Old-school swimming methods treat the arms and legs as having unconnected functions. As if we had an ‘Arms Department’ charged with pulling and a ‘Leg Department’ deputized to kick.  And the body?  Inconvenient baggage we must drag along.

A fundamental principle of all human movement is to use the body as an integrated system, not uncoordinated parts. This applies equally to moving through water, as on land.

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It’s little wonder that one of the most basic ideas about swimming is that its essential actions are pulling and kicking.

  • It starts with our first ‘perilous’ efforts to lift our feet from the bottom and swim. Mine was a 10-yard dash to a raft anchored in Long Island Sound at age 7 or 8. Until I was gratefully clinging to its side I didn’t dare interrupt my flailing, as it seemed the only thing keeping my head above water.

  • In my first formal lessons, the instructors followed a Red Cross manual, which described freestyle technique as: “windmill the arms and churn the legs.” Today’s Red Cross manual pays lip service to body position, but most instructors still focus on arms and legs.

  • Have you noticed that ‘serious’ swimmers all cart a collection of paddles, buoys, boards and/or fins to poolside? No ‘workout’ seems complete without arms-only and legs-only laps. Because coached teams spend hours each week training this way, triathletes and lap swimmers often follow their lead.

In part this is because so few swimmers are acquainted with balance. When you lack balance, using a buoy makes swimming much easier. (But only temporarily.) And traditionalists say kickboard sets will strengthen and condition ‘weak’ legs.  But even kickboard-trained legs are no match for gravity.

Emphasis on arms/legs swimming has more significant liabilities than simply wasting precious time, including:

  1. It hurts development of balance and streamlining skills.

  1. It encourages heedless exertion instead of energy conservation and drag reduction.

  1. It imprints a habit of dis-integrated swimming, and inhibits learning to use your entire body as a biomechanical system.

Every form of skilled or powerful movement on terra firma illustrates that athletic movement works best when power flows freely through the core.

  • When throwing or hitting any kind of ball—tennis, golf or baseball—the arms mainly deliver power generated in the lower body.

  • We can lift far more weight with the arms, when hips and legs initiate the lift to overcome inertia.

  • Attempting to walk or run with the arms immobilized would feel terribly awkward—which is why runners don’t isolate the legs in training. Why should doing so any more sense in the water?

Because human swimmers start out only 3% efficient, it’s essential that we do everything possible to make our movements efficient.

Learn to Swim with Your Body

We introduce propulsion skills as the third element because you need a balanced, stable, streamlined body to learn them.

TI Propulsion skills are based on two principles. Both exploit the large payoff that comes from saving energy (even after you’ve progressed from 3% to, say, 6% efficient).

Use Free Power First.  Using your muscles to generate power is costly. But power originating from the combination of body mass, gravity and buoyancy is ‘free.’ TI techniques teach you to exploit ‘available’ energy and power first, then align muscular efforts with them.

Swim ‘Inside-Out.’ Power and rhythm should flow from torso to limbs. Arm and leg muscles fatigue easily. Muscles in your core are (i) much stronger and (ii) relatively tireless. TI drills connect arm and leg actions to your core.

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SpearSwitch promotes seamless integration of the Elements of Efficiency because it imprints Active Streamlining and Propulsion skills at the same time. As well the way in which the arms are brought forward—beneath the surface—helps in three ways:

  1. Reinforces the streamlined-right/streamlined-left stroking pattern.

  2. Reduces gravity effects to preserve still-delicate balance.

  3. Heightens awareness of drag and how to evade it.

Key Focal Points include:

  1. Check Balance and Alignment in Skate position.

  2. Use extending hand/arm to ‘cut a sleeve’ through the water, then align the rest of your body to slip through that sleeve.

  3. Hold with lead hand, while using the high hip (and gravity) to drive arm and body through sleeve – and past your grip.

  4. Finish each cycle in Skate. Recheck Balance and Alignment.

We teach both ‘Interrupted’ and Rhythmic versions of SpearSwitch. Use the interrupted iteration to assess and refine key details and the rhythmic as a ‘bridge’ to whole stroke.  Use Rhythmic Spear + Strokes to integrate new skills.

SwingSwitch shifts the focus more fully to Propulsion, by concentrating the energy and power generated by weight-shift into (i) the direction of travel, and (ii) the optimal moment in time. Notice in Swing that the hand–and possibly part of the forearm–remain submerged.  This encourages relaxation of hand and forearm and prevents hand from getting ahead of elbow prematurely.

Key Focal Points include:

  1. Check Balance and Alignment in Skate.

  1. Swing arm forward (out, not up). Keep opposite side long, sleek and stable.

  1. Hold swing arm ‘poised’ at forward position. Nudge it down to initiate weight shift, driving past lead hand.

  1. Finish each cycle in Skate. Check Balance and Alignment.

As with Spear-Switch, progress from Interrupted to Rhythmic to Swing + Strokes. Transition to swimming by barely lifting fingertips clear of surface.

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Next and Final: Lesson 7 – Improve Every Day, The Rest Of Your Life