Tim talks about his learning experience of Total Immersion swimming in this videocast.
Any guy who has ever sat down to watch a men's Olympic swim race has felt just a tad uncomfortable. It's not because the swimmers are wearing only a few square inches of Lycra – it's because they look way better in it than most of us. Who doesn't aspire to have a "swimmer's body"? Which is why every day during my summer vacation I'd walk down to the beach by our rented lake house and crank out a couple hundred yards of freestyle, back and forth along the shore. By the time I staggered back up onto the beach, I would feel very virtuous and very, very worked.
Then one day, as I thrashed and splashed along, I overheard my girlfriend on the beach saying something like, "…not exactly Mark Spitz, is he?" She wasn't commenting on my physique. Rather, she was critiquing my miserably poor form.
A month later I found out exactly what she'd meant when I went for a swim in a pool equipped with an underwater video camera. The waterproof digicam's pitiless eye revealed the truth about my swimming: It was not at all Spitz-like, but more closely resembled a drowning Cirque du Soleil clown. As my arms thrashed at the water's surface, my lower body sank so far down that my toes almost brushed the bottom of the pool. I looked as if I were trying to claw my way up a staircase, drunk. The reason swimming always felt like such a "good workout," I realized, was because I was wasting a lot of energy.
Luckily I'd come to the right place. This warm and rather moist "swim studio," tucked behind a strip mall in upstate New York, is the world headquarters for the Total Immersion Swimming movement, which has revolutionized the way adults learn the sport. Founder Terry Laughlin was a mediocre college swimmer who turned coach and realized that the fastest swimmers weren't always the fittest; they had simply figured out how to move through water most efficiently.
That's not as easy as it sounds, especially after a lifetime of standard-issue, summer-camp freestyle technique, which TI devotees call "kick and pull" swimming because it emphasizes pushing (or pulling) water backward in order to create propulsion.
Total Immersion Swimming takes a whole different approach. Rather than claw and fight the water, I'd need to learn to move with it. My instructor, Greg Sautner, started by having me just float on my left side in the pool, my head relaxed and my left arm hanging down at about four o'clock, as if I were sleeping on my side, underwater. After 15 minutes of mastering this position, which Laughlin calls "Skating" because it serves as the glide phase of the freestyle stroke, I could roll onto my right side and do the same thing, kicking easily. After another hour, I could start to use my arms, bringing them forward in an almost sluggish stroke.
As Sautner explained it, he was rebuilding my stroke from the ground up, starting with a long, streamlined body position that offered as little water resistance as possible. Just as a golfer's swing engages his shoulders and trunk more than his arms, the real energy in my stroke should come from my body's rotation, which helped to pull me forward. My hands served as anchors in the water, not paddles. It's hard to describe, and even harder to master: It took half a day just to begin to undo a lifetime of bad swimming habits. But when I got back to my own health club, I found that I was more relaxed in the water: quieter, faster, and more comfortable. Not to mention a lot less tired.
"Swimming is one of the few sports where you can get better as you get older," Laughlin told me later; now in his 50s, he's swimming faster than he ever has in his life, with multiple Masters open-water championship titles to prove it. "You can improve almost indefinitely by honing your instinct for working with the water."
Laughlin suggests trying four exercises, or "focal points," the next time you hit the pool. Pick one and swim a lap or two easily, focusing on that one thing. Then rest a moment and try it again. To measure your efficiency, count the number of strokes you need to swim 25 yards at the beginning of your workout, and again at the end.
Four Steps to Better Swimming
1. "Hang" Your Head
Do you feel you have reasonable command of the skills in the TI Effortless Endurance Pyramid (Do you feel balanced and stable in the water? Do you move through the water, more than move it around? Is your stroke smoothly integrated . . . including breathing?) Not perfect, but comfortable and with relatively little energy waste?
If so I’d like to encourage you to make a New Year’s Resolution to develop a better understanding of how you create and improve the pace you can sustain for a longer distance–say 1500m or 1650y. We can’t predict an open water pace, but an improvement in our pool pace for distances such as 400m/500y, 800m or 1000y or 1km, and 1500m/1650y should be reflected in an improvement of the open water paces we can achieve.
There’s a fairly simple baseline for being able to improve performance through more effective (and personally relevant) training. That is to know your time for 100y or 100m.
This blog was prompted by reading the survey responses of those attending this week’s Open Water Experience at Concordia Eco-Resort in St John USVI. I noted that 75% of attendees reported that they had participated in a triathlon or open water swim. But fewer than 50% knew their time for 100y or 100m. To me this is a bit like putting the cart before the horse: I’d want to train with information and understanding before venturing into such an event.
