Total Immersion Swimming: Swim Better, Easier, Faster!
4.4 (43 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
300 students enrolled
Wishlisted Wishlist

Please confirm that you want to add Total Immersion Swimming: Swim Better, Easier, Faster! to your Wishlist.

Add to Wishlist

Total Immersion Swimming: Swim Better, Easier, Faster!

Official Course: Total Immersion head coach Terry Laughlin teaches you how to swim faster and further using less effort
Best Seller
4.4 (43 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
300 students enrolled
Last updated 2/2017
Current price: $10 Original price: $50 Discount: 80% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
  • 1.5 hours on-demand video
  • 6 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Swim freestyle with the world’s most efficient technique—in fact, the same skills that have propelled Katie Ledecky to 20 medals (19 golds and one silver) in major competitions, and 13 World Records in freestyle, between her international debut at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
  • Feel more comfortable and confident in the water.
  • Swim a mile or more at a strong, steady pace—and feel energized, not exhausted, afterward.
  • Understand how to be an Expert Learner—and apply the learning lessons from this course to anything!
View Curriculum
  • Ability to swim 25 meters
  • Motivation to learn and improve

The Ultra-Efficient Freestyle Complete Self-Coaching Course will teach you to swim a dramatically more efficient freestyle—and transform you into your own most effective swim instructor and coach.

You will learn . . . the proven advantages of:

  • Saving energy over trying to build endurance.
  • Letting conditioning 'happen' while you improve the skills that matter.
  • Achieving comfort, body control, and weightlessness before any other skill
  • Making your body 'slippery' (reducing drag) over increasing power.
  • Learning technique holistically—so all body parts work in seamless harmony.
  • Swimming a short distance with effortless ease and crisp form before swimming farther.
  • The most effective and fastest-acting skill drills.
  • Practicing over working out.

Your self-coaching tools include

  • A 140-page, richly-illustrated ebook that explains—in simple language--the biomechanics and fluid dynamics affect your (land-adapted) body as it moves through water, and the freestyle techniques that minimize common problems and take advantage of natural forces like body mass, gravity, and buoyancy.
  • Fifteen downloadable videos. Fourteen illustrate essential mini-skills and how to learn them. The fifteenth is a detailed study of the whole stroke. All videos show every important angle, above and below water, in full and slow motion.
  • A Companion Workbook. This provides detailed guidance—what and how to do, what to avoid doing, how long and how many repetitions, key focal points—for each of the mini-skills and the whole stroke.
  • An Image Gallery of all key positions and timing to print out and take to the pool for reference, or study poolside on your phone or tablet.

You can complete this course in . . . 15 to 30 hours of practice, distributed over two or more months.

The course is structured as . . . Four major learning modules, each teaching an essential efficiency skill. Each module consists of up to four steps or mini-skills—some of which can be learned in 15 to 30 minutes. Do a brief segment of drill or mini-skill work, then a segment of whole-stroke to integrate and consolidate that skill.

Why take this course? You will not only become a strikingly more comfortable, confident, and skilled swimmer. You will also become a passionately-curious student of swimming.

Who is the target audience?
  • Improvement-minded swimmers: Improve continuously and learn for life.
  • Novice to experienced Triathletes or multi-sporters: Swim comfortably, confidently and faster than ever—with more energy for the bike and run.
  • Distance, open water, and fitness swimmers who have plateaued or felt uninspired: Boost your improvement and enjoy swimming more than ever.
  • Runners seeking a low-impact fitness option. Learn and improve while recovering for your next run.
  • Total Immersion enthusiasts: Receive guidance from TI Founder Terry Laughlin.
  • This course is not designed for non-swimming beginners.
Students Who Viewed This Course Also Viewed
Curriculum For This Course
33 Lectures
Welcome to the course
5 Lectures 18:34

In this introduction Terry gives you some background on how he got into swim coaching and how that led to developing the Total Immersion technique. 

Preview 02:43

In this introduction, Terry gives you an idea of what you can get out of the Total Immersion technique.

Preview 03:21

In this lesson Terry gives you an explanation of why he's going to how to emulate a fish, rather than a traditional swimming method.

