Terry demonstrating focal points for the timing of the weight shift, Feb. 2016
This Dec. 2015 photo-illustrated article from T.I. Founder Terry Laughlin is a thorough breakdown of how one can apply several core fundamentals of T.I. technique to a practice session. With great detail, he describes the step-by-step tactical approach of a lesson he conducted with two students. Below, he recounts how he guided his students’ practice with targeted focal points– or “mini skills”– to test how well they could maintain efficiency as they moved from drilling to more seamless whole stroke swimming. Terry’s account of this T.I. practice session with students is an excellent example of how you can integrate foundational technique skills into your own swim practice. Enjoy… and Happy Laps!
December 11, 2015
Two days ago I brought two students, Dmitry and Sergey, to Bard College to guide them through a practice that was 100% focused on increasing efficiency via improving technique. They had just completed two days of instruction–four 90-minute sessions in the Endless Pool at our Swim Studio. During the final session, they said they’d like to extend their stay and squeeze in one more session.
Both had radically transformed their strokes during the previous two days. But such rapid transformation isn’t always easy to maintain–especially after returning to the very different environment of a lap pool, and to a setting where the pull to resume old routines may be strong. If we did another session in the Endless Pool, I wouldn’t attempt to introduce anything new–only to review and deepen the skills they’d already learned.
But I felt there could be even more value in testing the new skills in the same environment to which they’d be returning. I proposed we go to Bard College the next morning, where I could guide them through their first post-workshop ‘real world’ practice. The experience turned out to be as valuable for me as for Sergey and Dmitry.
We began by reviewing the first and most ‘non-negotiable’ skill of efficient swimming: Establishing a neutral–and weightless–head position. I had them repeat Superman four times. Glide five yards from wall to backstroke flags. Stand for a breather and return.
On the first two reps both were holding the head slightly elevated. I lightly wagged the head to reveal that they were maintaining slight neck tension. On the next two reps, their heads were fully released and aligned with the spine. The visual cue–shown below–is that only a small sliver of the back of the head is visible above the surface.
Ready for the next step: Add a few strokes to test whether they could continue resting their heads on the water. Would I still see that same small sliver of head as they stroked?
We did four reps of Superman plus 4 to 5 non-breathing strokes. I asked them to assess whether their head position felt the same–with same degree of relaxation in neck muscles–after they began stroking. They passed that test, so we advanced to a slightly more demanding skill.
Could they maintain this new skill for a full 25 yards–14 to 17 strokes rather than 4–and while breathing. I instructed them to push off in Superman, establish the weightless head sensation, take four non-breathing strokes, then breathe bilaterally the rest of the way. Could they maintain a neutral, weightless head while breathing–as shown below?
Sergey succeeded. Dmitry lifted his head while breathing. I asked him to tune into the feeling of having the head rest on the surface during the non-breathing strokes, then check whether he felt the same sensation as he breathed. While he didn’t fully correct this error, it was valuable information to identify this as a problem to be solved in practices that followed. I made a mental note to finish the practice by having Dmitry review the TI “Nod” drill–shown below–which can correct head-lifting in as little as 10 minutes.
Following the same sequence, we cycled through several foundational mini-skills. For each cycle, choose ONE Focal Point or Mini-Skill while doing the following:
- Do several reps of a standing rehearsal or drill–depending on the skill.
- Swim several short reps, transitioning seamlessly from the drill to 4 to 5 non-breathing strokes.
- Swim 4 to 8 x 25 to test the durability of the new mini-skill with more strokes and while breathing.
The second cycle was most instructive for all three of us. In our first cycle, I’d observed that both Sergey and Dmitry looked a bit tight, and uncertain, during Recovery. To address this, I instructed them to lightly Paint a Line on the surface with fingertips (hanging from a Rag Doll arm).
First they rehearsed Rag Doll/Paint a Line– as shown below.
In this case, it was Dmitry who succeeded. Sergey’s hand was a bit too close to his body–increasing tension in his shoulder. It was also several inches off the water– an occasion for energy waste, especially when multiplied by the thousands of strokes he would take in a triathlon or open water swim.
A much more important revelation was the keen degree of attention required for new skills that call on fine motor coordination–requiring the cooperation of multiple small muscles. This was an opportunity for a critical takeaway about the Skill of Focus.
Just as with motor skills, one must begin developing mental skills with relatively undemanding tasks. E.G. For just 4 to 5 strokes, can you lightly trace a wide straight line on the surface with fingertips. There’s no point in going farther–either a more complex skill, or swimming a greater distance–until you succeed at this.
To develop the ability to perform complex skills, one must first achieve consistency–and a degree of effortlessness–in a series of much simpler mini-skills.
To acquire the capacity for laser-sharp and unwavering focus– e.g. to remain calmly observant in a chaotic-seeming environment like the start of a triathlon swim– one must first be able to concentrate on doing one simple thing for 25 yards or even less in a quiet pool.
During our practice I was able to not only make corrections to form, but also to leave a much larger lesson: Your goal on each rep is not only to improve a motor skill; it’s to strengthen your capacity to hold one thought.
By the way, my own swimming received a striking benefit. When I wasn’t observing, I swam behind Dmitry and Sergey, practicing the same skills and testing my own focus. (I [passed that test–a result of tireless practice.)
At the beginning I took 13 strokes for 25 yards. Then my count improved to 12 strokes. And a few times I crossed the pool in 11 strokes. Before we got out I had to test this efficiency on a continuous 50.
First 25, 12 strokes. Flip turn and pushoff. 2nd 25, 12 strokes for a total of 24 strokes for 50 yards.
I hadn’t swum 50 yards in fewer than 25 strokes in several years. I was so pleased I immediately swam another to see if I could repeat it. Voila, I did.
Very happy laps indeed.
All skills and Focal Points mentioned in this post are shown and described in the downloadable Effortless Endurance Freestyle Complete Self-Coaching Toolkit.