Continuing with the series of articles we’ve shared in the last several weeks, this post– “Phase III: Effective Swimming”– is another excerpt from a companion instructional manual that Terry Laughlin created for T.I. workshop attendees, adapted from his 2006 book, “Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body.” Terry’s practical guidance in this manual focuses on how T.I. swimmers can strategically develop a Kaizen Training approach to their swimming practice in the first several weeks or months– and beyond– following a T.I. workshop (or after learning with T.I. self-teaching tools). In this article, Terry breaks down the elements of building smart speed through the practice of stroke counting. Since we know that Stroke Length x Stroke Rate = Velocity (SL x SR= V), stroke counting is an integral practice for learning how to deliberately calibrate one’s swimming speed with awareness and precision. Next week we’ll wrap up the last article in this series, looking at how we can effectively incorporate the pace clock with stroke counting in “Swimming Golf” practice sets. Enjoy… and Happy Laps! 







Your goals in this phase are to be able to increase your awareness, control, and coordination to be able to swim farther and faster with the least additional effort. Your specific training goals are:

(1) Develop the ability to choose any stroke-per-length (SPL) and swim effectively.

(2) Develop the ability to increase your speed, without increasing your SPL and while maintaining a sense of relaxation.

(3) Swim near your “red line” [race pace] with control and gradually raise your red line.

(4) Be able to apply everything you do in practice while racing.



20% Drills– focused on stroke timing, patient catch, and trapping water

20% Mindful Swimming– in drill/swim sets and whole-stroke sets

30% Stroke Counting and “Gears”

20% “Swimming Golf” [this type of practice will be shared next week] or Descending Series

10% Distance Development or Speedplay



If you’ve been wondering where in Total Immersion “training” happens– those timed sets on the pack clock that other swimmers seem to rely on exclusively– this is it. But with a crucial distinction: the difference between T.I. training and traditional workouts is that T.I. swimmers focus on relaxation, control, and fluency.

You practice Effective Swimming by getting in the habit of:

(a)  Counting your strokes

(b) Comparing your stroke counts at any distance or speed to the best you’ve done at that distance or speed

(c) CHOOSING your stroke count on any repeat or set

Once you reach this point, you’ll be ahead of 99% of all swimmers in the effectiveness of your training.

The motto: “Never Practice Struggle” will help you answer virtually any question that might arise as you progress from learning new skills, to developing those skills into habits, to building fitness in such a way that it reinforces those skills. Never forget that you can reduce energy waste far easier and faster than you can create energy stores. And that it takes only half as long to learn a skill correctly from the start than to correct a bad habit. So Effective Swimming will produce far more “functional fitness” in far less time than traditional workouts.

Here are the basics for getting started:



If you’re not doing a drill or mindful swimming, count your strokes– every stroke, every lap. This will give you real-time info on your level of efficiency. How much does your count increase when you swim 50s at 40 seconds, rather than 45 seconds? Or when you swim 100-yard repeats, rather than 50s? With than information, you can then begin setting efficiency goals for every length of practice. Those goals are not strictly about taking fewer strokes. They can also include:

1. Reducing the increase that occurs when you swim faster.

2. Reducing the increase that occurs when you swim farther.

One caveat is that you’ll probably find it challenging to keep track of your stroke count and concentrate on a Focal Point at the same time when you initially begin monitoring SPL and doing SPL exercises. As you start out, separate the two activities and use them to provide information that helps each. However, over time, stroke counting will become almost automatic and you’ll use only a little brainpower to keep track of SPL. Then you’ll be able to concentrate on a Focal Point and track your count at the same time. 


Once you have awareness of your stroke count range, you can begin to use that knowledge by doing sets that increase your ability to maintain a longer stroke for a greater distance, and develop your aerobic capacity at the same time. You do this with moderate distance repeats (50 to 300 yds/m) in sets of 1000 to 1500 yds/m in an orderly distance-building, efficiency-maintaining progression. Start with shorter repeats at a moderately challenging stroke count, then increase the repeat distance while maintaining the stroke count. When you’ve progressed from 50-yd repeats to 200-300-yd repeats at that stroke count, you can drop your count by one stroke and start the process over again with 50-yd repeats. Your speed on these repeats is less important than a sense of smooth, consistent stroking over longer distances. To train a bit faster, just reduce the repeat distance at the same stroke count for a set– or session– or two. 



If you rode your bicycle on a hilly course with only a single gear, your legs would be toast in no time. If you drove your car in only one gear, you’d burn out your engine in a hurry… and limit your speed dramatically. And yet, virtually every swimmer has only one “gear” for swimming– mainly because they swim most of the time with just one stroke count and rate. The next stage of Effective Training is similar to a piano student playing notes, chords, and scales until she becomes deft in striking the right keys every time.

Your next set of exercises is designed to teach you to “play” SPL as easily as a pianist playing scales, and then help you use your developing “gears” to learn how to build speed almost effortlessly. Having established your range of stroke counts (in a 25-yd/m pool, most swimmers should have a range of about four stroke counts; mine ranges from 12-15 SPL), your next goal is to: (1) learn to swim smoothly and effectively at every count in that range; (2) be able to “calibrate” your stroke so you can push off a wall and swim at any count you choose in your range, and (3) increase your speed with far less effort by smoothly increasing your stroke count (and consequently, your rate) to move more freely. 

Here are a few simple exercises you can do to begin that process:


Swim 25+50+75+100. Rest for 3 to 5 yoga breaths after each swim.

Take note of our stroke count on the 25, then without trying to strictly limit your count, just swim at a consistent pace or effort and see what happens to your SPL average on the the other swims. If you took 15 strokes for the 25, how far above 30-45-60 strokes are you on the 50-75-100? Don’t judge yourself; just take note and file the information for future reference.


Swim 100+75+50+25. Rest for 3 to 5 breaths after each swim.

Start with an easy 100. Count your strokes and divide by 4. This number becomes your “N” (benchmark SPL) for the rest of the set. For example, if you took 72 strokes for a 100, your N is 18 SPL (72 divided by 4 lengths). Again, simply note how far below 54-36-18 strokes you are for 75-50-25.


Swim 25+50+75+100.

Repeat Exercise #1, but this time with a specific focal point– e.g. releasing the weight of the head, or slipping through a smaller hole, or swimming more quietly. Just take note of your stroke count; don’t attempt to hit any particular count. This is purely an experiment to see if technique “tweaks” affect your SL, teaching you that you can affect– and ultimately choose your SL.


WS Gloves3

Swim 2 rounds of: 25+50+75+100.

1st Round: Swim with Fistgloves.[If you do not own a pair, swim with fists closed.] Just swim at your previous effort, not trying to hit any particular count. How many strokes above your ungloved SPL are?

2nd Round: Remove Fistgloves. [Again, if you do not own a pair, now swim with open hands.] Without trying for a particular count, compare your stroke counts to your previous SPL, to discover how Fistgloves (or closed fists) affect your efficiency.


Next week: The final excerpt in this series of articles on Kaizen Training– Using the pace clock with “Swimming Golf”

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