Preview 04:18

In this lesson Terry gives some tips on how to get the most from the course and introduces the downloadable eBook which comes with the course.

How to get the most from the course

In this lesson Terry talks about how to improve quickly through drills and how to focus on one specific sensation and introduces the downloadable WORKBOOK. Click on Downloadable Materials to get the WORKBOOK. and an accompanying IMAGE guide.

Using the workbook
Comfort and body control
4 Lectures 10:01

This group of drills and skills imparts three qualities essential to ultra-efficient swimming—and to creating the conditions for continuous long-term improvement:
1. Immediate energy savings from a weightless and stable body position.
2. The body control necessary to learn all subsequent skills.
3. The focus, sense of calm, and habits of self-perception that will make your swimming more satisfying and effective for decades to come


Torpedo practice repeats are briefer than any other drill. Though you may only practice it a few times, it will create invaluable and enduring body awareness that improves Balance and Core Stability—the indispensable foundations of an efficient stroke.

The greatest benefit of Torpedo is that it has few ‘moving parts.’ This allows pinpoint focus in several key mini-skills—a ‘weightless’ head, head-spine alignment, and an engaged core:

Isolating your head in front will heighten awareness of when you’ve achieved an aligned and neutral head position, preparing you to maintain that position in every step that follows.

You’ll also have better awareness of activating core muscle. Both skills are essential to maintaining a sleek, stable body position when you begin moving your arms and legs.

Torpedo: Rehearsal
  • Stand tall with feet together in your best posture.
  • Keep shoulders relaxed.
  • Keep head neutral. Don’t lift or tuck your chin.
  • Imagine you’re wearing ‘cargo’ jeans with pockets on the front. Reach hands down thighs as if to reach deep into those pockets. (We’ll reference ‘Cargo Pockets’ several times in our lessons.) Pull navel to spine. Lightly press legs together.

Torpedo: Practice with a Glide

  • Push gently into a surface glide. (Don’t plunge underwater.) Your legs will sink gradually as glide slows. Maintain head-spine alignment as they do.
  • Hold legs together to increase glide and slow legs from sinking.
  • When you lose momentum (in a few seconds) stand for a breather and mental reset. Then push into glide again.

Torpedo Checklist
Head: Release its weight so you feel the water support (or cushion) it.
Arms: Push hands deep in Cargo Pockets.
Core: Pull navel toward spine.
Legs: Press together and lengthen.
Bodyline: Maintain the strong posture from your rehearsal.

Torpedo: Practice with a Flutter
By adding a flutter kick to Torpedo, you’ll gain a few seconds to memorize key focal points and sensations. Do not turn this into a kicking exercise! Keep kick small, gentle and quiet.

Torpedo: Partner Practice
Assisted practice with a partner can greatly ease and accelerate the acquisition of key skills because:
  • The assisting-partner’s hands-on cues provide the most accurate feel for correct positions.
  • Being towed or supported allows the practicing-partner more time to memorize key sensations.
There are two ways to assist:
Tow from Head
  1. Cradle head
  2. Check that only the rear third of the head is visible above surface.

Gently waggle head (and/or lightly massage neck) to release any tension.

Walk backward while towing at pace sufficient to keep body balanced.

Support Feet
Lightly support (don’t lift) feet and:
Stand briefly to observe head-to-toe alignment.
Ensure that legs are pressed together . . . then push into glide.
Watch to see that legs remain together after release.

Torpedo Practice Tips:
  • Repeat Gliding Torpedo four or more times.
  • Strive to glide a tiny bit farther each time.
  • Keeping head and spine aligned and legs together should help increase glide distance.
  • Then repeat Torpedo with Flutter two to four times. As you do, perform a head-to-toe scan of items on the checklist.
  • When you’ve memorized the feeling of weightless head, engaged core, and streamlined legs, proceed to Superman. Revisit Torpedo any time to refresh those sensations—either between repeats of Superman, or before Whole Stroke repeats.
Preview 04:03

Because your bodyline is longer, you’ll travel farther in Superman than in Torpedo. Yet these reps are still fairly brief—about 8 to 10 seconds. However, a strong and targeted focus will help you imprint essential sensations and habits, even in brief repeats. Unlike Torpedo, Superman is worth practicing hundreds of times, over many months, creating invaluable insights each time. Because both drills are exceedingly simple, you should be able to easily apply new insights to whole stroke.