Do you know your time for 100y or 100m? Even if you have no plans to swim in an organized event, this info can be invaluable to Mastery and Kaizen aspirations.
To be clear, I’m not talking about what your time would be for a single all-out time trial for 100y or 100m. I’m referring to the time you record at a relatively relaxed pace. A pace you could repeat 3 to 5 times, resting less than a minute between trials.
So let me suggest several ways of recording a time for 100y/m.
Time + Tempo: Time yourself at several tempos within your Tempo Comfort Range (This requires a Tempo Trainer, which I would suggest you make standard training equipment in 2017, if it’s not already.) At the moment, I’m working in a range of tempos a bit faster and slower than my calculated tempo of 1.1 sec from my 1650y race on Dec. 11. You might compare times at tempos across a range like this 1.1, 1.15, 1.2, 1.25, 1.3. Your time should be faster when tempo is faster.
Time + SPL: Time yourself at, say, 3 different stroke counts. At the moment, I am familiar with my 100y times at 15, 16, and 17 SPL. At 15 SPL, I can swim 3 to 5 x 100y repeats in about 1:35. At 16 SPL, I can hold a pace of about 1:32, At 17 SPL, I can hold a pace of about 1:29. In other words, time should improve as SPL goes up. I will look to improve each of these paces over the next few months. As I do, I’ll have great confidence that my 1650 pace/100 will improve similarly. I.E. 2 sec improvement in my 100y paces (at any of these stroke counts) should result in about 30 sec improvement in my 1500m/1650y time.
Time + RPE: RPE is an acronym for Rate of Perceived Exertion–a fairly accurate self-assessment of how hard we’re working. (It gets far more accurate with practice.) In TI we have a 5-point RPE. RPE1 = Perfect (the effort at which you can swim your most perfect form). RPE2 = Cruise. RPE3 = Brisk. RPE-4 = Race (how you’d want to feel, at say, the 1KM mark of a 1500m swim, RPE-5 = Race+ (how you’d want to feel in a final 50m sprint to the finish line of a 1500m race). Virtually all of my training these days is between RPE1 and RPE3 (Even my race pace at, say, 1000y of a 1650y swim would be pretty relaxed.). There’s a natural overlap as well between RPE, SPL and Tempo. I.E. At RPE-3 I’m likely to be swimming at a tempo of around 1.15 and SPL of 16.
What’s your 100y/m time when you are swimming at Warmup/Recovery/Perfect pace — the most relaxed you can swim? How much faster is your 100y/m time when swimming at RPE-2 Cruise (just a bit faster than perfect–like conversational running pace)? How much more do you gain when raising your effort to RPE-3 Brisk (still well short of max effort) pace? The more time improvement you make with each step-up in RPE the better.
Not seeing meaningful progress in the pool? Review these rules of successful swimmers to see where you might be standing—or swimming—in your own way.
By Sara McLarty .. Triathlete Magazine
1. Technique comes first. Always.
My favorite adage when working with new swimmers is, “You can put 100 motors onto a barge, and it still won’t be a speed boat.” The only thing that is guaranteed when you spend more energy in the water is that you will tire quicker. Swimming, much like golf, is a skill sport, meaning that success comes more from technique than from effort. Spend time mastering the fundamentals of the stroke before focusing on power and speed.
2. They seek out support.
The best in the world do not achieve greatness by themselves. They work with multiple teachers over many years to educate themselves and consistently be pushed to improve and grow. Use your resources to locate and start working with local triathlon, swimming and endurance specialists. Tap into the already existing knowledge in your area and reap the benefits.
3. The pool is their hangout.
Elite swimmers are in the water 7–11 times each week. They are rarely out of the water for more than 36 hours between sessions. Getting in the water often and on a regular basis will improve your “feel” for the water. Basically, swimming more often will allow your body to better remember and retain the fine motor movements involved with good technique.
4. They value quality over quantity.
I was lucky as a young swimmer to have a coach who valued quality training over large quantities of yardage to produce successful swimmers. As a result, I watched as 8 of the 12 women I started collegiate swimming with quit before the end of the first year from mental burnout and overuse injuries. Swimming just 10 laps with perfect technique is a better swim practice than 100 laps with poor technique. When things start getting tough in the race, you will return to how you executed a majority of your training. Make excellence your default setting.
