2.3 Hop 301

One of the single most common questions that T.I. swimmers ask after first learning the T.I. drill process and technique-focused approach is: “How do I apply what I’ve learned in the drills to my whole stroke practice?” To help guide our students with integrating T.I. skills in the transition to whole stroke practice, we have long provided a companion instructional manual to our workshop attendees. Below is an excerpt from a workshop manual that Terry Laughlin adapted from his 2006 book “Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body,” providing practical suggestions to guide T.I. swimmers through the first several weeks or months following a T.I. workshop. This post highlights a detailed list of freestyle focal points that aims to answer the question of how to transition the skills of T.I. drills to whole stroke swimming– an indispensable aid for both new T.I. swimmers and long-term kaizen learners! Enjoy… and Happy Laps!  





This phase of practice can last a lifetime for those most committed to Kaizen Swimming, but it should certainly last between one and several years. Your minimum goal is to swim whole stroke with the same degree of balance, ease, and control that you enjoy in the drills. You do that by:

(1) Learning to swim balanced and tall

(2) Learning to breathe rhythmically without interrupting your flow and while keeping a hand extended and anchored

(3) Learning to start each stroke with a “patient hand”– taking time to trap the water with hand/forearm before stroking

(4) Develop “gears” by establishing an SPL (strokes per length) range of three to four 25 yd/m stroke counts (e.g. 14-17 strokes per length, calibrated precisely according to your chosen pace) at which you can swim efficiently… and be able to swim 400-1500 meters without exceeding your SPL range… and to swim sets of shorter repeats (repeats of 25-200 yd/m in sets that last 10-20 min.) in the lower half of your SPL range



Following a period of intensive drill practice, you have two priorities: (1) Apply what you’ve learned in drills to whole-stroke and (2) Begin imprinting an economical stroke into muscle memory. The two key ingredients are Drill/Swim Set and Mindful Swimming. Earlier in this practice guide Coach Brian Van de Krol gave great guidance on Drill/Swim sets. [Those particular drill/swim sets will be shared in a separate blog post in the coming weeks.] Basically, take what feels good in the drill and make it feel the same while swimming whole stroke. At first, it might take you 75 yds of a drill to get a clear idea of the sensation you’re trying to replicate, and you might be able to “hold that feeling” for only 25 yds of swimming. With time, that mix should become 50 yds drill and 50 whole stroke, then 25 drill and 75 whole stroke. Prioritize clarity by having a specific focus at all times and keeping that focus from drill to whole stroke. For example, if you practice Skating with a focus on establishing “wide tracks,” then focus on following those wide tracks in whole stroke.

When you increase your whole-stroke practice, it’s best to simplify your task and heighten your focus with Mindful Swimming. Pages 115-127 of “Extraordinary Swimming for Every Body” [available for purchase– follow this link to the T.I .Store] provide a detailed context for all Freestyle Focal Points. Here is a consolidated list to begin your freestyle practice. 

Reach Below Sleek Body Left Side


  • Completely release the weight of your head to the water
  • Imagine a laser beam coming from your head-spine line– keep it pointed forward
  • Feel that the back of your neck is lengthened
  • Hang your extended hand– keep fingers below wrist and wrist below elbow


  • Keep extended lead hand outside of shoulder
  • Follow “Wide Tracks” with recovery and extension
  • Rotate only enough for shoulder to clear the water


  • Spear hand forward to a target located in Skating and reinforced in Switch drills
  • Line up your body to follow your spearing hand down the track
  • Keep legs inside the “shadow” or slipstream of your body
  • Always have a hand forward of your head


  • Ear Hops– Hop fingers over an imaginary bar coming from your ear, then into the water
  • Marionette Arms– Hang hand/forearm from your shoulder like a marionette or rag doll
  • Mail Slot– On entry, slip hand and forearm through a visualized mail slot forward of your shoulder
  • Soft Hand– Entering hand should be relaxed enough that fingers separate loosely


  • Enter fingers opposite the elbow of extended hand
  • Pause hand– fingers down– for a brief moment before stroke
  • Trap the water behind hand/forearm before stroking
  • Hold– don’t pull– as best you can


  • Spear your entering hand past your grip
  • Spear your hand through the target established in Skating and Switch drills
  • Drive down the high hip as you spear
  • Count strokes with hip drives instead of hand entries
  • Drive opposite foot as you spear your hand
  • Finish each stroke to the front


  • Bubble out immediately and continuously after inhale
  • Blow out the final 20% more forcefully as you roll to air
  • Use the spearing hand to take you to air
  • Follow shoulder back with your chin and look past your shoulder
  • Keep the top of your head down, aligned with spine
  • Get taller as you roll to breathe; stay taller as you return face-down


  • Legs should be as passive as possible (if you came to workshop with “busy” legs)
  • Keep kick as small and “neat” as possible
  • Try to close feet briefly as you spear
  •  Kick from “gut” and top of legs– don’t feel it in your thighs
  • Synchronize left foot drive with right hand spear and vice-versa


  • Do everything as quietly as possible– drilling, swimming, increasing speed or cadence
  • Never Practice Struggle

If you’re counting, that makes 38 different focal points– but it’s not an exhaustive list. I’ve used every one of these, some for hundreds of thousands of strokes, others for tens of thousands. All have contributed something meaningful to my efficiency. I never take a stroke– in training or racing– without thinking about one of them. Each focal point works on a particular part of the stroke. And each lap you consciously focus on, for example, slipping your arm into a mail slot, faintly imprints a new groove in your nervous system. After 5 or 10 minutes thinking only about that, it will feel a bit more natural and improve the chances that you’ll continue doing it when you’re thinking about something else. 

Through practice, you’ll narrow the list to a few particular favorites. Once you do, you might note those on an index card and laminate, or put it in a Ziploc baggie and take it to the pool with you. Put it at the end of your lane, and then do several 25s of each “cue” on the card. Take enough time between reps to catch your breath and think about how you feel. As they become easier, progress to 4 x 50 of each cue. Then, 4 x 75. The level of focus required to do these and groove them into your nervous system makes the time fly, so enjoy this exercise in Mindful Swimming, while you build efficiency and fitness.