Essential habits taught by Superman include:

  • A weightless, stable head position. This is always the starting point for achieving a stable balanced body position.
  • A fully extended bodyline. This increases support by extending your body over the maximum water surface area. A longer bodyline also reduces drag. You’ll travel farther effortlessly with a ‘lighter’ body and less drag.
  • Relaxed hands (helps Balance) and a Wide Track arm position (improves Core Stability.)
  • Calm legs drafting behind your upper body (reduces drag.)
  • Maintain these habits in every drill . . . and every stroke you take from now on.

Superman: Rehearsal
Start in Torpedo position, then:

  • Extend arms on shoulder-width Tracks.
  • Relax hands. Hands should be slightly below shoulder height, so arms slope down as shown.
  • Extend hands farther by opening underarm/axilla.
  • Tuck tummy.
  • Memorize these sensations. Check in with them while practicing Superman.

Superman: Practice

  • Extend arms with relaxed hands on Wide Tracks. Then push into glide.
  • If legs sink as glide slows, let them.
  • To glide farther, engage core, and press streamlined legs together.
  • Stand for a breather, self-assessment, and mental reset.
  • Repeat.
  • Choose one focus from checklist. Repeat several times.
  • After each repeat, assess body position and strength of focus.
  • Choose a new focus from list and repeat. Progress focus from head to arms, then core, and finally to legs.

Superman: Partner Practice

You have three options for towing or support:

  1. Hold wrists. Lengthen arms, ensure they are on parallel shoulder-width tracks.
  2. Cradle head. Ensure absence of tension in neck. Draw forward for a sense of spine lengthening.
  3. Support feet. Check head-spine alignment, arm extension, and leg streamline.

Immediately bring new habits and sensations into your whole-stroke swimming by adding a few strokes to Superman.

Practice Superman+Strokes
Choose a mini-skill focus from those you practiced in Superman.
Push into Superman. Glide long enough to check your chosen mini-skill. Begin stroking before glide slows.
Swim three to five non-breathing strokes with same focus, then stand for a breather. Repeat four or more times.

Choose a new Focal Point and repeat the process.

Note: To increase the number of strokes you can take, use a Finis Swimmer’s Snorkel. Increasing
the number of correct repetitions will accelerate learning.

Suggested Focal Point Sequence
For a simple but systematic way to organize Focal Points to cover all key skills, use the ‘head-to-toe body scan’ method, as follows. Focus on these stroke thoughts in this order 

Head. In Superman, feel your head ‘hanging’ (like a dead weight) between your shoulders.
Maintain that sensation as you begin stroking. (Alternatively, focus on feeling the water cushion your face, or visualize a laser projecting from your head-spine line . . . in Superman and while stroking.

Arms. Extend arms on Wide Tracks during Superman. Reach on the same Wide Tracks on each stroke. Also, note where hands are in Superman. Reach to the same place while stroking.

Underarm. Open underarm in Superman. In each stroke, extend forward until you feel underarm open.

Core. Feel core engaged in Superman—and as you stroke.

Legs. Lengthen legs and press together lightly in Superman. Begin stroking by reaching forward (not kicking) and let legs follow your body. Keep legs calm, quiet, and streamlined.

How Much Whole Stroke Practice?
We encourage you to practice whole stroke swimming at regular intervals throughout the lessons. However, if you’re learning these techniques for the first time, we recommend you limit whole-stroke practice mainly to the short, non-breathing repeats prescribed in 1.3 Superman+Strokes.
If you find it difficult to stroke as described in the Focal Point sequence just above, proceed directly to the Group Two Recovery exercises that follow. We promise you’ll feel markedly more comfortable and coordinated upon completing the skills and drills in that lesson.
However, if you already have fairly extensive TI experience, feel free to spend time becoming more deeply familiar with any new sensations or insights gained so far, by employing them in your normal practice routine.

Superman with strokes
Controlled, stable recovery
4 Lectures 13:48

Group One (Balance and Body Control) exercises rely entirely on gross-motor skills. These involve large body parts and major muscle groups. They’re relatively easy to coordinate—and to sense when you’re performing them correctly. This makes them ideal as the first step in improving efficiency.

