Practice leads to Improvement!

Total Immersion Swim Skill Practice

Practice leads to improvement if the practice environment is conducive learning and embedding new muscle memory.  The video clip below shows one of our Total Immersion Ultra Efficient Freestyle groups practicing their skills that were set for homework!

Over this 3 week TI Level 1.0 program, swimmers are given a progressive sequence of skills and drills, based on the TI Balance, Streamline, Propel model.


In the previous week to this video clip, we had gone through the focal points for recovery arm mechanics, and whole stroke timing. Participants were given clear practice goals for the week and came back to impress the Coach.



Practice Tips for you! 

  1. Practice over short distance’s
  2. Keep effort level low
  3. Keep the pace slow
  4. Take breathing out of the equation, add it in later
  5. Do not practice struggle, stand up, refresh your focus, and start again

Dry Land Swim Practice for Freestyle Arm Recovery


Dry Land swim practice’s are a great way to improve your swimming skills and knowledge.

Using either horizontal, vertical or ‘leaning’ position the swimmer is able to practice on a solid, stable surface, rather than in the unstable environment of the water.


Benefits of Dry Land Swim Practice


  1. The movement can be carried out very slowly, which is important for corrective work, and embedding new movement patterns.


  1. The swimmer is often able to ‘see’ what they are doing; using a mirror is ideal for this purpose.


  1. The swimmer can feel the correct muscle engagement, and trajectory of the arm or body part throughout the movement.


As a Total Immersion ™ swim coach, we utilise either standing, lying or ‘leaning position’, to introduce and develop new skills, drills, and sequences, especially through the cognitive phase of skill development.


In this particular example of Freestyle Arm Recovery movement in lying position, we look to ensure the following


  • Top leg falls forward to support the body in and angled / rotated position


  • Observe how the leg acts as a stop point here, showing the swimmer where to stop the pull, and start recovery. A crucial transition that needs to be smooth and fluid, with absolutely NO stop point. The swimmer cannot pull beyond, or passed the hip causing shoulder impingement, or move behind the frontal plane of the scapular


  • Elbow moves away from the body, not up, backwards or behind – staying in the frontal plane of the scapular range. Again, limiting the possibility of impingement, which can stress the joint and be injurious over repetitive movements.


  • Elbow is ‘high’ and fingers low, NATURALLY due to rotation, and good balanced body position from head to heels there is no active lifting of the arm up, backwards or away from gravity.


  • We ask swimmers to maintain ‘fingers to floor’ contact, this is a great reference point for the swimmer to feel the forwards movement of the arm in recovery, thereby capturing important inertia effect of the moving weight of the arm.


  • Observe how the hand position stays in the same plane i.e. back of the hand faces forwards, and palm faces backwards throughout the entire movement. Avoiding internal rotation from the shoulder joint that causes the familiar ‘palm outwards’ appearance.


  • The swimmer arrives at the final ‘entry’ position of the movement, poised – they get a chance to feel how the torso rotation is maintained right up to the point of entry. Rather than moving towards flat, as the arm moves forwards in recovery – as we see in many swimmers.





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Freestyle Whole Stroke Timing and Coordination for Improved Efficiency

Whole stroke timing and coordination in freestyle is where the swimmer should achieve a sense of power and propulsion with ease. It feels awesome, and will increase the enjoyment of your swims 10 fold and more!

Swimmers who call us for help with their strokes are getting the idea that efficiency counts! It’s a bit of swimming buzz word as more and more adults take up swimming as a life long pursuit.

We can coach and help you through a learning progression that will move you towards correct timing and coordination – the route to better swimming.

The results……

  1. Stroke length will begin to reduce to optimal, as efficiency increases.
  2. Effort level will reduce as the swimmer uses inertia, weight shift (gravity) to propel, and moves away from using force and effort to overcome drag. These are challenging concepts to grasp if there’s been decades of swimming with force, effort and trying to get swimming ‘fit’!
  3. The mechanic is scalable, and can be swum at slow tempo’s and quicker tempo’s with obvious changes at higher tempo’s eg. shorter strokes, quicker roll into ‘catch’ position, lighter catch. Hence the swimmer can achieve a sense of swimming fast, rather than hard – a more sustainable, non deteriorating pace.

