Should You Use Longer Strokes?

Once you come into the TI training world, you realize that stroke count (stroke length) is an important indicator your improvement in efficiency (but not the only).

You may wonder what stroke count you should be using.

You may wonder how to make your stroke count lower.

You may wonder why this is so important!

I’ve added this article to the library to give you an argument for working on A Longer Stronger Stroke.

If this raises any questions for you, I would be glad to answer those for you or point you to the articles or posts we already have on that topic.

Going Beyond Basics – Part 3

What should your improvement expectation be for each Step in the skill progression?

Stage 1 – It Gets Easier

Generally, the benefits of Step 1 – Stroke Control skills – will be that you are able to swim a lot easier at your normal distances.

Why? With fundamental TI skills in place the energy demands and strain in the body will decrease a lot compared to your old land-mammal-style swimming.

This may not immediately translate into swimming farther or faster. Some people with such poor body shape and movement patterns may see a dramatic increase in speed because they were moving so slow before and totally exhausted by it. Those who were moving at a decent speed but under a great deal of effort, will more likely discover how to relax and produce that same speed with a lot less effort (this was what I experienced at first with TI). Meanwhile, there may be some basic fitness conditioning that needs to develop to support this new kind of body control before it can handle much longer distances. Enough power is available, but the swimmer can’t deliver it very well yet.

Stage 2 – Go Farther

The benefits of working in Step 2 and 3 – Stroke Length and Tempo skills – will be that you are eagerly able to swim farther with the same effort. Ability hold good shape and get consistent distance out of each stroke, and make those strokes on a consistent tempo will save energy and make it physically and mentally attractive to go farther. But this may not immediately translate into a major increase in speed either.

Stage 3 – Go Faster

The benefits of working in Step 4, 5 and 6 is that you will be able to swim faster under control.

The previous steps in the sequence (1,2,3) showed you how to quit wasting energy, how to save it and distribute it better to get more distance.

The reality of these advanced steps for speed (4,5,6) is that you are going to now have to put in more physical effort to match your mental concentration. Your strength is going to be challenged to grow parallel to your technique. The physics of human swimming dictates that we can get up to a certain speed in the early stages of TI training simply by reducing energy waste through superior body control – we might call this the Easy Speed Threshold. After that magical point we can only get faster by increasing power.

The critical thing to understand is this – and this a central point in TI training – that increased power can be applied effectively or applied wastefully, depending on the quality of your technique and how deeply it is imprinted. That instinct for quality is what Steps 1, 2 and 3 are meant to burn into your neuro-muscular system and into your training value system before you get to the pressure of increased power demands in Steps 4,5 and 6.

If there is a weakness in the TI training resources I think it would be found here – that the books and videos and most of the live training is focused on Step 1 and Step 2 skills – of course, this is what 80% of the swimmers of the world need right now. Yet people read, watch, or attend a training event and assume they have learned all they need to know about TI – or perhaps the instructor gave the impression that this is all they need to know. Not even close – this is just the beginning. This gap of understanding is what our online coaching service is trying to fill.

So my final question for you, my swimming friend…

What step do you feel you are at, and what should improvement for you looks like at this step?

Going Beyond Basics – Part 2

Here is a question for you…

If you faithfully follow the TI freestyle drill sequence, use focal points well, mix it in with your whole stroke swimming, and take your time to master every piece – will you eventually turn into a faster swimmer?

Or, in terms of our organized sequence of Level 1 and Level 2 skills, if you work a long time at Level 1 until you feel like you can perform every body position and stroke control detail well, will you automatically become a faster swimmer? (I suspect this disappointed swimmer practiced a lot at Level 1 and yet expected a Level 2 result.)

Short answer: No. You won’t necessarily get faster. Because Step 1 is about learning how to form and control the stroke. In this step you are just discovering how to align the body and adjust the stroke using all the various control points. Step 2 and 3 are showing you what to do with that stroke control to set up the conditions for increased speed – basic stroke length and tempo skills. Steps 4, 5 and 6 are where you learn to produce speed upon that foundation.

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Learning how to pull on levers, push buttons and turn dials on the dashboard of an race car will not qualify you to race that car, no matter how many months you sit there and tinker with the dashboard. You’ve got to take that car onto the track and learn how to make the vehicle do things (faster!) with those levers, buttons and dials. You need to drive the car on a real track, under real conditions.


This chart shows how we break down the skill progression. The swimmer only get to the results of Step 5 and 6 by first going through Steps 1 to 4.

So too, with your own stroke in Step 1, you’ve been learning how to notice and adjust little details in your body position and stroke control. This is just the beginning. You are going to need to take that skill and put it to practice on gradually increasing challenges using the variables of Stroke Length and Tempo and Distance to create that increase in challenge. By doing this, your fitness (ability to generate power) will develop in parallel with your technique (ability to apply power with precision, where it is needed).

Those two – fitness and technique – are inseparable in training because all movement patterns are training the neuro-muscular system –teaching the body where and how to deliver power while you generate it. So, if you are going to do any movement to build power for swimming, you need to train the precision of movement to go with it at the same time. That is a core principle in TI training.

