designed as skill transfer to the water. The series makes swimmers more familiar with the required tasks and movement patterns. The transfer to the water is less frustrating. Swimmers remain more positive and motivated. This provides an optimal learning and teaching/coaching environment.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that “training is not all in the water “We pay for pool time” – can’t afford to give it up! [Commonly cited reason]. I have trained elite swimmers in other countries but my choice has been to work with younger swimmers for the past decade, especially to examine the progress in a longitudinal model. Hopefully, the presentation stimulated some of you to implement some of the ideas. Just in case, you wonder … the Greek “Kalos” stands for “Beautiful” [Technique – Our team motto]. Go for it!

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