Terry teaching 2

A version of this article by Terry Laughlin was previously published on ivillage.com in Dec. 2011.


Total Immersion teaches swimming as a practice—in the spirit of yoga and Tai Chi– rather than a workout. The first principle of swimming as a practice is to let go of the usual goal of “Getting to the Other End.” Your new goal is to Be Aware of Every Stroke.  Another word for mindful swimming is intentional swimming. It works best when you target a single, highly specific element in your stroke. The foundation skill of effortless and enjoyable swimming is Balance–or feeling “weightless” in the water. This series of three focal points are designed to improve Balance in the crawl stroke.

Hang Your Head

While stroking “hang” your head– release its weight –until it feels weightless. Neither hold it up, nor press it down; just let it go.  When you release it, concentrate on feeling that it’s cushioned by the water.  Finally, notice if you feel a new relaxation— and maybe freedom of movement —in neck and shoulders.

Float Your Arm Forward . . . Slowly

Next focus intently on the extending arm. Feel the same “cushion” supporting your arm as you extend. Watch for— and eliminate –bubbles in your stroke (looking down, not forward.) Finally, explore how slowly you can float your arm forward . . . and try to extend slightly farther than usual.

Calm Your Legs

Your weightless upper body should help your lower body feel lighter than usual. Take advantage by “calming” and relaxing your legs. Instead of churning them busily and noisily, let them “draft behind” your upper body, in a slipstream. Strive for the easiest, quietest, and most streamlined movement possible.

Practice Tips:

1.) Before practicing the three focal points, swim a few lengths as you usually do. Count your strokes and rate your effort from 1 (Effortless) to 5 (Exhausting).  Repeat this exercise after each focal point to measure how they affect your ease and efficiency.

2.) Practice each focal point by doing a series of learning/familiarizing repeats followed by a series of practicing/memorizing repeats.

  • Learning/Familiarizing  Swim a series of short (4 to 6 strokes, or 10 yards or less) repeats. Push off the wall, swim a short distance. Catch your breath and return to where you started. These repeats serve two purposes: (i) to break the habit of feeling obliged to complete every length you start; and (ii) to form a new habit of keen and undistracted attention.  Do at least four of these, but continue as long as you feel yourself discovering new sensations or nuances.
  • Practicing/Memorizing Once you feel familiar with the new intention and sensation, swim farther— perhaps one, not more than two, pool lengths. Rest for 3 to 5 cleansing breaths after each. Continue visualizing your modified stroke as you do. Continue swimming the longer repeats as long as they feel as good or better than the shorter ones. If they don’t feel as good, resume shorter repeats to better imprint the new habit. Before progressing to the next focal point, count strokes and rate your effort. How do they compare to your former way of swimming?

This lesson is based entirely on whole-stroke practice. But most new swimmers experience find it much easier to learn Balance by mixing skill drills, like Superman Glide and Skate, with the short whole-stroke repeats described above. The next best thing to learning TI from a Certified Coach is to become your own best coach with the aid of our self-teaching tools.

Transform Your Stroke!

Learn guaranteed skill-builders with our downloadable Total Immersion Effortless Endurance Self Coaching Course! The drills and skills are illustrated in 15 short videos. Guidance on how to learn and practice each drill effectively, illustrated by clear pictures, are contained in the companion Workbook.