In swimming races, athletes dive off of special blocks that are designed to maximize their speed and explosiveness.

A perfect start is essential to a fast race, especially in short swims like the 50 freestyle, where one one-hundredth of a second could be the difference between a gold medal and second place.

Let’s take a look at the unique features of diving blocks, and how to use them to your advantage in your next race!

The Anatomy of a Diving Block

Location & Setup

Blocks are raised platforms at the end of each lane at a swimming pool. Most blocks have a small step off to one side to help you step up easily. Blocks are typically covered with an abrasive coating so your feet stick and don’t slip around.

Depending on the pool, blocks will vary in size, shape, and height off of the pool deck. Some blocks are more rectangular and higher off the deck, while others might be more square and closer to the ground. Older blocks tend to be smaller.

For pools with water deeper than six feet, the blocks will most likely be about 29 inches above the water’s surface. For pools between 4-6 feet deep, the blocks will be about 18 inches from the surface. Pools shallower than four feet will probably not have blocks for safety reasons.


Newer blocks have a wedge at the back that places your back foot at a better angle for a strong push-off. These wedges are adjustable, so you can play with different placements to see what feels best to you.

Backstroke Handles

Below the front of the block, you’ll see another set of handles. These are for backstroke starts! Backstrokers start in the water, facing the blocks with their feet on the wall. They grab onto the handles to pull themselves into the ready position and explode off the wall into streamline to start their races.

Backstroke Wedge

If you’re lucky enough to swim at a pool that has backstroke wedges, we’re jealous! These wedges hang down into the water, and have the same grippy coating that the top of a diving block does, to give you some more stability in your backstroke start. After you push off, the wedge automatically retracts out of the water so you don’t run into it on your turns.

Pressure-Sensitive Touchpad

Some newer blocks have technology that measures a swimmer’s reaction time: The time between when the buzzer goes off and when their feet leave the block.

Lilly King (photo: Mike Lewis)

Seeing this reaction time data can be useful for elite swim races, where every hundredth of a second counts!

How to Use Diving Blocks at Your Pool

In most cases, public pools will not allow lap swimmers to use diving blocks on their own, without a coach’s supervision. Typically, block usage is reserved only for swim teams.

However, it never hurts to ask the lifeguards or pool management if you can do a couple starts.

Now that you know the ins and outs of diving blocks, check out our tips for perfecting your swimming start to maximize your speed off the blocks! For personalized swim workouts and Training Plans designed to help you swim faster, download the MySwimPro app.

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