Runners: A Simple Drill for Better Starts

Runners: A Simple Drill for Better Swim Starts

Races are won and lost off the start. Here is a simple drill you can use to work on bodyline and hitting the water with max speed.

The swim start is a crucial part of success on race day.

Getting off the blocks quickly and cleanly entering the water maximizes speed and leads to faster overall swim times.

Athletes like Caeleb Dressel, Nathan Adrian, Ryan Hoffer and Brad Tandy have starts that leave the competition by the wayside. It’s just another act of athleticism on top of superior swimming skills that they use to dominate the pool.

For the rest of us, we realize that improving our swim start can be a little challenging. After all, it’s an act of dryland. They can’t be trained by swimming more laps, or by doing more kick or pull work in the water.

You actually have to do them.

From using a hula hoop in the water to encourage swimmers to dive into the water cleanly to jumping off of the blocks for distance, there are a few different drills swimmers can add to their swim practices to improve their starts.

And at the top of the list is my favorite: runners.

Runners: How to Improve Bodyline & Build a Faster Entry

Runners are a really fun drill that is as simple as it gets: run along the pool deck for 5-10 feet, and using that momentum and speed launch yourself into a dive.

Why is this drill so awesome?

In the same way that swimmers love training with swimming fins and hand paddles, we get to go much faster than we usually do when diving with a running start.

Upon hitting the water it’s like we’ve been shot out of a cannon, hurtling through space and water at speeds we only dream of.

Beyond being a lot of fun, the extra speed shows us:

  • How our bodyline and streamline affect velocity moving through the water. If you aren’t in tight streamline, entering cleanly, and don’t have your body straight you are going to hit the brakes the moment you enter the water.
  • That we shouldn’t be dolphin kicking right away. This is a hard one for most swimmers to understand; that at the moment they are diving in is the fastest they will ever go. Adding big dolphin kicks to that first moment or two of your streamline creates a bigger drag profile and actually ends up slowing you down. You will really notice this when performing runners.

American 50m freestyle specialist Bill Pilczuk used them often in practice—in addition to doing upwards of 50 starts per session—to develop his legendary start. It was that explosive start that he used to upset freestyle sprint king Alexander Popov at the 1998 FINA World Championships.

In the below video American sprinter and multiple Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin demonstrates how to do a picture-perfect runner.

She takes off about a foot short of the ledge (the goal is working on your entry at high velocity, not trying to see how close you can get to the edge), and enters the water cleanly with a nearly perfect straight body-line.

Outside of having a super clean entry, Coughlin is a heckuva athlete, getting some decent yardage out of her running dive:

There is one serious shortfall with this drill. Most pool decks make it inherently unsafe to do.

Wet swimmers + slippery deck surfaces = seriously bad ouchies.

Perform these only with supervision and on a surface that actually makes running possible (concrete works, as at the old Cal pool in the video above).

Most pools have rules that are pretty clear: no running on deck, so please, only do these in safe and supervised conditions.

More Guides on a Faster Swim Start:

Looking to take your swim start to the next level?

We’ve published guides and resources on how swimmers can improve start performance, including dryland exercises, analysis of how the fastest swimmers on the planet get off the blocks, and more.

This Proven Exercise Will Help You Destroy the Competition on the Start. This dryland exercise will help you dive further and faster off the blocks. No gym or weights required, either.

7 Reasons Caeleb Dressel’s Start is the Best in the World. Caeleb Dressel’s start has become a thing of legend. Here are some things you can learn from the fastest swimmer on the planet.

Does Dryland Improve Sprint Swimming Performance? The debate over weight lifting and resistance training for swimmers is old as time. Here is some research that gets behind the effects of a dryland program.

Nathan Adrian’s Start Is Devastating (Video). Catch a slow-motion glimpse at Nathan Adrian’s start and breakout with this video that was produced in conjunction with BMW.

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Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

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