Stroke & Pace Mastery

A self-paced course for mastering stroke skills and pace control the Total Immersion way.

Introduction To The Course

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Course Introduction

Introduction To Stroke & Pace Mastery

We have received many requests from camp and workshop students asking for help on how to continue training at home within the TI framework. So we have set up this online course to teach you how to become your own best coach following the TI advanced prescriptive training path.

We’ve organized this path into 6 stages that will guide you in mastery of the stroke and of pace control. We intend for you to study, practice and internalize the training principles so you can use them over and over again for any improvement goal you set your heart upon.

Since each person following this online course will have a unique personal Improvement Goal – in terms of distance and pace – and each person will have their own budget of training time and pace of learning our intention is to explain the stages and the principles so that each person can make his own decision about how to train, as he/she follows this path. Anyone who asks specific or personal questions may receive a personalized answer.

Here is the overview of the skills this course will guide you through, sequentially:

Here are the Steps this course will guide you through:

  • START HERE: Planning
  • Stage 1: Achieve Optimal SPL And Consistency
  • Stage 2: Shift SPL Gears On Command
  • Stage 3: Achieve Optimal SPL x Tempo Combination
  • Stage 4: Shift Pace On Command
  • Stage 5: Hold Pace Over Entire distance
  • Stage 6: Improve Pace Over Entire Distance



In each step there is an Objectives topic to explain precisely what you need to achieve in stage.


In each stage there are several assignments. The assignments may take you a few minutes of thinking at home, or one practice in the pool, or several practices. It is completely up to you how long you take. This course could be completed in 3 months or 6 months, depending on your frequency and quality of practice time.

The point is to acquire the skill or understanding of that assignment, not to simply check it off your list. You need that skill in order to make progress. It is possible that some assignments will be easy, or you may already have that skill or understanding so you can move quickly or skip it altogether. That is OK too. If you are going through these stages a second time to expand your performance further, you will be able to skip several assignments and focus on those that address the skills you need to improve.


We are adding to our library of practices continually, but it is up to you to pick the one that addresses your skill needs, then modify it to suit your distance and challenge level. Take the practice, modify it, then in your Discussion Zone you can show your coach the practice you’ve designed for yourself, and ask for his advice on it. In this way, you will learn how to design your own practices.


In each assignment you will be given some description of what success for that assignment looks or feels like – your objective. Overall, the confirmation of your progress comes in the form of your increased understanding, your increased control, your increased ease, your increased speed and endurance, and your increased confidence and enjoyment of swimming. The ultimate success of your work in this course is that you achieve your performance goal, your distance goal, and your pace goal.

Assignment 001: Choose Specific Goals

Choose Your Specific Achievement Goal

You need to make some decisions about how you will design your practices, and specifically, what kind of challenge and [complexity] you will set for your body and mind. But don’t worry, you are welcome to change those decisions as you go along – and most likely you will need to, as you go through this course and discover more about your capabilities.

1. What is your primary performance goal?

For example, your goal may be:

  1. To achieve complete ease and comfort to swim whatever distance I want.
  2. To achieve efficient speed – moving fast, but will not leave me exhausted when I finish.
  3. To achieve ultimate speed – to go as fast as I possibly can over the entire distance, leaving nothing left at the finish line.

Declaring this will help set some mental markers for what you are trying to achieve, and help you set some limits on what you are going to endure to reach that goal. Now, don’t misunderstand – TI is completely focused upon energy efficiency even for ultimate speed. Energy is a limited resource in the body that replenishes slowly. If it is used well, you reach your speed goal, AND you finish feeling great physically and mentally. If you don’t use it well, your body and/or mind will suffer, even if you went ‘fast’.

So, let’s learn to use energy well so we can swim fast and enjoy it during and after the swim. Choose your Performance Goal and record it in your Discussion Zone so you and your coach can reference it there.

2. What overall distance would you like to train for or test yourself upon?

We will call this your Target Distance. We will use it as a reference point for intervals and test swims. You may go through this training process several times to increase your capabilities further. However, for this first time through, pick a total distance you would like to use your new level of skill to accomplish – but that does not need to be as far as you ultimately want to be capable of swimming. It could be ‘short’ distance, or ‘long’ distance. It is totally up to you and what you would like this first time through this course to help you be capable of.

Here are some suggestions:

  • 200 meters/yards, 400, 800, 1000, 1500 are standard pool racing distances.
  • 1500 meters (or 1 mile = 1610 meters = 1760 yards), and 3.8km are standard triathlon swim distances. There are all sorts of shorter or irregular swim distances for triathlon too.
  • 3km, 5km, and 10km are common open-water race distances.

And, of course, you can choose any distance in between or beyond. This course will develop any swimmer at any level. Pick your Target Distance and record it in your Discussion Zone so you and your coach can reference it there.

3. What kind of distance intervals will you start with?

You may or may not be capable of comfortably swimming your entire Target Distance at the beginning. No problem. The whole point of this course is to prepare you to swim that distance better than you have before. We will start by breaking it down into pieces.

For the first steps of this course you will divide up that Target Distance into smaller pieces. The length of those pieces are determined by two things:

1) The distance you can stroke continuously, comfortably without struggle. That may be 10k, 1000m, 100m, or just 10 strokes. That may be your stroke limit (for now).

2) The distance that you can hold your concentration on one challenging feature of your stroke. You may be able to ‘swim’ 1000m, but at what point does your mind, and thereby your body start to lose focus, energy, and control? That may be regarded as your attention limit (for now).

If you are new to swimming, or new to technique training, you may want to start with very short intervals – it may be that your stroke limit is shorter than your attention limit.

