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Starting block: characteristics, how to use it and why it is used

Starting block: characteristics, how to use it and why it is used

In sprint and sprint races with obstacles you have surely noticed that the athletes start at a T-shaped metal object: this tool is called starting block.

Why and since when the starting blocks are used

The starting blocks are used to make the push of the feet more effective at the moment of the start and to favor acceleration as the athlete gains speed, gradually opening the stride. The ideal running attitude is thus reached after about 20 meters from the start.

The first athlete who had the intuition to start in a squatting position was the American Charles Sherrill back in 1888. At the time everyone started standing and Sherrill's "novelty" was greeted with loud laughter ... of ignorance!

Later other athletes tried to start in different positions or even leaning on a sort of sticks to be abandoned after the start, as happened during the Athens Games of 1896. A historical photo that I propose again below shows how each of the 5 athletes he started from a different position. In the center you can see the athlete who started leaning on "two sticks".

In any case, the blocks were imposed and were used regularly since the 1948 London Olympic Games.

Starting block: characteristics

There shape of the starting block recalls the letter T and its sides are coupled with two adjustable support plates with five height levels.

The frame of the starting block is of metal while the supports are covered with a material that allows the support of spiked shoes: usually the material is the same as the athletics track, or the tartan.

The position of the plates on the starting block is adjustable: to avoid dangerous movements for the athlete, the block is made up of special clamps that fix the plates.

The starting block must also be well fixed on the track: at the end you will notice long sharp nails that hold your block immobile without causing damage to the tartan of the athletics track.

In the race it is possible to use a personal starting block provided that it reflects the requirements of the rules of the regulation.

Unlike amateur competitions, in international and national meetings (if relevant) the foot support is much wider, there is also a device approved by the IAAF which thanks to dynamometric sensors is able to measure athletes' reaction times by detecting any false starts.

Also at the end of these starting blocks there is a speaker connected to the electronic judge pistol which allows athletes to receive the starting signal at the same instant.

Starting blocks: how to fix them

The starting block is located just behind the starting line, but how to fix it for an effective start?

The correct answer to this question is: try, try, try!

Each of us is different therefore you just have to try the training starts many times to see how you feel better: however I would like to point out a routine that is conventionally indicated for beginners.

  • Place the front plate about two feet from the starting line
  • Place the back plate about three feet from the starting line
  • Adjust both plates to the lowest height

Tips and exercises for an optimal block start

To take full advantage of the starting blocks it is important to practice to master the correct technique and try the whole sequence over and over again, also simulating the reaction to the commands of the race judge.

Let's start with some location tips:

  • enter the block by first placing your hands and then adjusting the position of the feet to perfection, making sure that the toes are in contact with the ground.
  • place your hands on the track using only the fingertips and not the whole palm.
  • relax the neck muscles
  • look forward, slightly downward

As for the exercises, the sequence to practice starts with the command "to your places”Given by the competition judge. At that moment the athlete will have to assume the position with the front leg bent and the knee raised. The rear leg must instead rest the knee on the ground.

At the command "ready" the athlete will have to raise the pelvis (which must have a position higher than the shoulders) will have to advance the shoulders beyond their vertical line on the hands, will have to "load" the feet by pressing them well against the blocks and will have to partially extend the hind limb with the knee off the ground.

At the command "go" which will coincide with the firing of the gun, the first step must be performed from the rear leg even if both feet must push hard on the starting blocks.

The exit from the blocks must be carried out by immediately projecting the body forward, trying to find the best relationship between amplitude and frequency of steps as soon as possible.

False start from the block

A start is considered false when the athlete has reaction times of less than a tenth of a second.

In international competitions the judge has headphones that emit an acoustic signal whenever an athlete makes a false start.

As soon as the judge hears the acoustic signal of the false start from the block, he will notify the starting judge who will check which athlete has committed the infringement.

If the acoustic signal system is not present, the competition judges will assess whether the athlete has started before the gun is fired.

In the event of an irregular start, the starting judge immediately fires a second shot.

Since 2010, in the event of a false start, the athlete is disqualified: before that date the athlete was only warned.

If, on the other hand, the athlete only moved on the blocks before the shot, the judge will only provide a warning.

Starting block: how much it costs and where to buy it

A starting block costs between 100 and 150 Euros. If you are looking for where to buy them, you can evaluate the ones on Amazon that I used in the opening image of this article and that you can buy for 123.99 euros by following this link.

Details of a starting block

Starting block in swimming

The "starting blocks" are also used in every swimming competition even if the term indicates a totally different object.

The starting blocks in swimming are in fact “small platforms” from which swimmers dive to start the freestyle, breaststroke and dolphin competitions. In backstroke races, the start takes place directly from the water.

THE blocks in swimming they must have specific characteristics to be approved FINA (International Swimming Federation), here they are:

  • Height of the dip plate from the surface of the water: from 50 to 75 cm.
  • Surface of the dip plate: minimum 60 × 50 cm.
  • Dip plate slope: max. 10 °
  • Numbering on 4 sides

If the blocks include the handle used for backstroke competitions, the height of the same from the surface of the water must vary from a minimum of 30 cm to a maximum of 60 cm.

Two other related articles of ours that may interest you are:

  • Athletics: what it is and which disciplines it includes
  • Lactate test: what it is for, how it is performed and how it is evaluated


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