As humans, 97% of our efforts (horsepower) are lost to drag when we try to move in water. That is a dismal statistic – we are 3 % efficient. Is it any wonder the term ‘swimming fitness’ a bit of a misnomer!! We need encourage the idea of decreasing energy waste instead of increasing energy supply.


Here are a few points to observe in the whole stroke timing and coordination  clip, watch how the swimmer…..

  • maintains a long, relaxed lead arm, (under the water); this lead arm, acts as a kind of axel, giving a solid stable platform, on which to establish clean precise moves – there is still ness in the the body
  • starts the stroke from the lead arm catch….. and ends the stroke with the entry to extension – back at the same point, one fluid movement
  • rotates the torso, helped by the lead arm, that allows the ball and socket joint of the shoulder the freedom to work in the same plane (not internal or external rotation stressing the shoulder)
  • does not ‘pull’ passed or beyond the hip, the catch finishes early almost under the body
  • searches for that sweet spot or switch point, where the entering arm and torso shift ‘downwards’, sets the tempo and timing of each stroke

If you enjoyed this video and want to learn more about swimming improvement join the

SWIMLAB – Swim Technique Discussion Group

Total Immersion Level 1.0 Effortless Endurance Program – is it right for me?

The Total Immersion Level 1.0 Effortless Endurance program is our most popular and transformative freestyle program.  It is a stroke building program, that aims to deconstruct and then reconstruct new muscle memory and optimal movement patterns that abide by the laws of physics (of the human body in water).

It helps a wide range of ability from early progressive swimmers able to swim a minimum of 50m before needing to rest, to experienced high skilled open water swimmers looking for improved performance and enjoyment.

We guide the swimmer through stroke analysis, correction and development based on 4 main modules

  • Body balance and Core Stability
  • Streamlining
  • Arm Recovery and Entry
  • Seamless Breathing

One of the primary objectives is to educate swimmers about the positive effects of drag reduction on their swimming efficiency,  and introduce the concept of effortless propulsion through inertia, weight shift and gravitational forces.

The program needs limited ‘fitness’, as it’s skill based, the distance’s swum are short, and in shallow water.

Whether you’re a triathlete or open water swimmer, looking to improve your performance or want to learn more about the benefits of adding swimming to your active lifestyle – the Total Immersion Level 1.0 program is a great choice.

Who is the Effortless Endurance workshop for?

  • You’re a swimmer who wants cutting-edge stroke correction
  • You’re a swimmer who wants to improve your efficiency for more enjoyable and sustainable swimming
  • You’re a triathlete or ocean swimmer who wishes to improve your technical expertise
  • You’re a swimmer looking to learn new drills, enhance skills and challenge your “swimming brain”
  • You’re a recreational swimmer who wants to swim with less effort, for longer distances
  • You want to build on the swim basics and learn how to swim with more confidence and ease

What you will learn in the Effortless Endurance workshop?

  • How to swim with whole body synchronised movements
  • How to balance, stabilise and streamline your body
  • Understand how to utilise ‘weight shift’ to improve propulsion
  • How to practice for biggest gains in swimming efficency
  • A series of drills that directly link to every aspect of your stroke

What will you take away?

  • Know what great swimming looks and feels like
  • Know which aspects of your stroke are going well
  • Know which aspects of your stroke are opportunities for improvement
  • Know what to practice and how to practice for the highest gains
  • Be able to practice independently and understand the next steps in your swimming development






Alex Popov and the Power of Training the Way You Race

Alex-Popov- power-train-race

Alex Popov and the Power of Training the Way You Race

Training the way you race – what a gem! I came across this brilliant swimming article recently on social media. It is a great read, for swimmers and coaches alike. The message is clear, and gives guidance on how swimmers should approach their training sessions –  with focus on flawless technique – if, they want that to carry over to their competitive swims.