Going Beyond Basics – Part 1

I received a comment on the latest blog post ‘Improve Swimming Speed Part 1‘, and it grieved me a bit. This swimmer wrote:

“I learned crawl by myself with the TI method over 10 years ago. I quickly managed to swim 1500m and more. But that’s really my only accomplishment. I’m still slow as I was 10 years ago, despite swimming and training 2-3 times a week. I have read all the TI books and looked TI-DVD’s, read the TI forum for years. I have joined a couple of the TI camps, and also taken one personal TI lesson from a TI coach. You say “Trust the process”, but I mistrust this process.”

I wrote a personal email back to him with the offer to examine his experience of the process to find out where short-comings in the Total Immersion services may be, or find a gap in his understanding that we might fill and send him on his way to better results. He has not replied yet. His comment made me consider what gaps there may be in your understanding of TI – both in your mind, and in the bridge I am trying to build for you in our training events and in the Online Coaching Program.

~ ~ ~

One of Terry’s highest values that led to the Total Immersion system was this declaration early in his coaching career, “The problem is not the swimmer, the problem is the method.”

If the swimmer is failing to progress, then the method needs to be examined. And this remains one of our guiding values today. That is what makes TI unique among all other programs that have great success with swimmers – they may have success with some (usually more gifted) swimmers, but how many are they not able to help? TI is expecting success with all kinds of swimmers, especially the most troubled ones that other programs can’t help.

We warmly welcome those who have failed in the other systems, and if our current box of tools won’t help, we are eager to invent new ones rather than send them away. This continually puts the TI method and the TI Coach under the test. It forces us to refine things more and more. But it does not remove the responsibility of the student. And that is why we need to examine all parts of the equation to find out where the obstacle to any swimmer’s progress may be.

We might say there are four parts to the success equation with Total Immersion:

  1. The completeness of the TI Method to meet all needs.
  2. The competence of the teaching (whether from a coach or a book/video).
  3. The understanding of the swimmer.
  4. The quality of practice (time, attention) given by the swimmer.

Because I know you somewhat, and you have been a part of the  Online Coaching Program, I have no doubts in your dedication to improve with TI. I have no doubts in the TI Method – I am not claiming it to be perfect, because all human programs are adaptations and a work-in-progress – but I spent so many years testing it myself and seeing results with so many others (especially those who are not natural at swimming), that I am confident it is better than most.

But where I am constantly questioning myself is in how well I am teaching you. How can I do better at giving you just what you need, right when you need it? Then, how can I do better at teaching you how to do this for yourself when I am not there to do it for you? And I am looking for the gaps in your understanding of the method.

The whole point of the Self-Coaching Program is to save time and error by passing on to you what worked so well for me and countless others. (Maybe one day you will turn around and pass it on to another swimmer also!) It is an experimental project to develop this online coaching tool to help you succeed at home, on your own.

So, inspired by the comment from this swimmer I want to clarify your understanding of the TI method, if it is needed. I want to help you set your expectations to match how this works.

Look for the continuation of this essay in Part 2…

Progress Requires A Few Things

Progress Requires A Few Things

Do you wonder if or how you are going to get better at your swimming?

Here is an equation:

Progress = Organization + Concentration + Effort

You understand that this is going to take effort. And, if you’ve been working with TI for a while, or especially been training under my coaching, you realize that your concentration, your quality of attention is key to making any improvement that you can control and replicate. And, you may appreciate by now how important having an organized approach to skill-building is. Total Immersion specializes in providing this organized and highly-refined approach to building your skill and higher performance.

But I need to add one more variable to this equation:

Progress = Organization + Concentration + Effort + Faith

Yes, Faith.

Faith = Trust (in this context, so we’ll use the words interchangeably).

If you really stop to think about it, you need to trust the explanations given to you for how the human body builds skill and fitness. After all, you cannot see the changes taking place inside your brain and inside your bodily systems when you practice. After some time, with understanding to interpret it, you may feel changes indirectly from bio-feedback, but a lot of the ‘roots’ for what makes you get better are quiet, hidden constructions happening in microscopic amounts as you practice and as you rest. Then one spring day, the tree has reached a tipping-point in those internal changes and bursts forth in new greenery and fruit. One day you slip in the pool and discover a capability that was not there the day before.


A lot of your improvement can be explained in that tree-and-season analogy. It is cyclical. There is a silent, hidden season of improvement when your roots are working their way deeper, and then periodically, there is a season of visible fruit = performance improvement (in terms of easier, farther, faster). And, there is a season of shedding old, insufficient habits and getting ready to build new ones.

And let’s develop that further – let’s aim for intelligent faith, which means we’ve got solid, convincing, well-supported explanations for how things works, though we cannot prove it to ourselves immediately. We’re going to trust someone to tell us this, but we’ve used some critical thinking and what he says makes good sense and resonates with other knowledge and experience we’ve already got. You’ve got to have this intelligent faith that this is really going to work in order to devote yourself to it, because… (continued in the next post).