Starts and Walls:
As summer swimmers, we need to remember that our explosiveness off of walls and starts will determine the tempo we set for that length of swimming. If we start slow, we do not have enough water to regain tempo and the race will be lost (either to an opponent, or to the clock). If we swim slowly INTO the walls, we will not have enough momentum to break out properly.
You can try to swim slow into a wall, turn slowly, and rely on leg strength to push off a wall strong and regain speed, but unfortunately our bodies recognize momentum and cannot go from slow to fast very well in water. That is the nature of the sport, as opposed to baseball or football, where athletes go from a very still position to explosive and varied movements; swimming speed is about carrying momentum and accelerating beyond the tempo that has been set from the previous stroke (or dolphin kick) while maintaining identical technique.
The best strategy is to treat walls as being as important as any swimming stroke. As a coach, I am concerned with teaching the proper technique of your stroke and the dolphin kick motion. But one thing I cannot teach is the mentality needed in short course swimming to break out explosively, maintain momentum into walls, turn fast, and then go for another break out. This power needs to come from the motivation to race and compete.
These are some of my favorite races featuring great breakouts and turns. The swimmers started the race (and each length) KNOWING they would have an excellent swim. This is the proper mentality of breakouts.
Ian Crocker: World Record 100 Fly
Watch how far ahead Crocker is of Phelps after ONE stroke. This is the greatest swim of all time in my opinion.
Natalie Coughlin: World Record 100 Back
Watch how aggressive Coughlin is off the start, in to the turn, and off the wall. Once she breaks out of her streamline she becomes the definition of “easy speed”. Its unreal how fast her legs “snap” over her when she does her flip turn. There is some cool footage of her start and turn after the race.
Kosuke Kitajima: 100 Breaststroke
This is great footage of a proper breaststroke turn. He spends the least amount of time possible on the wall, letting his body cut through the water quickly so he can bring his feet to the wall and place them for a push off. Watch the timing and power of the dolphin kick in the under water pullout.
Ian Crocker 100 YARD Free, American Championships 2007
Bad footage, but this is the worlds best BUTTERFLY swimmer winning USA nationals in FREESTYLE off of the most powerful under water dolphin kicks in history. Not a great freestyler, but a great all around short course racer.
The BEST way to get better at swimming is to become a student of a sport. Thanks to the internet, the resources to study are endless (it can almost become too much). But if you are passionate about going faster and being stronger in the water, I recommend watching the world’s greatest and trying to analyze what made them so good, then implement those ideas into your own swimming.