As a coach, I am not a fan of using elite and super elite swimmers as models on which to base my own swim coaching tips and technical advice.  Swimlab coaches mostly ‘adult onset’ swimmers, that are relatively ‘late’ starting their swimming journey. Hence their neuromuscular patterns and responses in water, are very different to those who have spent decades and thousands of hours swimming. Consideration of this, and adjustment of technical principles allows far greater progress and success for me as coach.

However this article is not about drilling down on technique – its about the mindset, a principled approach that any swimmer can take on board, and reap the benefits!

Click here to read full article

  • Popov’s efficiency was developed with a relentless focus on technique in training.
  • Placing an emphasis on swimming “slow” but with excellent form and target stroke rates at all times.

“Alex Popov was one of those swimmers who was very cerebral with his swimming in practice. He was always thinking about how to be more efficient, toying with hand placement, angle of elbow during the pull, and so on, all so that he could become a better swimmer.”

This statement reminds me so much of the late Terry Laughlin, founder and head coach at Total Immersion HQ in the US. Relentless in his pursuit to seek to become a better swimmer in every session…. he used to tell us to ensure that we got out of the pool a better swimmer than we got in. Even in one small aspect, a focal point, a drill, a practiced element of the stroke challenged under faster tempo or longer distance…. this for me, is what makes swimming highly engaging, utterly motivational, and a never ending path of mastery, a life long pathway!

So swimmers…..remember

  1. Never give in to mediocre technique
  2. Swim at a pace that allows you to maintain form
  3. Approach ‘speed’ with control and precision – chase ease, not speed and you are more likely to maintain technique
  4. If interval times are too quick for you, and you feel your stroke lack control or the feeling that the wheels are spinning – slow down, drop down a lane.
  5. Stay mentally focussed during your swim.
  6. Regularly count and know your stroke length at various levels of effort (aerobic, threshold, VO2, sprint)

Balance: The Essential Foundation of Efficient Swimming

Balance Essential

Balance: The Essential Foundation of Efficient Swimming

This is an awesome read for swimmers and coaches. Balance is a non negotiable foundation for any sporting movement. Have you ever seen a world class golfer, tennis player, cricketer, track and field athlete perform their sweet spot move in an unbalanced position??? Every move of precision is addressed from a stable balanced platform, only then can the movement pattern unfold to achieve optimum performance. Yet a stable balanced platform is the very thing we don’t have in water!

An exclusive excerpt in an ongoing series of material from Terry’s forthcoming final book, Total Immersion: Swimming That Changes Your Life

“The T.I. approach to swimming is unique in recognizing that, as human beings, we naturally approach the water in the posture of a survivor. It’s a primal thing. That’s a fundamental insight to understand what’s different about T.I.–  and that’s the reason for our success. If an instructor doesn’t take the step of helping a swim student overcome that fear, the swimmer will always be surviving rather than swimming. You have to help the student feel safe and secure before they can become a swimmer. Otherwise, they will always be swimming as a survivor.  That’s what balance does– it makes you feel safe, secure, and in control. What makes Total Immersion distinctive is teaching balance as the keystone skill of swimming. No one else even recognizes balance as a skill let alone the keystone skill of swimming efficiently. And not just swimming efficiently, but being able to enjoy swimming– being able to swim with ease, grace, and enjoyment.” — Terry Laughlin, 10/13/17

Balance: The Essential Foundation of Efficiency  


To swim efficiently, you must master Balance first. I’d go so far as to call it “non-negotiable.” But the effect of learning Balance can be much more far-reaching. It certainly was for me.

In September 1988, I met Coach Bill Boomer at a coaching clinic and learned that “the shape of the vessel matters more than the size of the engine.” Boomer also said that Balance is the foundation of vessel-shaping– his term for streamlining your body. Though I’d been swimming for nearly 25 years, and coaching successfully for 16 years, prior to that day I’d never heard a single mention of Balance as a swimming skill—much less the most important one.

Soon after, I visited Boomer in Rochester, NY to learn more about “vessel-shaping” and watch him coach his University of Rochester swimmers. While there, I asked Boomer to show me how to balance. He had me perform a drill, while kicking lightly in a prone position with my arms at my sides. When I aligned my head and hips, as instructed, and shifted weight forward to my chest, my hips instantly rose to the surface and my legs felt light. I was moving just as fast, but with a noticeably easier kick.

