Welcome back to the world of swimming. You can still use the swimming start you used to use, but no matter what start technique you use, as you say you are less flexible than when you were younger. The first thing to work on is probably developing a little more overall or general flexibility.
Both toes forward on the start, the traditional swimming grab start, may get swimmers off the starting block a little quicker. One foot forward, one foot back, the newer track-style start, may get swimmers off of the block a little slower but get you out further. The end result seems to be that both starting techniques for swimmers work well, it depends upon individual strengths and what is done immediately after the swimmer enters the pool that can make a difference. A good way to determine which starting technique work's best is to test both starting styles.
Begin by reviewing both the grab start and the track start. Look at step-by-step photos of each swimming start technique, then start practicing each technique regularly.
- Start from the side of the pool (in the deep end of the pool!).
- Move to the starting block once you have gotten comfortable with both techniques from the lower position on the side of the swimming pool.
- Once you are up on the starting blocks, practice both starting styles until you are again comfortable doing either.
- These steps might take a day, a week, or even longer, but do not rush it.
- Always remember to streamline as you enter the swimming pool.
- Always incorporate the correct breakout method (the thing that a swimmer should do immediately after entering the swimming pool that transitions them from a streamline into actual swimming) into every start you do, no matter how good or bad the actual start feels.
- What is a breakout?
- If doing freestyle (or backstroke) this means holding the upper-body in a tight streamline and taking several rapid, dolphin style kicks focusing on a small amplitude with a high frequency - fast and small kicks - then transition into flutter kicking, then add in the arms and get swimming.
- If doing butterfly, then you don't do the flutter kicks, that would get you disqualified.
- Breaststroke is a different story. It uses a pull-out, which is a giant pull with the hands ending by the upper thighs, then moving back to the streamline position as sneakily as possible, with a breaststroke kick as the hands return to the streamlined position. Then you begin swimming. You are (as of 2006) allowed to take one butterfly type kick during the pull-out sequence, usually done as the hands move through that giant pull.
- What is a breakout?
- Do a few starts at the end of each practice, and soon you will be doing them well.
Once you feel equally comfortable with either style, do some timed 10-meter to 15-meter swims from a start. Do two or three with each start technique, and repeat this timed test several times over a one to two week period. Based on the results of the test, you should be able to determine which starting style will work best for you.
Do not rush it. Take your time refreshing your skills; you may not be as young as you once were, but with time you can re-develop a start technique that works for you despite the changes in starting block height and the affects you are feeling from being a bit older.
Sanders, Ross. "Start Technique - Recent Findings." Coaches' Infoservice. 4 Nov 2006 http://www.coachesinfo.com.