Group Two exercises introduce many fine-motor skills, requiring the coordination of many more, and smaller, muscles. There are nearly limitless opportunities for error and a very narrow range of effective solutions. This greatly increases the difficulty of coordination and requires much deeper sensory awareness.

To reduce the learning curve, we’ve broken this section into many ‘bite-size’ skills—some in rehearsals, some in whole-stroke—and devised new forms of partner-assisted practice. But, these challenges can also be an opportunity—to develop Super-Learning habits that prepare for years of continued improvement . . . and will apply to learning any skill.

As noted earlier, moving an arm through the air—where it weighs 10 times as much as in the water—has enormous potential to create instability in your core body, making it much harder to learn skills and swim efficiently.

Control these destabilizing forces by imprinting three qualities in your recovery:
Symmetry. Each arm should be a mirror image of the other. This equalizes the forces affecting the body.
Relaxation. This gives arm muscles a ‘rest break’ between strokes. It also averts the creation of ballistic forces in recovery—which can divert your body off its intended path . . . forcing you to do constant course correction.
Direction. Any body part moving through the air should move in the same direction you wish to travel. This channels energy and momentum forward.

And finally, besides closely complementing the lessons learned in Group One, providing a solid foundation for efficiency and skill development, Group Two skills are also the most important for injury-free swimming.


Lifting the elbow, or pulling it back, as the hand exits the water is an extremely common instinct.
This causes the hips to over-rotate, diverting the hands to ‘steadying’ actions (which undermine propulsion) and causing legs to splay (which increases drag). It also increases injury risk. This exercise teaches you to swing the elbow outwards on exit. This brings it into the ‘scapular plane’ – the healthiest and most relaxed range of motion for the arm.

Elbow Swing: Rehearsal
Perform this rehearsal in two steps. Do both while leaning forward as shown, with lead hand positioned as if to start the next stroke.

Step 1: While keeping thumb on thigh, move elbow as far from your side as possible. This brief and tiny movement will teach your muscles (and kinesthetic awareness) a new and unfamiliar action. Heighten awareness of the change by lifting your elbow (i.e. the incorrect motion) several times. Notice the tension in your shoulder. Then swing your elbow away.

Memorize the absence of tension.

Step 2: Release thumb from leg and gently swing elbow past shoulder. Imprint two key mini-skills:

Use only shoulder and upper arm muscles to bring elbow forward. Hang forearm from elbow like a dead weight (or Rag Doll.)

Elbow should pass the shoulder line slightly before hand. Let water resistance hold the hand back, while elbow leads.

These rehearsals help eliminate ballistic forces from recovery.

Elbow Swing: Practice

Starting with a brief ‘Superman’ glide (release head during glide), swim six or fewer non-breathing strokes. Focus on on:

  • Swing elbow super-wide—and as low as possible.
  • Lightly drag fingertips or knuckles over the surface, in a gently-curving line.
  • Do eight or more short non-breathing repeats— or use a snorkel to lengthen repeats.
  • You should feel the following as you swim:
  • Your stroke seems ‘short.’ Ignore for now.
  • Your elbow feels ‘crazy wide.’ If not, swing wider.
  • You use noticeably less muscle than before.
  • Progress to Paint a Line when these new sensations feel consistent, natural, and unforced.

Elbow Swing: Partner Practice

Walk alongside, as shown, as your partner swims six non-breathing strokes. With your palm, gently brush the elbow away—and forward. It will be easier, at first, to brush away the far arm. On one repeat, walk on the right, brushing the left elbow away.

On the next repeat, walk on the left, brushing the right elbow away. Both partners should strive for steadily lighter contact, as the swimming-partner responds to the helping partner’s guidance. When the elbow moves away consistently and naturally, switch roles.

Elbow swing

This step helps channel momentum from the arm, and save energy, by imprinting two critical mini-skills:

  1. It brings the arm directly forward, eliminating sideways motions. This channels energy and momentum forward.
  2. It imprints ‘deep’ relaxation of hand and forearm, This gives muscles a ‘rest break’ between strokes and eliminates de-stabilizing ballistic forces.

