Analysis of Caeleb Dressel's Start
"A copy is never as good as an original" - Unknown
Caeleb Dressel has arguably one of the fastest starts on the planet. Back in January, I got hold of a video of Dressel's start from the 100 freestyle at 2017 World Championships. Below are my observations of things he does well in his start and why they contribute to his speed. Not intending to copy his start as I believe there are certain things that will work for some but not others, but so that coaches can perhaps take elements of the Dressel Start and integrate them into their work.
There are a few key elements to a start
Breakout (not covered in this post as you could write a whole post on break outs alone)
An overview of the metrics involved in Dressel's start will throw up some impressive numbers, here is my take on it. (With a pinch of salt as I had to use my own stopwatch and no video software)
Reaction Time: 0.64s
Time to entry: 0.86s
Flight time: 0.22s
Distance on entry: 4.8m
Average speed from block to water: 5.58m/s
Distance to break out: 12m (5 underwater kicks)
Time to 15m: 4.35s
An image of Dressel's stance on the block can tell how he sets his body up achieve maximal force production off of the block. Below the picture is my take on what he does well and why?
Back foot is higher up on the wedge, with force being placed through the ball of his foot. This is good for generating power through a solid connection with the block. It also places his heel off the top of the wedge providing some spring for the calf muscle to contribute to the force production.
Back leg is as 90 degrees. This comes from having his foot high up the wedge, allowing for optimal crossover of muscle fibres in the quadriceps so that when he extends his knee on take off he can get a higher force production.
Body weight over the front of the block: this comes from having high hips, and high hips are brought around by the foot and leg placement. You can see how this all interlinks now. Having body weight over the front of the block is a good starting point for a number of reasons, it contributes to a faster block time (time taken to leave the block) and it also has not been found to be significantly slower than a rear weighted start to 5m despite a rear weighted start producing more velocity. (Welcher et al 2008) However the velocity issue is minimised by use of the wedge block.
A slight bend of the arms. This provides loading through the arms and upper body to be used a lever against the block and provide further force generation.
The fact that his eyes are down has no relevance as far as I can see as he does move his head during flight, so we can assume that having eyes down is purely to aid with balance on the block rather than any performance benefit.
The first movements that comprise Dressel's occur in his arms and his feet. Loading the arms and applying pressure to the back plate with his rear foot can be seen in the picture below. Loading of the arms provides a pushing motion against the block to generate extra power, whilst applying pressure to the back plate generates the first directional movement driven with the major muscle groups of the legs.
The second section of the take-off involves the head, arms and front foot all driving forward together in synchronicity. This leads to a larger momentum in the start that maximizes the drive off of the block. This then ends up with the net effect of the head rising, and the arms, hips and feet driving forward.
The first thing to note about the flight of Caeleb Dressel's start is that it is unique, I have not seen a flight quite like it.
The most important aspect of the flight to analyse is the hand recovery from block to streamline. Dressel recovers his arms behind his body in a butterfly like manner. I have wondered why he does this and have come up with a possible explanation:
By bringing his arms up and behind his body during the recovery, he shifts his weight up and therefore increases his flight time, adding to his dominance off the start as it is well known that you travel faster through air than in the water.
Another benefit from recovering arms this way is that as they get into streamline they do so in a way that creates momentum by throwing weight forwards. This will lead to acceleration upon entry. The overarching effect of the unique arm recovery is that it gives Dressel the ideal trajectory for travelling forwards rather than straight down, as is highlighted below.
Photo of one of Dressel's competitors in the 2017 World Championships vs a photo of Dressel taken at the same time point during the flight phase of the start. It is clear that the swimmer in blue will be entering the water far sooner in a non streamlined manner whilst Dressel is travelling forwards and is likely to enter in a far more streamlined way.
It goes without saying that an elite athlete such as Caeleb Dressel has mastered streamline and enters the water off his start with perfect streamline. All travelling through one point in the water. As seen below.
Dressel is known, for his world class underwater work and analysis of this would need a whole article on its own. so instead here are a few key stats of Dressel's underwater phase off the start.
5 kickouts to 12m
Every kick is very powerful
Spends just 2.31s from first kickout to breakout
Averaging a rate of just over 2 kicks per second
It cannot be forgotten how important the underwater phase is to a start as a great dive is wasted if speed is not carried through the underwater phase into the breakout.
To conclude, it is clear that Dressel has one of the best starts in the world, this analysis has attempted to highlight some of the reasons as to why Dressel might be able to get an extra edge on his start, and if some of these components can be transferred in other swimmers then it could help them too.