I repeated the drill several times, memorizing these new sensations, then swam a length of whole-stroke. My stroke felt stunningly different. For 25 years, my legs had felt “heavy.”  But after just a few minutes of practicing a simple drill, they felt light!

While the new ease I felt was exciting, the effect of the experience of swimming in balance would be much more far reaching. It changed my whole sense of what was possible—for me and all swimmers: 

1.) I’d swum only sporadically, and without real enthusiasm, for nearly 20 years since college, with no purpose other than to get exercise. Since that day, I’ve become a passionate swimmer, and my passion for swimming has only grown.

2.) Prior to that day, the only changes I’d experienced in my swimming had been marginal and temporary. After months of hard training, I could swim longer and faster— but that effect disappeared as soon as I stopped training. The change I experienced through Balance was more dramatic than anything I’d ever known, and has become permanent. Not only do I now feel positively brilliant every time I swim but—even after missing practice for several weeks—I recapture that feeling upon my return.

3.) Experiencing such a fundamental and striking change made me realize that, though I’d swum for almost 25 years that day, I still had much to learn. And in fact, I’ve continued to learn new skills and discover new insights (kaizen-style!) for over 25 years since.

4.) At age 37 (when I was introduced to Balance), I thought my best swimming was 20 years behind me. In reality, the best was yet to come! As a result of learning Balance, and many other discoveries that followed, I’ve improved continuously through my 40s, 50s, and 60s.

No More Struggle

The most limiting aspect of swimming is the sinking sensation. When your hips and legs drag below the surface, it’s impossible to feel comfort or ease, your endurance and speed are sapped, and your arms and legs are so preoccupied with fighting the sinking sensation, they’re limited in their ability to aid in streamlining or propulsion.

Poor balance is the reason only 30 percent of us can swim 25 meters. Besides the fact that “survival swimming” is exhausting, the sinking sensation makes it impossible to enjoy swimming—or to anticipate a brighter future in swimming. That constant sense of lacking control in the water also blocks the calm focus needed to learn new skills.

However, if you can solve such profound problems, you should also gain a sense of confidence in dealing with future challenges that you may face.

When you eliminate the sinking sensation—and feel a sense of control over your body—you immediately feel much more “at home” in the water. You also achieve the foundation for every skill that follows.


Three Steps to Balance

As you’ll see, none of these “mini-skills” are instinctive. To learn them, patiently give your full attention to just one skill at a time. The first two of these steps apply to all strokes and are universal requirements to achieve efficiency as a swimmer. The third step is particular to freestyle.


Focal Point #1: Release and align your head

Superman rehearsal side (1)

Terry demos releasing a “weightless head” (Photo credit: Robert Fagan/usiavideo)


Releasing your head to a “weightless” position that aligns with your spine is the most immediately impactful and fundamental Focal Point among all the efficiency skills taught by Total Immersion. To allow your head to find its most natural position, just let it go! Relax your neck and upper back muscles until you feel your head’s weight resting fully upon the water. While this action seems fairly simple, our head-lifting instinct is so deep-rooted that it may take months to overcome.

Having done this, check that the crown of your head and spine feel connected by a straight line. When head, spine, and hips are aligned, the head’s 10-lb weight helps counter the downward pull of gravity on your dense lower body.

As you’ll learn in a later chapter, keeping your head aligned and weightless while breathing is even more challenging, because the “survival” instinct to lift the head to breathe is primal.

Make these head-position skills your first “efficiency checkpoint” for the rest of your swimming life. Thirty years after I first focused on aligning my head and spine, I still re-check it regularly and often find room for improvement.


Focal Point #2: Reach below your body

Slot to Skate 144

Terry demos reaching below the body, fingertips-down (Photo credit: Robert Fagan/usiavideo)


Before extending your arm in freestyle, enter it cleanly (eliminate noise and splash) and earlier than you think you should. Then reach on a moderate (not steep) downward slope as you extend forward. Reach full extension with the hand below the body-line. Extending your arms at a slight downward angle helps lift your legs closer to the surface, reducing drag and freeing up leg muscles to help with propulsion (as opposed to kicking reflexively, to combat sinking).