Paint a Line: Rehearsal

Perform this rehearsal in two steps. Imprint the Rag Doll sensation first, then moving hand and arm forward via a wide, straight line.

Step 1: Rag Doll
  • Stand as shown, with lead hand positioned as if to start the next stroke. Then:
  • Hold arm outside shoulder at a right angle. Hang forearm like a ‘dead weight’—or Rag Doll.
  • S-l-o-w-l-y inch elbow forward. Pause several times to check Rag Doll sensation . . . and to release any tension in shoulder.
  • Find the most forward position at which you maintain Rag Doll sensation.
  • Do this 8 or more times with one arm, shifting gradually to a continuous movement. Repeat the process with other arm.

Don’t rotate hand inward. This increases impingement in shoulder.
Don’t hold forearm outward. This needlessly tenses arm muscles.

Step 2: Paint the Line

Visualize a wide, straight line from exit to entry.

Length of humerus (upper arm) bone determines how far the line is from our shoulder.

‘Paint’ the line with fingertips or knuckles. Focus on:

  • S-l-o-w-l-y trace a line on the water with fingertips.
  • (‘Painting’ with knuckles will imprint deeper relaxation of wrist and hand.) Watch hand to en sure that line is straight. Avoid curving inward as you pass the shoulder.
  • ‘Paint’ until fingers are parallel with wrist of lead arm. Dip hand several times to memorize that location.
  • Repeat 8 or more times with each arm, then with alternating arms, taking a ‘mini-stroke’ with the arm that goes back as you drop into water at wrist.
  • As you increase rhythm, pause a moment before slicing down, to deepen ‘muscle memory’ of each arm’s position.

Paint a Line: Practice

Starting with a brief ‘Superman’ glide, swim six or fewer non-breathing strokes. Focus on:

Hold a long, stable line on one side, while ‘painting’ a straight line on the other. 

Hold lead hand steady, until other hand passes head.

Drag Knuckles or Fingertips lightly.

Do four or more short non-breathing repeats (or use a snorkel to lengthen repeats) on each of the following Focal Points:

  • Feel long, aligned and very stable on the extended side of your body.
  • Keep the ‘crazy wide’ feeling from 2.1, but paint a laser-straight line.
  • ‘Tickle’ the surface with fingertips the entire length of the line.
  • Keep elbow high (and Rag Doll sensation) the entire length of the line.
  • Progress to Hop and Slot when these new sensations feel consistent, natural, and unforced.

Paint a Line: Partner Practice

Assisted practice will encourage deep relaxation—and high mobility—in the shoulder. Assist as follows: Support under elbow as partner hangs arm outside shoulder. Gently massage shoulder to encourage relaxation. The arm should feel heavy in your hand.

Draw small circles with the elbow. Feel for tension or resistance. Encourage partner to relax completely, and let you do all the work.

Gradually turn those circles into oval or ellipse shapes by moving the elbow slightly forward, inch by inch . . . while arm hangs like a Rag Doll. Circle loosely back to begin to starting point.

At front of ellipse, keep elbow elevated with one hand, while dipping other hand parallel to wrist of extended hand. Repeat with other hand, then switch roles.

Paint a line (the rag doll arm)

This lesson teaches two small and distinct actions (think of them as ‘micro-skills’) that combine smoothly to save energy and increase efficiency. We call the first Ear Hop and the second Mail Slot. We call the combined action Hop-and-Slot.

Ear Hop
Visualize a laser extending from your ear. Hop your fingers barely over the laser on recovery.
This teaches you to keep fingertips close to the surface on recovery. An arm in the air weighs 10x its weight in the water; every needless inch of clearance wastes energy.

Mail Slot
Think of the slot through which you slide letters at the post office. Visualize cutting such a slot on the surface with your fingers—then slide your forearm through the slot. This saves energy in three ways:
Reinforces the muscle relaxation taught by the Rag Doll focus.
Minimizes drag by teaching stroke timing that keeps your bodyline long as one hand takes over the lead position from the other.
Teaches a clean, steeply angled entry that maximizes the transfer of propulsive energy from the weight shift into your stroke.
Together, the Hop-and-Slot teach a movement that will enable years of pain-free, injury free swimming. In this lesson, you rehearse and practice the Ear Hop first, then rehearse the Mail Slot and combine them seamlessly.

