R Skate UW

Over past couple weeks, we’ve shared excerpts from a companion instructional manual that Terry Laughlin created for T.I. workshop attendees, adapted from his 2006 book, “Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body.” The purpose of the supplementary material in this manual was to provide practical suggestions to guide T.I. swimmers through the first several weeks or months following a T.I. workshop (or after learning with T.I. self-teaching tools). This week’s post is another excerpt from that manual, focused on the first phase of Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) Training: Energy Conservation. In this article, Terry details the importance of spending time on balance, comfort, and relaxation. From this solid foundation, one can build a stable, fluid, and efficient stroke… and be well-positioned to then cultivate advanced stroke mastery, increase distance, and increase speed. We’ll go in-depth on those latter topics next week, when we’ll share another post in this continuing series of excerpts from Terry’s workshop manual on Kaizen Swimming. Enjoy… and Happy Laps! 





This part of the Workshop Manual will guide you through the first several weeks or months of training after your T.I. workshop (or after beginning T.I. practice with self-teaching tools). Pages 136-164 of the T.I. book Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body (“ES4EB”) also includes detailed guidance on how to plan a Kaizen Training program for the long term. Here’s an overview of what do in the first few weeks or months of your T.I. practice.


Every workshop alum (or self-taught T.I. swimmer) should devote at least 10 to 20 hrs of practice to balance, comfort, and relaxation. (Some swimmers have remained at this level for a year or two without stagnating.) Your goals are to eliminate discomfort and tension and develop basic habits of efficient, fluent movement. For many swimmers, drills are essential for this, but whole-stroke can be helpful too. The specific foundations you should form include:

(1) Make breathing routine so it doesn’t distract you while working on other foundations.

(2) Create effortless support or balance by imprinting a neutral head position and the right position on the “track” for your relaxed extended hand.

(3) Make long, “slippery” bodylines a habit by learning to “pierce the water” with your spearing arm and follow the “track” with your bodyline.

(4) Make whole-body propelling movements a habit.



30% Balance Drills to learn balance and imprint sleek bodylines

40% Switch Drills- Focus on minimizing drag and turbulence, and becoming “patient” in trapping water

20% Mindful Swimming (whole stroke with focal points) to transfer awareness gained in drills into whole stroke

10% Stroke Counting to measure your improvements in efficiency and compare the effectiveness of various focal points

Reach Below Sleek Body Left Side

PRACTICE TIPS (for more guidance, read pgs. 115-135 of Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body)

Efficient, fluent swimming starts with exploring basic movements and positions with a sense of curiosity– and no sense of urgency. Whenever you feel discomfort during a drill, your natural reaction will be some kind of compensation– craning your neck, sculling, kicking too hard. These unconscious reactions imprint energy-wasting movements on our nervous system. 

Patience in mastering basic skills may be natural to martial artists and dancers, but not to most swimmers. I only came to appreciate its value after a few years of regular yoga practice. The most beneficial goal for your first 10 to 20 hours of pool time following the workshop (or after first working with T.I. self-teaching tools) might be to make mindful, examined movement a habit. Don’t count laps or watch the pace clock; focus purely on sensation and awareness– aiming to reduce effort and increase flow. Your period of concentrated drill practice may last a few weeks for some students, several months for others. Your drill practice will benefit greatly if you follow these guidelines:

  • Short repeats. 25s or less for the first week or two, and seldom longer than 50s.
  • Short sets. To maintain acute attention, change your focus regularly. Alternate tasks that require intense focus, with less exacting ones.
  • Clear focus. Think about doing just one thing well on each length. Break it down finely. (e.g. on Switch Drills, you could divide your focal points into soft arms on recovery, recovering arm deep and slow, leading with your elbow, slicing your hand to your target, and tipping your fingers down.
  • Ignore the clock. Use “yoga breaths” to regulate your rest interval between repeats. 3 to 5 breaths should be sufficient. 


* To continue reading about the progression of Kaizen Training, click here for the blog post on “Phase 2: Develop Your Stroke”


Advance beyond the basic T.I. skills with this comprehensive guide on pursuing the kaizen path of swimming to the highest levels of swimming mastery: 

Terry Laughlin’s book– Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body– shows you how!


ES4EB book cover