Total Immersion Swimming: Lessons By Terry Laughlin

Total Immersion Swimming Lessons by Terry Laughlin

If you are a keen swimmer who wants to improve your pace and technique, or a beginner who is just starting out on your swimming journey, then Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion swimming technique is something you simply have to try.

Laughlin came up with this revolutionary approach to swimming technique and training back in the 1980s, and it completely changed the way that experts and athletes thought about their sport.

Since then, Total Immersion has become the preferred method of training used by most professional and amateur swimmers, and has reinvented the way we think about and understand our relationship with the water.

Read on for a closer look at the key concepts behind Total Immersion swimming, and how it could improve your speed and efficiency in the water.

The Aims Of Total Immersion Swimming

When he developed the Total Immersion swimming programme, Laughlin aimed to create a swimming programme that was all about improvement, speed and efficiency.

He wanted his swimmers to focus on the tiny details of their stroke, rather than on their timings or number of lengths. Only by improving your swimming technique, will you improve your pace and efficiency.

Exponential Improvement

It sounds obvious, but Laughlin stressed how an athlete or enthusiast should look to improve (even in a minute way) with every single swim they do. In fact, swimming is one of the most common types of exercise where people’s progress tends to plateau.

You can swim for hours and hours, and push your muscles to its limit, but you won’t get faster unless you hone the minutiae of your technique.

Increased Speed

Although Total Immersion requires swimmers to slow down in order to correct bad habits and retrain muscles to follow a new motion, the ultimate aim is to improve their speed. When a swimmer eliminates drag by becoming streamlined and fishlike, their pace becomes greatly increased.

Increased Efficiency

Although many swimmers pride themselves on their aerobic fitness, anaerobic threshold and lactate tolerance, Laughlin saw that these things don’t win you medals. This is why Total Immersion encourages swimmers to expend as little energy as possible in order to produce the best result.

Dolphins do not put unnecessary stress or strain on their bodies in order to move through the water, and nor should we.

The Key Total Immersion Swimming Techniques

Streamline Body Shape 

Total Immersion swimming puts body shape and positioning far above power and muscularity. Rather than emphasising the need for a powerful arm drag and ferocious leg kick to wrestle the water out of your way, the emphasis is on keeping a slick, streamlined body shape like that of a fish to move through the water with minimum resistance.

Body Roll

The two sides of the body should also roll naturally in the water and the hips should rotate from side to side. This motion should be smooth and rhythmical.

Flick Kicks And Spear Switch

Rather than thundering through the water with heavy kicks and dragging arms, Total Immersion teaches swimmers to give economic flicks of the feet in sync with graceful and sharp arms that spear through the water rather than catch and drag it. This creates less resistance and allows swimmers to conserve energy.

Zero Splash

Total Immersion teaches that swimmers should create very little splash as they glide through the water. Sharp fingers and hands, matched with economic and purposeful leg flicks should not cause much surface disturbance because that indicates unnecessary energy expenditure.

Things That Do Not Make You Swim Faster – Common Misconceptions

More Yards Do Not Mean More Speed

For years, swimmers thought that to improve pace in the water (specifically with freestyle swimming) they needed to swim for miles and miles in training to improve.

In fact, swimming for miles only helps to reinforce whatever techniques and habits you are already practicing, and if those habits are bad or inefficient then you will simply double down on them. Instead, TI encourages swimmers to cover less miles but swim more accurately and efficiently on each lap

Big Muscles Do Not Get Big Rresults

Swimmers often do lots of weight training and other forms of exercise in order to build big arm, back, shoulder and leg muscles to power them through the water. However, TI suggests that body shaping and positioning, as well as mindset, will do far more for your overall performance than muscle building will.

Upper And Lower Body Are Not Separate

Many swimmers use buoys, fins and paddles in order to train their legs and arms separately. There is a common misconception that the body is divided into an upper and lower section when swimming and that the two halves are independent from each other.

Total Immersion divides the body vertically into the right and left sides and argues that each side should operate as one streamline whole from the toe to the fingertip.

Energy And Lactate Training Does Not Improve Speed

Swimmers often perform exercises to improve their aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and their lactate tolerance. Total Immersion technique encourages swimmers to try to conserve energy rather than become better at spending it, as an economic and considered stroke will allow you to go for much longer without feeling fatigued.

Who Is Total Immersion For?

Total Immersion is aimed at all swimmers, even beginners who are just starting out. However, it is particularly great for triathletes as it is all about conserving energy – something that is very crucial when you are running and cycling as well!

How To Learn Total Immersion Swimming

Not only can you learn Total Immersion by signing up to a swim programme with a certified TI instructor, you can also buy a copy of Terry Laughlin’s book and read up on the subject, or watch his popular training videos.

Who Was Terry Laughlin?

Terry Laughlin was a swimming coach who became the founder of the Total Immersion swimming programme and the best selling author of the book Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim better, Faster and Easier.

Terry Laughlin was born in 1951 in New York city, where he first began swimming as a school kid but was cut from his grammar school team. Despite not being terribly proficient, Laughlin was hooked on swimming and continued to train and try out for teams right the way through his school and college career.

He was always known as being the hardest working swimmer, but was never the most successful. It was this dichotomy that caused Laughlin to examine what he was doing wrong. Surely, as with most sports, the harder you train the better you become, right? Wrong.

Laughlin realised that the fastest swimmers tended to be those who were streamlined in the water, rather than those who could catch and kick the hardest. He applied this theory to his students when he became a coach in the 1970s, and he quickly began to see incredible results.

Laughlin went on to coach athletes to great success, and to earn huge recognition and respect within the sport for his new approach. He founded the Total Immersion swim program in 1989, and published his book on the technique in 1996.

It quickly became the go-to manual for swimmers and coaches across the country and the world. Terry Laughlin died in 2017 after a battle with cancer. His Total Immersion training program is still practiced and revered by hydrophiles the world over, with over 360 certified TI instructors operating today.

Matt Williams