Here are some examples:

  • 6 strokes without breathing
  • 20 strokes with breathing
  • 1 to 2 lengths with interrupted breathing
  • 25m or 50m intervals, with rest between

If you are a strong swimmer capable of holding your current best stroke for hundreds or thousands of meters, it may be that your attention limit is shorter than your stroke limit. So you may need to break your Target Distance down into smaller pieces that you are capable of holding deep concentration within.

  • 25m, 50, 75, 100
  • 50m, 100, 150
  • 100m, 200, 300

Again, as you go through the course, you will adjust these intervals as you gain experience and as your physical and mental skills improve. Pick your Distance Intervals (that you will start with) and record it in your Discussion Zone so you and your coach can reference it there.

4. For your Target Distance, what time (or what distance) are you capable of right now, and then what time will you use this course to help you achieve?

In your Discussion Zone record your capabilities now, and what you would like them to be as a result of following this course.

How To Work Through This Course

I want to encourage you to take a Cyclical Approach to this course.

You may have a big Improvement Goal in mind, but pick a small improvement goal and work through the process once to get familiar with it. Then pick a slightly bigger improvement goal and work through it again. The path is there for you at whatever challenge you seek, in speed or distance. You just incrementally increase the complexity (the challenge) level you will subject your skills at.

1405 Mastery Plateaus

By taking a cyclical approach you may experience a dramatic jump in ability once in a while after a season of deep practice where the improvement under the surface as not necessarily seen. Your foundation was being built even when you didn’t notice. But this is what set you up for the next jump in ability.

For example, if you are currently swimming 200 meters but your goal is to achieve 1000, set a training goal for 500, for the first time through this process. If you are currently using 25 SPL, but you want to be able to swim that distance with 18, set a sub-goal for 22 SPL and work through this process once.

And, you must follow your positive motivation (= what keeps you engaged in the process and thereby enjoying it). When you break from that you lose the foundation for positive progress. Follow your curiosity. And if it leads you into new problems, you will learn something very useful about ‘how swimming works and how it doesn’t work’ (to use Terry’s phrase).

I was a self-coached swimmer when I found TI. I didn’t have a coach driving me along. My process of developing the skills was not completely straight nor efficient. I followed my curiosity and my urges and progressed well enough, both by running into problems when I tried to skip steps (out of ignorance), and by breaking through when being patient with a process. No doubt I could have progressed quicker under the guidance of a coach, but my trial-and-error in trying to apply the TI principles on my own was an extremely valuable laboratory experience which has served me well as a coach. I know personally why these things work together the way they do.

This online program, however, is laid out in a linear sequence for convenience. I am laying out a most simplified version of the path and principles so that we can see how it could work in a logical way. Rather than try to do every single assignment in order, some may be do better to follow a cyclical approach through this sequence – taking just a few assignments from one of the steps and working on those for a cycle.

For example, work on a selection of assignments in Stage 1 for a while to reach a particular sub-goal. Then work on a selection of assignments in Stage 2 for a while and make progress with those – even if you have not covered all the assignments in Stage 1. What you discover along the way, especially by progressing with less-than-optimal SPL or Tempo is how these principles work together and why. You’ll make progress, sure enough, but you will also reach some limits with less-than-optimal metrics and this will compel you to go back to Stage 1 and work through the process on a few more of those assignments. That experiential knowledge can launch you into a deep understanding and confidence to progress further and cycle back through the process.

When you go through the sequence the first time, things may be rough, uncertain. But subsequent trips through the process and it will flow easier and your increased understanding will increase your motivation and patience, and enjoyment with the process. This is essentially how I came to be a deep practitioner as a swimmer, then became a TI Coach, and eventually became a trainer of new TI Coaches – personal, experiential testing of all these ideas, hands-on learning the ins/outs of the stroke details and the training method, trial-error, and then working with a lot of other struggling people – and loving it more and more along the way. It is not a one-time-through process. This is essentially the path I take myself through and any swimmer at any level. When a new goal presents itself or some discontent in current abilities, we go back into the process to prepare the stroke necessary for that goal or desired improvement.

How To Finish This Course

On one hand, there is no end to your potential to improve technique and abilities in swimming. Strength may diminish with age, but the ability to refine control doesn’t have to. On the other hand, having an endless project with no finish line may not be very attractive either. This course is meant to work with your short-term improvement goal (3 to 12 months) that you have set for yourself. By working towards your specific goal you can study and experience these TI Self-Coaching principles – then one day walk away and use them to keep working on new goals without having to depend on another coach to get you there (unless you would like us to continue, of coruse).

So, your short-term swim achievement goal and your need for learning these self-coaching concepts will determine your end point in this course. You may stop at any time. You can use your achievement of the Swim Test at the end of any one of the 6 Steps as your stopping point, if you like, since that will give you assurance that you’ve learned the concepts and gained the skills taught in that particular step.

The most concrete goal you could set for your time in this course may be to achieve a new distance at a pleasing speed, or achieve a faster time for a certain distance – making if feel easier and more enjoyable than you imagined it could. For some that will happen just by going through the first step! The improvements will be so dramatic that those skills alone will bring to a whole new level of swimming ability. For others who have been seriously training for a while, it may take some time to rebuilt control over the stroke and then apply that new control to specific improvements in pace which then allow you to achieve a faster time for a distance you’re already capable of swimming. It just depends on where you are at and where you want to go in these few months you are working through this program.

If you have any doubts or questions about what you should aim for or how you will measure your success, that is exactly what Coach Mat wants to talk you through in your Personal Discussion Zone.

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