The Best Swimming Relay Start Technique

What is the Best Swimming Relay Start Technique?

admin Biomechanics, Blog, Competition, Dr. John Mullen, Latest&Greatest 3 Comments

The relay exchange is a critical component of relays. Subjectively, you can watch a great relay exchange and watch the superior relay start make a significant improvement over their competitors. Yet, the ideal swimming relay start technique has garnered minimal research.

Like most aspects of swimming, research is often behind the elite swimmers. Coaches and swimmers are creative and can perform daily technical changes to find the fastest method for a technique, then figure out why later. Researchers need to have a theory, then test the theory. Therefore, the below research study will not analyze the Step-Over swimming relay start technique (see below, when they step over the wedge of the Omega OSB11).

As you can see, this style of relay exchange involves more athleticism and skills. Nonetheless, it should have the swimmer enter with more horizontal velocity, unfortunately, this is new style was not assessed in the below study.

Research on Swimming Relay Start Technique

Similar to swimming start, many in the swimming community associate a lower changeover time with a successful swimming relay start.

Saavedra et al. (2014) researched the relationship between changeover times and the corresponding relay race times for 13 years from international competitions (yes, 13 years) and concluded that changeover time was a determining factor for the overall race performance. However, Fischer et al. (2017) found that:

maximizing horizontal peak force rather than minimizing changeover time improved relay start performance

Fischer et al., 2019

History of Swimming Relay Start Technique

Over time, block maneuvers for swimming relay start technique has changed dramatically.

  • Parallel start with circular arm swing
  • Track start
  • Single-step start
  • Double-step start
  • Step over start [as depicted above, if someone has a name for this, please put in comments]

Not all of these swimming relay start techniques have been researched, but of the research previously done, there have been no significant differences between relay starting styles.

However, a higher horizontal take-off velocity was detected in the double step technique by McLean et al. (2000). In contrast, in a study conducted by Takeda et al. (2010), no significant differences were found across different swimming relay start techniques in horizontal take-off velocity or in take-off angle.

At this point, it remains unclear (from the current body of literature) in several ways which swimming relay start technique competitive swimmers should employ during relay races.

3 Flaws with Past Relay Start Research

  1. Lack of research: The most regarded research on swimming relay start technique doesn’t include (Gambrel et al., 1991; McLean et al., 2000; Takeda et al., 2010) date on the Omega OSB11 starting block, which was released in 2008 and which provides further advantages for swimmers.
  2. Lack of Key Parameters: There is still debate about what are the key parameters to research for the relay start, making it unclear if previous research has the key parameters (Fischer & Kibele, 2016; Tor et al., 2015).
  3. Not Measuring Underwater Phase: No previous research has examined the effect of the different relay start techniques on the underwater phase, arguably the most important phase.

Parallel, Separated, or One-Step…

A recent study (Qiu 2020) compared three different swimming relay start techniques in “eleven international youth swimmers (5 males and 6 females) 16.0 ± 1.29 yrs, height 1.67 ± 0.05 m, body mass 56.4 ± 6.88 kg, and FINA points 762 ± 31.03, were recruited as participants in the current study. All swimmers were national champions, belonged to the National Training Centre Squad and eight of them participated in the 2016 and 2017 European Junior Swimming Championships.”

The three styles used were:

  1. Parallel feet start
  2. Separated feet start
  3. One-step start

After a standardized warm-up, the athletes performed a sprint 25-m for each of these swimming relay start techniques in a random order.

So, Which Swimming Relay Start Technique is Best?

Like most items in research, there was no statistically significant differences in time to 5-, 10-, 15-m or horizontal take-off velocity, but

an observed trend for the one-step start to be superior to the non-step techniques.

Qiu et. al., 2020

Despite the above findings, here were the differences 6 main findings:

  1. When performing a one-step technique start, swimmers spent a longer preparation time with smaller time contribution of changeover time compared to the parallel feet technique. Changeover times varied between 0.20 seconds and 0.30 seconds – in line with previous data by Fischer et al. (2019) during international swimming competitions – being shorter in the one-step start compared to the parallel feet technique. If the one-step technique reduced changeover time, the step-over technique likely decreases this time even more and may be a reason for disqualifications.
  2. As we’d expect, the swimmers’ center of mass presented closer distance to the starting wall and lower height in the initial position when employing the parallel feet technique than the other techniques.
  3. Greater take-off distance was observed in the parallel versus the separated feet technique.
  4. Swimmers showed a greater take off height in the separated feet technique compared to the remaining techniques.
  5. For the one-step technique, the center of mass of the initial position was 0.1 m further back than in the other techniques, which is in line with the longer preparation times employed by swimmers.
  6. One last note the author’s of this study stated:
    1. “Finally, but not less importantly, times to 5 m, 10 m and 15 m – slightly slower than previous relay start times by male collegiate swimmers (McLean et al., 2000) – did not show statistical effects between different relay start techniques, despite a tendency where swimmers employing the one-step technique could obtain shorter times than in no-step start techniques. These results are in line with the absence of statistical differences observed in the take-off velocities, and suggest that differences between relay start techniques (when equally trained) seem to rely more on the swimmers’ posture than on the center of mass linear kinematics.”

Swimming Relay Start Technique Conclusion

Based off the results of this study, there is no significant difference in swimming time or horizontal velocity in relay start techniques. However, there is a trend towards the step relay start and previous data by McLean et al. (2000) which indicated the relay step-up did not result in a significantly faster 10 m start times, and that the differences between no-step and step starts was close to 0.09 seconds.

Clearly, more research is needed and information regarding the preferred style of a relay start, but overall it seems the step-up style results in greater horizontal velocity and faster times, it just isn’t significant. This is in alignment with expert observation, as most elite swimmers used this style of relay start.


  1. Fischer, S. (2017). Evaluating relay starts in swimming. In S. Fischer &
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  2. Fischer, S., Braun, C., & Kibele, A. (2017). Learning relay start strategies in
    swimming: What feedback is best? European Journal of Sport Science, 17
    (3), 257–263.
  3. Fischer, S., Braun, C., & Kibele, A. (2019). Jason Lezak again and again-linear
    mixed modelling analysis of change–over times in relay swimming races.
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  5. Gambrel, D. W., Blanke, D., Thigpen, K., & Mellion, M. B. (1991).
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  6. McLean, S. P., Holthe, M. J., Vint, P. F., Beckett, K. D., & Hinrichs, R. N. (2000). Addition of an approach to a swimming relay start. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 16(4), 342–355.
  7. Qiu X, Veiga S, Calvo AL, Kibele A, Navarro E. A Kinematics Comparison of Different Swimming Relay Start Techniques. J Sports Sci. 2020 Dec 18:1-9. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2020.1860296. Online ahead of print.
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  10. Takeda, T., Takagi, H., & Tsubakimoto, S. (2010). Comparison among three types of relay starts in competitive swimming [Paper presentation]. The XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, Oslo, Norway.
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Comments 3

  1. Hi,
    As a former competitive swimmer, this was intriguing to me. I can’t tell you how many years I spent in my 13 year span of swimming wondering which starting position was going to accelerate me more. Though I haven’t been in the water for about a year now (as I just started my freshman year of college) I am still actively seeking out research and ways to better improve the swimmers that I am teaching how to swim now. Thank you for this research and information! It was very interesting and very helpful!

    1. Post
  2. hi!

    I’m a Japanese college student.
    Step overstart is probably called advance-step-start in Japan.

    It became a further study.

    thanks you!!!!

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