5. They train with purpose.
Every lap and every stroke of swim practice should have a purpose or a goal attached to it. The objectives can vary from swimming slow for warm-up or recovery, to swimming fast to build aerobic endurance, or mastering a drill to improve one aspect of stroke technique. Know why you are doing each lap, and then focus on achieving that one goal as a small step toward greatness.
6. They have fun.
Success and enjoyment are often synonymous. It is very hard to succeed at something that takes hours of sweating and training if you do not find pleasure while doing it. Playtime in the water helps create a positive mental view of being in the water. This positive view of the water will make it easier to get out of bed in the morning for practice. Playtime can be monkeying around in the water with your kids or adding goofy drills during warm-up and cool-down.
By Terry Laughlin
I was invited to respond to a reader query in the Tri Clinic section of the UK-published magazine 220 Triathlon. It won’t be published there for another month or two, but readers of my blog get a sneak peek at my response. I’ve written at greater length and detail on this topic, but in this case the editor gave me a tight ‘budget’ of 420 words for my response.
“How often should I be doing steady aerobic swims? This seems to be a cornerstone of run/bike training, but it’s all short sets and rest breaks at my coached swim sessions. I’m confused!”
Your question provides an excellent opportunity to explain the contrast between your run/bike training and the sets you do at coached swims. [I’ll note first that I’ve swum over 40km, training mostly with pool repeats of 200 meters or less, saving longer swims for open water.]
By ‘steady aerobic swim,’ I surmise you mean a continuous swim of, say, 10, 20, or 40 minutes for a sprint, Olympic, or full/long distance event respectively. If swimming was more like cycling and running, this would make sense. But the factors determining how well you swim—and how the swim affects your ability to perform your best across three disciplines—are very different. A quick summary:
E.G. let’s compare a continuous 20-minute swim with a set of 10 x 100m repeats. You would likely swim 5 to 10 percent faster with the same, or perhaps less, effort on the shorter repeats. As well, you’d almost certainly maintain a higher level of efficiency—swim that pace in fewer strokes—on the shorter repeats.
Rather than longer swims, I suggest you personalize the coach’s sets by striving to swim your current practice pace (1) more easily and efficiently; and (2) more consistently. Here are a few ideas for getting more value from a common set such as 10 (or more) x 100.
How one athlete found herself after finishing her first IRONMAN race.by Glyssel Lee
I registered for IRONMAN Texas last year even though I felt like a failure. I had just admitted to myself that I suffered from depression. Years of denial led me on a path of self-loathing, anxiety and worthlessness. I needed help but I rejected the notion of seeing a doctor, let alone medicating myself.
Eight months prior to the race, I swam, biked and ran as if my life depended on it. I continued training until two months before the race when I lost my grasp on the few things I could control. I started having difficulty getting out of bed, among other things. I called my doctor and I accepted medication and therapy. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I continued training, forcing each training day and saying to myself it was the only thing I could control in my life.
The hardest part about depression is feeling the need to hide it from friends and family. I could cry all the way to work, park the car, put on a smile, and teach a spin class or conduct a university lesson. Afterward, I would get back in my car and tell myself that I was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fake.
My work evaluations always came back gleaming with comments from students like, "she is an inspiration," and "when I become a teacher I want to be like Professor Lee." Other comments included words like, "best teacher," "motivational," "passionate and moving." Who was it my students were seeing? Clearly it was not the "me" that I knew.
I got lost somewhere along life’s way, but I am figuring out my way back.I told my friends and students, whether at the gym or in an academic setting, that they could do anything. I told them that they could push themselves, believe in themselves, find inner beauty, set goals, reach further across thresholds, and I meant every word. I believed those words whole-heartedly. I believed others could do those things, but I didn't believe that I could. My fight with depression became increasingly severe. It led me to create a life that bound me by shackles to the skeletons in my closet. These demons filled me with regret, shame and guilt. Depression is certainly a battle against evil.
For months I hung on to the mere possibility of hearing the words "Glyssel Lee, you are an IRONMAN!" And on May 17th, I heard them.
IRONMAN Texas was the most amazing and rewarding experience of my life. I was confident and happy for the first time in a long time a few days before the race. The first time I felt nervous was when I started walking up to the swim start with thousands of others. As my feet hit the water, I felt a sense of calm. I finished the bike to see loved ones cheering for me. The first half of the run went well but I started suffering physically at mile 16 until I saw my family and friends. They were jumping, hollering, cheering and sending love my way. I ran faster. The last three miles were tough; my legs wanted to stop. I looked at my watch and noticed I wouldn't finish the race in the 14:30 hours I had aspired to. I told myself I would be happy with a sub 15:00 hours, but it would involve moving my legs. My legs moved faster. I ran 26.2 miles and crossed the finish line at 14:59 hours. I felt proud of my accomplishment.