Focal Point #3: Minimize your kick

1.1 Torpedo 2_44 legs knee moderate

Terry demos Balance w/relaxed legs– arm extension not pictured (Photo credit: Robert Fagan/usiavideo)


Recall that Tim Ferriss’s and Vik Malhotra’s [mentioned earlier in the book] instructors handed them kickboards to “strengthen their legs” in an utterly futile effort to improve their body position. The action of balancing the body does exactly the opposite: by making your legs lighter, being in balance allows you to significantly calm and relax your kick—as I discovered when doing Boomer’s balance drill.

Complement this by relaxing your legs as much as possible.  This will also help prepare you for the highly efficient 2-Beat Kick (2BK), which we explain in a later chapter.


Balanced Body, Focused Mind

The effects of balance practice on your mind and psyche are as profound as those on your body. Total Immersion’s balance learning sequence—in combination with structured use of balance-oriented Focal Points—has been designed to prepare you cognitively, as well as physically, for a successful learning experience.

A combination of targeted mental focus, with unhurried movements, and moderate heart and respiration rate, puts the brain into a state of relaxed alertness known as the Alpha brainwave pattern (8 to 12 cycles per second.) Cognitive scientists call this state “the super-learning zone.”

Learning, practicing, and feeling Balance creates a “virtuous loop.” You feel good physically and mentally while Swimming in Balance. That motivates you to do it more–which results in improvement to those positive feelings. Thus, you spend even more time Swimming in Balance.


Terry Laughlin – Total Immersion: Swimming That Changes Your Life


What are the key difference’s between Total Immersion Swim programs and traditional / conventional forms of delivery?

What is the difference between  Total Immersion Swim programs and traditional / conventional form of delivery?

Total Immersion ™ methodology drills and skills correct the stroke faults and habits that keep athletes from swimming smoothly without effort. The in-depth progression moves the swimmer towards a stroke the offers continuing possibilities for improvement. Here are some of the key difference’s in how we understand and approach the teaching and learning of swimming.



Total Immersion

Focus on 2 technique components; kicking and pulling 3 sequential skills: Balance, Streamline and Propulsion
Reinforces survival stroking
via amygdala Creates movement pathways using the cortex – thinking process
Improvement is focused on strengthening arms and legs – kickboards, paddles, buoys Improvement is focused on integrated whole body movement and control (timing and coordination)
Tiring workouts, based on HR zones. effort and work Problem solving practices, based on drag reduction and efficiency
Focusses on separating the body into upper and lower segments aka pull / kick paradigm Develops movement around the spinal axis, separating the body into left/right; coaching swimmers to capture and apply momentum, weight shift and gravity
Generally but not exclusively coaches instruct from the poolside Coaches work in the pool and hands on with the swimmer, live, relevant demo;s and immediate hands on correction.
Use’s video analysis tools for feedback and enhanced learning

Assess quality of attention as much as quality of movement

Total Immersion Coaching focusses on the following elements, that ensure success for the swimmer

  1. Cooperate with Gravity– Most swimmers fight gravity trying to stay on top of the water. We teach you to find your natural equilibrium by sinking into weightlessness. Learning to relax into the water breaks the “survival- stroking” cycle, and frees your arms and legs for their best use. Besides, gravity is a powerful natural force; doesn’t it make more sense to use it than fight it?


  1. Take the Path of Least Resistance– Once you understand that you must swim through the water — and mindful that water is almost 800 times denser than air — it’s logical to focus more on how well you streamline your body, than how hard you pull and kick. We’ll teach you to shape yourself to cut through the water like a torpedo by alternating a right-side-streamline with a left-side-streamline. Each stroke will move you farther and faster with less effort.


  1. Swim with your Body– Traditional thinking about swimming treats the body as having an “arms department” that pulls you forward and a “legs department” that pushes you forward. In TI ™ learn to swim with your whole body, instead of your arms and legs. We’ll teach you to propel with a simple 2-beat kick, relaxed and rhythmic weight shifts, rather than arm-and-leg churning.


