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The Evolving Swimmer: Total Immersion

Total Immersion swimming has its place in the pool.

Welcome to Part VI of “The Evolving Swimmer” series. Missed Part I ~ V? Click here.

To conclude this series, I’ll introduce you to a method of swimming known as Total Immersion. Developed and promoted by Terry Laughlin, this unique approach can help evolving swimmers and triathletes become more comfortable in the water and swim with less effort.

If you’re out of breath every time you swim or you’re a “sinker,” this method is for you. There are pros and cons, some of which I’ll mention, but overall Laughlin’s swim methods will help you become more balanced and at ease in the water.

While this is an oversimplification, the Total Immersion method of swimming helps you swim like a fish. Literally. The idea is to slip through the water rather than fight it.

When I got serious about competing in triathlon, I hired a private coach in Colorado to work with me for 6 straight hours teaching me this method. A swimmer all my life, I only could breath out of one side and my stroke count (arm turnover) was through the roof. As long as I swam slow, I could swim forever. The minute I tried to speed it up, I was exhausted.

When the experienced coach first saw me swim, he knew right away I was taught the Red Cross method of swimming. This wasn’t going to be easy to teach an old dog new tricks. And the Total Immersion method feels strange and completely different.

The method focuses on 3 aspects of swimming initially:Total Immersion

1. Balancing the body
2. Streamlining the body
3. Stabilizing the body

And then and only then does the method address:

4. Propulsion

Here’s what I learned that has helped me become a better swimmer:

Press the Buoy

Body position is everything. Avoiding unnecessary drag is key. Act as if you’re swimming downhill so your legs will rise to a more streamlined position creating less resistance in the water.

Railroad Tracks

One of the most helpful tips! Pretend your body is in the middle of the train track. As you swim, each arm moves forward staying on its prospective rail. This keeps you from crossing over the midline as you swim. Assume you have a line shooting out from the top of your head. You don’t want your hand/arm to cross that line because it’s very inefficient and will cause your body to fishtail out of alignment.

Lengthen Stroke

This is a big deal in Total Immersion. However, you can over do it. If you’re so concerned with stretching and gliding just to lengthen your stroke, you can end up pausing in the water killing your propulsion not to mention your rhythm. An awareness is helpful. The goal is to cover the maximum distance with each stroke without losing efficiency. Stretch it out too far and you create dead space that requires effort to regain flow.

The idea of gliding is very controversial. If you are only swimming for fitness and gliding on each stroke saves you energy so you can swim longer, I say go for it. If you’re trying to get faster, I think over gliding is something you need to avoid.

A Balanced Stroke

This is the best gift Total Immersion technique gave me. Learning to breathe out of both sides continuously while maintaining a sustainable breathing pattern has done more for my swimming than anything else. You’ll swim straighter, gain breath control, and have options for sighting in open water. Work on this until you master it!

The Skewer

Most coaches agree propulsion comes from the hips. Our hips are powerful and fatigue much slower than arms or legs. Total Immersion encourages you to think of your body on a skewer. They encourage you to roll your entire body to breathe so that you remain streamlined. This is controversial. Having tried various techniques myself, I find turning only my head barely while looking back toward my feet is faster. By using my core, I can still rotate my hips and use them for power.

I say you’re better off rolling your body to breathe rather than lifting your chest. Then graduate to barely turning your head if you can do so without lifting your torso.

Here are the 3 areas I think Total Immersion falls short:

  1. The Catch
  2. The Pull
  3. The Kick

My Total Immersion coach wouldn’t even address these areas. To kick meant becoming fatigued. Catch and pull weren’t in his vocabulary. Rather, it was all about streamlining the body and slithering through the water.

In conclusion, Total Immersion is great for imbalanced swimmers and those with sinking legs. You must be balanced if you ever want to be fast. You can work your tail off and if your body is dragging two legs in the water or zig zagging down the lane, you aren’t going to get from point A to point B very fast.

I also recommend the method for struggling swimmers who resist the sport because it exhausts them too much. This method will change your entire approach and your opinion.

And the number one lesson of all I want you take away from this series:


For more information on Total Immersion swimming, check out their website. Group classes are offered throughout the year around the country. You can also check out resources on Amazon or even YouTube.

Quiet Pool

My favorite on-line resource remains I can’t say enough about this site and how much I’ve learned from it. It is here I found what was lacking in the Total Immersion method, an emphasis on propulsion and individualization. If I ever get to Australia, I may be up for another 6 hour private lesson with an awesome SwimSmooth Aussie instructor:).

Enjoy the weightlessness, resistance and ultimate fitness that comes with swimming. Someday your skills may result in you becoming a certified scuba diver, triathlete, or master’s swimmer. As long as you keep evolving, you can’t lose.

For swim gear and gadgets I can’t live without, click here


"We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity." Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz


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