Ear Hop: Rehearsal
Rehearse the Ear Hop with goggles on and face in the water, as shown, to minimize distance from fingertips
to surface. Practice as follows:
  • Extend left hand as if to start the next stroke.
  • Paint a Line with right hand (as in 2.2) dragging fingertips lightly over surface.
  • Hop over an imaginary laser from your ear and immediately drop into water.
  • Return right hand to your hip and repeat.

Repeat 6 or more times with each arm, then alternate arms in a rhythmic but deliberate ‘mini-stroke’ as shown in video. To complete more repetitions without interrupting for a breather, use a snorkel.

Ear Hop: Practice
Starting with a brief ‘Superman’ glide, swim six or fewer non-breathing strokes. On first couple of reps, swim exactly as in Paint A Line (2.2) practice for three to four strokes before hopping the laser for the first time. This will make you more familiar with the subtlety of the new movement you’re introducing. Then focus on the following:
Lightly drag fingertips in a wide straight line.
At your ear, hop and immediately drop into the water. Minimize clearance and time out of water!
Enter the water silently and splash-free.
Do eight or more non-breathing repeats. Progress to Mail Slot when these actions feel natural, unforced, and consistent.

Mail Slot: Rehearsal
Stand with arms extended and parallel—as in Superman rehearsal (1.2), hands relaxed with fingers in the water. Then practice as follows:
Lift one elbow—up, not back.
Then drop in—as if cutting a slot with fingertips—parallel to opposite wrist.
Repeat this action with one hand eight to ten times, then with other.
Finally, alternate hands, deliberately at first, then with a continuous, leisurely rhythm

Focus on:

  • Maintain a Rag Doll feeling in Forearm
  • Hand Relaxed—but Firm—on entry.
Mail Slot: Practice
Though you’ll focus mainly on cutting a slot, it’s almost certain you’ll retain the other recovery mini-skills you’ve worked on up to this point. This may feel like a drill, but think of it as swimming . . . with efficiency habits you’ll use the rest of your life.
Starting from ‘Superman,’ swim six or fewer non-breathing strokes. On first few reps, Paint A Line (no hop) for three to four strokes, before introducing Ear Hop. This will make you more familiar with the subtlety of the new movement you’re introducing. Then focus on the following:
  • Keep hand super relaxed—fingers loosely separated.
  • Drop—don’t thrust—through the slot.
  • (Let gravity—instead of your muscles—do the work. Think of ripe fruit dropping from a tree.)
  • Enter without disturbing the water.
  • Maintain ‘patient’ lead hand—waiting for fingers of other hand to enter the slot.
  • Enter parallel to wrist of lead hand.

Mail Slot: Partner Practice

This is a two-step exercise, starting with a rehearsal, then progressing to ‘assisted’ wholestroke

Step One: Mirrored Rehearsal
Stand facing each other—bowing forward slightly—with arms extended, relaxed hands, and knuckles touching just below the surface.
Lift elbow (right elbow for one partner, left for other) to Rag Doll position, to create a mirror image.
Together, drop hands through Slot and extend until knuckles meet . . . at same time lifting other elbows to Rag Doll position.
Do this s-l-o-w-l-y until both partners achieve coordination in all key movements and positions, then make it rhythmic.

Step Two: Assisted Practice
This is similar to Elbow Swing (2.1) Partnered Practice in that helping-partner walks alongside swimming-partner. Swim six to eight non-breathing strokes on each repeat.
Walking near front, lightly touch wrist of nearside arm to aid in dropping through the slot— and avoid overextending to a too-flat entry.
Swimming partner: Focus on keeping lead hand in place until you feel wrist-tap.
Touch left wrist on one series, right wrist on next.

How Much Whole Stroke Practice?
We recommended that Total Immersion novices minimize or abbreviate (short repeats only) whole-stroke practice after mastering Balance and Body Control exercises. Whole stroke practice is a far better option after developing solid recovery skills. This is for two reasons:
  • With a relaxed, symmetrical recovery, your stroking skills (i.e. the pull and kick) should be much improved—and your chances of ‘practicing struggle’ far less.
  • This series didn’t include any drills—in the conventional sense. Other than rehearsals, all your practice was actually whole-stroke swimming.
So the logical next step is to simply swim more. Which means breathing more. Thus, if breathing problems get in the way of maintaining the form you’ve developed thus far, we recommend you proceed directly to the next two groups of skill exercises.

