How to Swim – Total Immersion Swimming

by | Sep 6, 2016 | Podcast, Training

KeyWords: Swimming, Total Immersion, Water, Drills, Injury


Super excited to get the chance to talk to the creator of Total Immersion swimming, Terry Laughlin, on the show today. An extra bonus was having one of the Master Coaches of Total Immersion, Suzanne Atkinson join us to add her experience learning TI, Teaching TI and her medical perspective on clients. Peter also was fortunate to connect with Deb Sagan in Pittsburgh for a private swim lesson and we get to enjoy some video of Peter Swimming!

Swimming is something that can open up traditional swim training but also provide comfort to pursue many other water based sports like surfing, diving, kite-boarding and Kayaking.



Total Immersion, or TI, is a method of swimming instruction, developed by Terry Laughlin and founded in 1989. Terry is an American swimming coach based in New York, USA. TI focuses on teaching swimmers to move through the water efficiently. By conserving energy and focusing on balance and streamlining in the water, any energy used for propulsion becomes much more effective. Basic principles of teaching include sustainability of effort, drag reduction, vessel shaping and full body swimming.

Terry’s Latest Book – Free Chapter Here of his latest book
Deb Sagan – debsagan AT gmail DOT com – Peter’s instructor for his first TI lesson can be found here


 1) Quick education background? how did you get into it, etc.

A) Terry – cut from first swim club in 8th grade then tried for 50mile

– tried to outwork other swimmers = what was mysterious ingredient ???

– became a coach after college , youngest NCA at 21 year olds

– ‘adult onset swimmers’

– kaizen swimmer – 111111111111111

– our sternest stroke is the ‘good enough’

B) Suzanne –

– child / youth swimming

– break for young adult

– coached volleyball for highschool out of college — learned teaching tools (strategy , teaching)

– outward bound school – wilderness classrooms (technique and skills)

– triathalon after residency for medical school

– had back pain while swimming then had TI book/dvd recommended and was swimming without pain


Why should everyone learn to swim better?

— back pain reduced for Suzanne because of head position likely – look at bottom of pool in TI

– try triathalon

– low impact to augment or replace run

– itch failed to scratch (can’t swim)

– essential life skill – like reading !

– few activities for longevity, Terry has client who started in 90s

– self-confidence and learning to learn

– low impact but also compressive force (like compression tights ! )

– can be done with many injuries

What’s the key to a good swimming? (TI method ) 

-> humans are terrestrial and swimming is aquatic. Many animals use avoidance (head up / wild strokes) , TI focuses on being aquatic – improving on terrestrial technique . Swim like fish or aquatic mammals. Not instinctive, so must be exercise in mindfulness . Leave the wall with intention of what working on- focusing on.

-> total immersion technique is recognizable, it has signature elements such as during recovery phase (elbow up) , aligned head, body line fully extended to make long sleak lines not focused on kicking (legs draft)

***peter video for crazy arms LINK  (courtesy Deb Sagan)

Good Example of ‘good swimming’ – Coach Jai Swims English Channel

Start of his swim, same features present:
Some video:
Nice view of his stroke above water



Common problems people run into in first sessions? 

1) no push water back past hip, bring elbow up when done pull back

2) don’t try to see where going (head position) – this is counter to our terrestrial human nature – reliance on vision

3) weightless head – use torpedo drill


What should first sessions be composed of (what to do once in pool)


What equipment MUST I have? 

  • bathing suit / goggles
  • no need for gagets or props

What are the three key terms in this sport? ( stroke , etc) 

Terry’s 3 Terms

  • grace/fluency – move like water
  • balance / weightless – See video on balance
  • efficiency – goal to perform task in pool easily (avg swimmer only uses 3%!)

Suzanne’s 3 key terms

  • high elbows
  • recovery
  • workout – purpose is to be better swimmer and not burnout in swim

Drills to try 

Video on balance ( for first 3 drills below )

  1. torpedo – arms at side (hands on thighs)
  2.  superman  / Streamline – arms out front like superman
  3.  skating position – hold glide and extension (1 arm reaching)
  4. rehersals standing / squatting in pool to practice without much energy / need to float
  5. swimming with focal point – focus on one thing


Any weird/surprising etiquette at pool

A) avoid baggy shorts to help keep hips/legs up and reduce drag instantly

B) no one cares what u look like – all different body types at pool

C) how get in lane – easy if lanes empty , if others swimming don’t jump into lane without swimmers seeing you , sit on side till they see you .

D) often when busy they circle swim, swimming clockwise up one side and down the other —  but may split lane sticking


What’s the one cool move to feel more competent in pool ? 

a good wall push off as it helps teach streamline , don’t worry about kicking.

Track / practice distance you can ‘coast’ or ‘superman’ – Streamline

Video to Help Pushing off wall – Total Immersion Youtube


Approaches for open water 

– Suzanne talks about how surface water is not moving past you , the movement is not antagonistic

– typically takes only a couple days

– pool to open water is moving from transparent / familiar to unknown. Learning to control thinking and panic. MUst defuse story you tell yourself.

– even Michael Phelps doesn’t like swimming open water (not in a pool)!


How can I practice without big pool? 

– certainly use hotel pools , forces focus on the smaller elements and deliberate practice


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