Total Immersion: A skill-based approach to swimming better

Whatever your reasons for swimming—recreation, fitness, endurance, or speed--your chances of success and satisfaction will increase enormously if you approach swimming as a game of skill—rather than test of endurance. In the Total Immersion method, fitness happens while you learn and improve skills.

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illuminate why skill is essential:

  • Only a third of American adults can swim the length of a 25-yard pool.
  • And just two percent can swim a continuous quarter-mile.

The millions who can’t complete a single pool length aren’t lacking fitness: Swimming 25 yards takes no more fitness than walking 100 strides!

What they lack is skill—but not just any kind of skill. Swimming is an aquatic skill, while humans are terrestrial mammals.

Total Immersion instruction puts you at ease in the water, then teaches you to cleverly adapt human anatomy to swim more like an aquatic mammal.

Three Steps to Success

Total Immersion techniques of have been refined over 25 years with countless thousands of students—most of whom had little skill or experience.

We follow the same 3-step sequence of foundational skills with every student and every form of swimming. When you learn these skills you’ll be able to:

  • Swim farther and faster using less energy
  • Enjoy every stroke and improve continuously.
  • Swim free of injury or pain.


Step One: The 3 C’s--Comfort, Control, and Confidence

Every TI student--whether novice or experienced (even former Olympians!)--begins by learning Balance and Core Stability. These foundational skills replace that sinking sensation with a comforting (for some, thrilling!) sense of being ‘weightless’ in the water.

First you learn to cooperate with—instead of fighting—gravity and employ principles of physics (instead of exhausting kicking) to create an ‘effortlessly horizontal’ position from head to toe. Then we teach you to stabilize your core body to control sideways or rotational forces that can divert your arms and legs to ‘steadying’ actions.

Feeling that you’re in control of your position in the water will bring the confidence and mental calm needed to master more advanced skills. As well, this step gives you first-hand knowledge of how human anatomy naturally behaves in a fluid medium. You’ll use this insight to minimize problems and maximize opportunities inherent in the aquatic medium.


Step Two: Take the Path of Least Resistance

Because water is 1000 times denser than air, water resistance (drag) is the largest factor limiting how far or fast we swim. Fish and aquatic mammals are naturally streamlined. For human swimmers it’s a learned skill.

Because there are two forms of drag, we teach two ways of streamlining:

  • Pressure drag is resistance that builds up in front of your body as you move through the water. Bulky or constantly-changing shapes create far more resistance than an unchanging and sleek shape.
  • Wave drag is energy diverted from locomotion into moving water around—i.e. making waves, turbulence, bubbles, and splash. Any energy you expend moving water around isn’t available to move you forward.

We minimize these two forms of drag by teaching these skills:

Shape Your ‘Vessel.’ This step is inspired both by the streamlined shape of fish and aquatic mammals and by the principles naval architects use in shaping vessels to minimize pressure drag. Apply it to the human form by extending your body—head, limbs and torso--into a long, slippery shape. Mindfully strive to minimize deviation from this shape as you stroke and breathe.

Don’t Make Waves. Minimize Wave Drag by striving trying to minimize wavemaking, bubbles, splash, and even noise. All are evidence of energy being diverted from locomotion into moving the water around. The farther and faster you swim, the bigger the payoff from doing so with quiet strokes.


Step Three: Move From Your Core

In traditional technique, the arms and legs do the lion’s share of the work, while the core body is passive baggage. We invert that dynamic initiating all movement, power, and rhythm in the core—the most naturally powerful and fatigue-resistant part of the body.

We teach you to carefully integrate the movements of the head, arms, and legs with rhythms initiated in the core. Power originates in the core and flows to the arms and legs. The better that integration, the less work it takes to swim farther and faster. I.E. The same level of fitness will take you farther.


What about Breathing?

It’s obvious that breathing is both the most essential and most challenging of all skills. So where does breathing fit into the TI skill sequence. Actually, development of seamless breathing skill is integral to every step.  When you are comfortable and in control of your body, breathing is far easier. When you maintain a long, sleek shape while breathing, you conserve both momentum and power. And finally, it’s far easier to get that breath when the energy for moving your mouth to the air comes from core rotation.

As you may have grasped while reading this, this style of swimming—cooperating with gravity, extending your bodyline, moving from the core—doesn’t come naturally. But they are most certainly learnable.