However, if you have a good baseline of breathing skill already, you can spend some time integrating new recovery skills into your stroke. As you do be mindful of what you’re putting to the test as you swim more and farther—movement skill and strength of focus.

Make it a conscious goal to improve both together. Do that by using Focal Points in an organized way. Here’s a summary of Recovery Focal Points for whole-stroke practice, in the  order we presented them.

Swing the Elbow

Swing the elbow to the side as hand exits. Avoid lifting.
Move upper arm away from body.

Your swing should feel strikingly low and wide.

Wide Straight Line

Lightly trace a straight line with fingertips from exit to entry point.
Make the line as wide as possible (without curving).

Maintain Rag Doll sensation in forearm and hand.

Cut a Slot

Cut a ‘slot’ in surface with fingers. Slide forearm through slot.
Make entry too short and too steep.

Keep entry silent and splash-free.

Vessel shaping (passive and active streamlining)
4 Lectures 11:31

In the companion ebook, Ultra-Efficient Freestyle, Terry referes numerous times to Bill Boomer’s maxim “The shape of the ‘vessel’ matters more than the size of the engine.”

Chapter 6 “How Streamlining Works” provides powerful supporting evidence, including:

Fish scientists and DARPA engineers learned that dolphins are over 2500 percent more efficient than human swimmers—and can swim 700 percent faster than their muscular power should make possible possible—because of “a natural ability for active streamlining.”

Olympic medalists generate strikingly less stroking power than slower and less successful swimmers, proving that their success and speed is primarily due to “a superior ability to avoid drag.”

This lesson teaches you the lowest-drag position possible in freestyle. It will also transform your idea of freestyle technique from Upper-Body-Pulls/Lower-Body-Kicks to Streamline-Right-Side/Streamline-Left-Side.


The term ‘Skate’ refers to the long, precision-honed blade of a speed skate, which enables the skater to glide across the ice with breathtaking speed. In swimming terms, Skate is designed to imprint three mini-skills. Each improves the hydrodynamics of your body in specific ways.

Reach below your body. This turns your lead arm into a ‘trim tab’ that lifts legs toward the surface, cutting drag considerably. It also saves energy formerly wasted on leg churning.

Rotate just enough . . . to clear one shoulder. This also reduces drag, while positioning you to access gravity as a source of ‘free’ propulsive power. Controlling rotation (roll only this far) is also essential to core stability, enhancing both streamline and propulsion.

Align your body . . . behind your lead arm. This reshapes your stroke from an instinctively human form (photo on left). . . to a distinctly fishlike form. (photo on right).

Among all drills taught by Total Immersion, Skate has the greatest long-term value and is thus worth practising for years. Mastering its fine points with great patience and care will bring enormous payoffs. How efficiently, effectively—and fast—you swim will be heavily influenced by how well you master this position.

Superman-to-Skate: Rehearse
  • Start in Superman (1.2) pose. Visualize the hood of a VW Beetle.
  • Step—and lean—forward, sliding one hand Across the Hood to the Bumper.
  • Slide other hand deep in the Cargo Pocket (from 1.1 Torpedo).
  • Repeat several times on each side.

Superman-to-Skate: Practice

Starting with a brief ‘Superman’ glide, reach one hand forward—as if to touch the VWBumper—while other strokes back. Travel a short distance in Skate, then stand for a breather, and repeat—reaching other hand forward. Compare sensations between the two sides.

Focal Points

Organize your checklist of focal points from front to rear, giving single-minded attention toeach key mini-skill—in the order listed: 

  • Slide Hand across VW Hood and Touch the Bumper (Other hand in Cargo Pocket.)
  • Keep Head Still (‘laser’ aimed forward) as you rotate.
  • Rotate your shoulder barely above the surface—then keep it still.
  • Align one side of body—fingers to toes—behind lead arm.

