Having appropriately designed starting blocks is a critical aspect of a great competitive facility. There are a few key points that need to be considered when incorporating starting blocks into a design of a competitive swimming facility. These points include: water depth, block height, and block features.
To get started, it is always important to check all relevant codes for the minimum required water depth for starting blocks. Common codes include FINA (Swimming’s International Governing Body), USA Swimming, NCAA and NFSHAA (National Federation of State High School Associations). Overall these codes are going to recommend a water depth close to 2 Meters (6’- 7”) for new facilities.
As a general rule of thumb, the deeper the water the better, especially for pools were racing starts are going to be taught to beginners or pools for older stronger swimmers.
FINA and USA Swimming’s rules are summarized below:
- FINA requires a minimum water depth of 6’-7” (2-meters) for starting blocks.
- Due to grandfathering in older swimming facilities, USA Swimming’s rules are a little complex in regards to water depth. USA Swimming requires a minimum water depth of 4’-0” for all racing starts and 5’-0” for all teaching or training racing starts, as long as the individual has been certified to do so at this water depth. Without the certification, and for teaching racing starts to non-certified individuals, USA Swimming recommends 5’-0” as a minimum with 6’-7” (2 meters) preferred.
Starting Block Height
Starting blocks are to be installed at a maximum height of 29 1⁄2” above the water line by most governing bodies.
The main exception is the NCAA. The NCAA rulebook suggests a maximum high of 30 inches above the surface of the water. The history of this discrepancy is based upon the fact that USA Swimming uses the international standard of 0.75 M (maximum), which equates to 29 1/2 inches. Our understanding is that at some point NCAA looked at this standard and simply rounded it to 30 inches (2 ft 6 inches).
Counsilman-Hunsaker continues to use the standard of 29 1/2 inches for all pools. However, on a few rare occasions collegiate coaches have asked for the blocks to be set at 30 inches. Our response to this request has been that with the invention of Relay Judging Platforms (RJP), which are placed on top of the blocks and confirms that the release from the swimmer on the block does not occur prior to the swimmer in the water touching the end wall, we need the additional tolerance of 1/2 inch so that we do not exceed 30 inches when RJPs are used.
Starting blocks need to be sized based on the gutter style that is used. By specifying anchors of different depths a single post block may be used on parapet, bulkhead, and rollout gutter configuration. Such interchangeability reduces cost and requires less storage.
Starting Block Features
Starting blocks in today’s swimming world come with many different features for the owner to select. Some of these features are simple like the number of posts. Others are more controversial like the new backstroke starting ledge or wedge.
Counsilman-Hunsaker typically recommends using a single post starting block that utilizes the “rock solid” anchoring system as it eliminates much of the front-to-back motion. The other option is to have a dual post anchor system. It has been our experience that these blocks experience rocking front-to-back over the single post system.
Another feature to consider is the location of the mounting step. Side-step mounting starting blocks should be used for pools where the block is anchored in the parapet or for bulkhead use. Side step or rear step stating blocks may be used for all other gutter configurations. Factors such as deck size, gutter type and interchangeability may affect step location. For safety reasons side steps are preferred over rear steps in cases where blocks are equipped with adjustable back plates.
Almost every starting block manufacturer now provides adjustable back plates as starting block design feature as well as raised side handgrips. (These are often provided in the same package.) Testing has shown side grips and back wedges offer performance advantages to the athletes over your typical flat starting block. These features can also be added retroactively to old starting blocks.
A new feature for starting blocks is the backstroke ledge or wedge. This feature places a wedge on the vertical pool wall that helps prevent swimmers from slipping when performing a backstroke start. This feature has not been fully adopted by all governing bodies but is something to consider at high-end facilities. Manufacturers are still working on developing this product to a reliable system.
Custom finishes for both the starting block top and base have become more and more popular in today’s facilities. Indoor starting blocks should be manufacturer from 304L stainless steel and have a powder coated finish to prevent corroding. Powder coating is not a necessity for outdoor blocks, but can be provided to add color and durability to the finish of the base.
Most high-end facilities are now getting custom logos on their starting block tops. High Schools and Universities will have their full color logo as part of the material on the top of the block. Most manufacturers are able to provide this feature in a non-slip material.