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Total Immersion Swimming: Drills 1-4
I am a big believer in the efficacy of this swimming technique. Although there are many things I’d like to improve about my swimming (like swimming faster), I am very pleased with the fact that when I swim I a swim comfortably and relatively effortlessly.
In my last articles, Total Immersion Swimming 1 and 2, I wrote about the philosophy, theory and technique of Total Immersion. Now, I would like to describe briefly some of the drills used to learn and practice Total Immersion.
If you want to know more about Total Immersion, I strongly recommend purchasing one of the many great books by Terry Laughlin, the inventor of Total Immersion. So, if the information I have presented here sounds interesting to you, please go buy one of the Total Immersion books, or sign up for one of the many courses that Total Immersion offers around the country.
Drills for Balance
The drills of Total Immersion are primarily focused on teaching you how to stay balanced in the water, how to make your body long and slippery, and finally how to use the power in your core to propel you forward in the water. By practicing these drills you learn that: your body naturally wants to float (and your job is to let it), going faster in the water is best done by not doing the things that make you go slow (your job is to stop fighting the water and become it’s friend), and your arms and legs are much less helpful in making you move in the water (that’s why fish don’t have them!).
I won’t do a full description of all the drills, for that, please go buy one of the books. At the risk of sounding like a snake oil salesmen, I leave it to Terry and his team to actually teach you these techniques, I am just providing a description of what you can expect, and I’ll include some of my thoughts on what I’ve learned by doing these drills.
Drill #1 - Balance on your back
The essence of this drill is to learn that your body does want to float, and in fact, it wants to float in a manner that would allow your nose and mouth to be above the water so that you can breath freely. More importantly, you also do this drill to learn how to position your head such that the rest of your body stays on a plane in the water and doesn’t sink. This seems like an easy drill to many people, and if so, feel free to skip my comments, but one thing I would point out… head position matters down the road. If you are having trouble sinking, it may be because you didn’t find the right head position back here at the beginning of your journey.
My daughters are both “learning to swim”… they would tell you that they know how to swim. Of course the oldest (Saffron, 6yrs) is more experienced and is a better swimmer, she will comfortably flip onto her back and float if she is ever feeling nervous or our of breath in the water. This concept comes from the “Safe N Sound” swimming school where she first took lessons, and it has many parallels to Total Immersion.
What I find fascinating about this for me is that before Total Immersion, when I was “playing” in the water, I knew about floating on my back as this safe place… and I wouldn’t think twice about being nervous in any water, I’ll just float on my back if I’m in trouble… but when I would do full stroke swimming, my brain would shut off… I would go back into caveman brain and think that I had to fight the water. I forgot that the water didn’t want me to sink anymore than I did! TI will help you learn, that your body wants to float, you just have to let it.
Head position - this is the key to drill #1. For me, it’s more than just head position, but my whole “spine”, and my hips. This drill is about finding the body position in which your body will stay floating at one level without sinking. As I am teaching my 4 year old (Zola) TI techniques (she doesn’t know it’s TI), I have noticed how easy it is for her to think she’s floating level, but actually slowly sinking… one small adjustment to her neck position and her hips float to the surface and she stops sinking. If you have trouble sinking, go back to drill #1, and practice moving your chin closer to or further from your chest… see what happens to your hips, do they float or sink… find the right position, then progress to other drills.
One final note on Drill #1, when I get to a race site, I always make a point of getting in the water before the race. While others are “warming up” swimming full strokes… I say “Hello” to the water. I basically go out and float on my back and feel the water around me holding me up. It may seem corny, but I actually talk to the water (silently in my head of course, I don’t want knowing I’m actually crazy)… I ask the water’s permission to swim in it, and I ask it to carry me through the race. I remind my body, that if it works with the water, it will have a good race.
Drill #2 - Sweet Spot
This drill seems a lot like drill #1, but the idea is to start floating on your back and then slowly rotate your body until you are “on your side as much as possible” while still keeping your nose and mouth out of the water. You will ultimately need to find your sweet spot on both your left side and your right side. One will probably be easier than the other, that’s just how it goes. Terry calls these two different sides your “chocolate side” and your “vanilla side”… not sure which one is supposed to be easier, I guess I’m more of a vanilla fan so I prefer that side. I think the point of calling them “chocolate” and “vanilla” is to remind you that they both taste good, they’re just different, and so you need to get good at eating both sides.
This drill is also critical, because frankly, this is where you breath in TI full stroke swimming. So get good at it. It’s the foundation.
Drill #3 - Hand-Lead Sweet Spot
Same as sweet spot, but extend your under water arm (the arm attached to the side of your body that is the most downward side in the water) forward. Ok, I lied before, this is where you breath. I find it best if you learn to keep your under-water side ear attached to your shoulder. When I get sloppy any of my full stroke swimming, I will find my ear coming further away from my shoulder, usually on my weak sweet spot side, and I will sink. So again, sinkers, pay attention, make sure you keep your head position even with your arm extended… probably this means keeping your ear next to your shoulder.
Drill #4 - Fish
This is a fun drill. Actually, this is how I swim “kick” laps if I ever do swim intervals. Basically this is like drill #2, but you have your face down in the water. Start with sweet spot, and then swivel your head to face directly down in the water. Keep your spine straight and balanced, and your whole body will rotate slightly, but remain on your side. This is another very important drill for sinkers. When you are nose down, you need to use your lungs and your chest as your flotation device…. this is where you want to make sure you are leaning “into” your lungs.
If you do this correctly, your hips and legs will effortlessly float to the surface. You need to be traveling forward to accomplish swimming in this position, but don’t fool yourself, if you are kicking really fast, and you have a wild head of steam, then you’ll float, and lose track of whether your body is naturally sinking or floating. If you slow down a little and focus on leaning into your chest, your get a much better idea of whether or not your legs are floating. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed on practicing these drills, it seems counter intuitive that by leaning forward your body doesn’t dive down and sink. Well, the reason is that your lungs are acting as an excellent buoyancy device, and they will keep you from diving down. So don’t be afraid to lean into your lungs.
Kick boards: Just Say No
By the way, I mention that I do this drill instead of using a kick board. Part of the reason for that is something that one of my TI coaches said at my TI class. Basically he pointed out that kick drills are all about strengthening your legs… ok, great, go for it, do the drill for that reason. But while your at it, why cheat yourself out of a chance to learn balance and buoyancy in the water. You can always improve your muscle memory about spine position and body mechanics to be more balanced in the water. I know that other swimmers probably think I look silly when I do this… but I know I’m killing two birds with one stone and making myself a more efficient swimmer.
There are actually nine more drills in the book, so if you don’t already have a TI book; go get one, and learn to swim with ease.
Total Immersion: A Revolutionary Way To Swim Better And Faster By Terry Laughlin