I was never an athlete. I didn't participate in sports while in high school. I started running, for the first time, four years ago to fight depression. But not one of my races or medals made me feel proud. I always left feeling as if I could have worked harder. I was not good enough by the standards I created for myself.
My journey is not complete but I have now chosen a different road: self-acceptance. As I continue on that path, I won't hide who I am. I got lost somewhere along life’s way, but I am figuring out my way back. I am slowly looking around the corners of my new path accepting the help I need to get better.
There have been many tears, of sadness, hope, and even joy. I have written my story because my next big race is simple: to get well, to live, and be happy.
People often ask what they should weigh to race their best. I’ve never really had an exact answer to give, but the question got me thinking recently. There are a lot of reasons to try to optimize your weight, and the off season is a good time to lose a few pounds in preparation for the upcoming season. I’ve always found it much easier to lose weight when I don’t have to worry about staying fueled for my big workouts. Why should you lose some weight? Here are some of the best reasons:
1.Less weight means a higher VO2 max. When you have less body mass, it’s easier for your body to transport oxygen to all your cells.
2. Less weight also improves thermodynamic regulations, which means that your body can cool itself more efficiently in hot weather.
3. An old rule of thumbs says that you can improve your mile pace by 3-4 seconds per mile for every pound that you lose, so if you loose 10 pounds that means up to 30-40 seconds per mile (this is not a scientific rule, however, so don’t hold me to this one!).
So, what’s the best weight? I’ve always heard that an ideal weight for runners is two pounds of body weight per inch of height, so I decided to do a little research to find the height to weight ratio of some top elite triathletes. Here’s what I came up with:
Craig Alexander: 5’11”, 150 lbs.: 2.11 lbs per inch
Chris Lieto: 6’0″, 160 lbs.: 2.22 lbs per inch
Michael Lovato: 6’0″, 170 lbs: 2.36 lbs per inch
Andy Potts: 6’2″, 175 lbs.: 2.33 lbs per inch
Andreas Raelert: 6’0″, 159 lbs.: 2.20 lbs per inch
Michael Raelert: 6’2″, 163 lbs.: 2.20 lbs per inch
Matt Reed: 6’5″, 180 lbs.: 2.34 lbs per inch
Dave Scott: 6’0″, 162 lbs.: 2.25 lbs per inch
Chrissie Wellington: 5’8″, 133 lbs: 1.95 lbs per inch.
Natasha Badmann: 5’6″, 115 lbs: 1.76 lbs per inch.
Desiree Ficker: 5’7″, 125 lbs: 1.86 lbs per inch
Michelle Jones: 5’10”, 133 lbs: 1.90 lbs per inch
Mirinda Carfrae: 5’3″, 114 lbs: 1.81 lbs per inch
Yvonne Van Vlerken: 5’3″, 125 lbs: 1.98 lbs per inch
Emma Snowsill: 5’3″, 105 lbs: 1.66 lbs per inch
Vanessa Fernandez: 5’6″, 126 lbs.: 1.90 lbs per inch
Laura Bennett: 5’10”, 125 lbs.: 1.78 lbs per inch
Erin Densham: 5’6″, 112 lbs.: 1.72 lbs per inch
Keep in mind that this is an informal survey and that I relied on information found on the internet, which is not guaranteed to be accurate, but I think it’s reasonably close. [Land Heintzberger .. Triathlete]
The world’s best swimmers move through the water with grace, economy, and flow, while novices are awkward, clumsy, and inefficient. But the rest of us can learn to swim well if we take the time to master swimming as an art before tackling it as a sport.
How many land-based athletes have concluded that swimming requires some exotic or elusive kind of fitness after an experience like this: Joe, who can breeze through a 5-mile jog without breaking a sweat, decides to try a pool workout one day. Within a few minutes, he’s panting for breath and wondering, “How will I ever get in a decent workout if I can’t even make 100 yards without dying?” Experiences like that convince many adult athletes that swimming is only for those who swam competitively as kids and leave them suspecting that the time and effort required to master swimming may not even be worth it.
But mastering the “swim challenge” is decidedly worthwhile. Not only is it ideal as a restorative, general fitness workout for virtually any aging athlete; learning to swim well also gives you the option to try triathlons or Masters swimming. And I’ve yet to meet an otherwise well-rounded athlete who could not learn to swim well enough to stay fit or tackle a triathlon. All they have to do is discard everything other aerobic activities such as running have taught them, as soon as they enter the pool.