  1. Breathe Easy – We’ll also teach you about breathing easily as you swim. No more breathlessness, no worries about choking. The air is free, take all you need.

Courtesy of  the late Terry Laughlin CEO and Fonder of Total Immersion Inc.


Why is swimming such a challenging physical activity for humans?

Swimming offers a smorgasbord of complex challenges for the novice, and at times, the higher skilled swimmer.

At Swimlab, we truly recognise and problem solve the swimming challenges that ‘adult onset’ swimmers face when working towards their goals; with our coaching expertise and Total Immersion method as the back bone of our coaching principles, we strive to make the struggle, confusion and lack of progress a thing of the past.

Few humans find swimming ‘well’, an easy pursuit. Those who do, the ones we envy as they cruise effortlessly up and down the pool, lap after lap, are in the minority.  They no doubt came through the youth age group swimming system; completing hours of daily swim squads from pre-teen years, through adolescence and for some into early adulthood, performing all 4 strokes in swim carnivals and competitions on a regular basis.

The vast majority of adult swimmers did not take this path, and now find themselves what we term, an ‘adult onset swimmer’.  Somewhat frustrated, exhausted, confused and vulnerable as they try to navigate this swimming thing, (with an adult sized body).  Motivations often deflated further when they tackle swimming through any ‘standard’  child based curriculum.

So let’s peel back the layers and look at the reasons why swimming gives the human brain and body and body such a challenging time.

  1. The average human is only 3% efficient in the water, yes, as terrestrial mammals we waste 97% of our efforts in moving forwards. Elite / and super elite probably make it to a whooping 7-8% efficiency! Just think about that dismal statistic for a while!inefficient-swimmer
  2. Humans become SURVIVORS in the water. Because of the marginal perception of a ‘life threatening activity’, our sympathetic (flight/fright nervous system) is often triggered through the amygdala, resulting in erratic, uncoordinated movements that increase heart rate.   We need to access our parasympathetic, or calm nervous system in the cerebral cortex for improved learning, proprioception and the development coordinated movement patterns.
  3. When we swim we go from vertical to horizontal, which means a radically different balance adjustment for the brain.  When we swim we hanghorizontally from our centre of gravity; rather than our regular vertical position – where we stand on or through our centre of gravity.  This makes ‘movement’ and propulsion a whole new ball game.
  4. Water is a moving, slippery and unstable body, not solid platform. This is a game changer for the brain, which immediately feels lack of stability and imbalance in the moving medium. We have no solid surface on which to leverage and structure our propulsive movements, like we do on earth or a bike pedal.
  5. Most lower skilled swimmers MOVE AROUND in the water, and move THE WATER around. For want of a better term they spin their wheels, making wasteful movements, not going any further or faster. When we really begin understand the foundations of better swimming, we discover how to move our body THROUGH the water,  working on shaping the body into a vessel rather than making excessive effortless movements.
  6. Because of the change in body position and lack of visual cues, self-perception and proprioception (the ability to sense where our limbs are and how they might effect movement) are greatly affected. We must re-train the brain to develop these essential skills when learning or correcting stroke mechanics.
  7. When swimming, we can no longer breath freely. Breathing is restricted into a confined time and space, where there is an added threat of not actually getting a breath. Going back to 2. this is a major cause of the flight / fright response being activated in many learner and progressive swimmers.breathing-swimming
  8. Be aware! The coach who says ‘you just need to be fitter!’ What is the point in working on ‘fitness’ when our efforts and wasted to that degree mentioned in point no. 1 (3% efficiency) Yes, there is a place for metabolic conditioning but the bottom line is…….you cannot out train an inefficient stroke, or reach optimal performance unless your stroke is within reasonably correct biomechanical parameters.


Any Total Immersion ™  swim coach, takes time to understand the impact of these challenges on all levels of swimmer. There is a principled approached, understanding the physics of the human body in water, we strive to to problem solve and correct through education and awareness, helping the swimmer become their own best coach!