‘Rules’ for Effective Practice

Don’t rush. Take time in Superman to feel completely supported and stable, but don’t wait so long that momentum stalls.

Compare sides. Change sides on each repeat—this is how we swim. If one side feels less comfortable, or more resistant to change (very common), you might do several consecutive reps to that side. Strive to make ‘weak’ side feel more like strong side.

Keep it short. Remain in Skate long enough to evaluate, improve, and imprint fine points. But don’t turn this into a kicking exercise. Travel just five to six meters each time.

How much kick? The less the better. After rotating, try to Skate for a moment with legs streamlined . . . then flutter gently for a few seconds to sustain momentum from your weight shift. While kicking, keep legs within ‘slipstream’ of upper body.

Take new skills for a ‘test drive.’ When four key habits—hand at bumper, head aligned, shoulder barely out, and body aligned behind lead arm—feel somewhat natural and consistent, progress to 3.2 Skate+Strokes.

Superman-to-Skate: Partner Practice

Hands-on help—and an observant eye—can greatly accelerate mastery of critical miniskills. Assist partner as follows:

Wait on the side that will reach to VW Bumper. If right side, lightly hold partner’s right wrist with your right  hand during Superman. 

As partner initiates rotation (on her own), draw herhand toward Bumper—on its Track, below bodyline.

At same moment, use your free hand on partner’s shoulder to limit rotation. Front of shoulder should graze the surface. Avoid ‘stacking.’

You Should Also

  • Check for tension in lead hand. Massage hand and wrist gently as you tow until she relaxes it. 
  • Be attuned to whether partner is resisting (or relying on) you in achieving the correct positions.
  • As partner works more with you, reduce your involvement. E.G. Release shoulder when she independently finds right degree of rotation.
  • Five to 10 assisted reps on each side is usually sufficient

This step enables you to immediately ‘test drive’ new skills and awareness in whole stroke.
Follow this sequence:
  • Glide briefly in Superman, then rotate to . . .
  • Skate briefly (don’t ‘stall’) on Left Track then . . .
  • Transition smoothly into 3 to 5 strokes.
  • Finish in Skate on Right Track holding position briefly.
Skate + Strokes

Compare each stroke—and final Skate—to initial Skate, using the Focal Point checklist below.

Skate+Strokes: Practice

  • Focus on same four mini-skills, in same order, as in 3.1 Superman-to-Skate. For each focal point, swim 4 to 6 repeats with highly targeted focus on doing the following in every stroke:
  • Touch Bumper at full extension.
  • Keep head aligned and still, while body rotates around it.
  • Control Rotation—shoulder just above water.
  • Align Bodyline behind lead arm.

Skate+Strokes: Partner Practice

You must be ‘nimble’ to match the timing of your partner’s stroke, while assisting in Skate+Strokes. Assist with two aspects of the drill 

  1. Guide her hand to the VW Bumper . . . then Hold it there until other hand nears the Slot.
  2. Assist only with the hand closest to you. Assist other hand on next repeat. Do three to five assisted repeats on each side.  

Assist this way: 

  • Guide Hand to Bumper on Initial Skate
  • Then meet hand in air and guide to Bumper.
  • Or meet hand after it enters water . . .
  • And hold in place until other Hand Enters
  • Assist on first two to three stroke cycles, then let her continue unassisted, striving to maintain form on her own
Skate + strokes

This drill blends Recovery skills from Group 2 with newly learned vessel-shaping skills from Group 3.
Starting from a standing position—making full use of gravity and a weight shift—helps you enter the sleek, balanced Skate position with far more momentum.

Slot-to-Skate: Practice
  • If you wish to rehearse, revisit the Mail Slot 2.3 rehearsal.
  • Lean forward slightly with left hand at VW Bumper and right arm in Rag Doll position, poised above slot
  • Fall Forward; Drive Hand Thru Slot
  • Hold Left Shoulder Just Above Surface
  • Let it fall as Momentum Slows
  • When glide slows, body returns naturally to non-rotated position.
  • Spear Hand to VW Bumper . . .
  • Hold Head-to-Toe Streamline
  • Let Body ‘Fall Flat’ as Glide Slows
  • Use Core to Hold Skate S-l-i-g-h-t-l-y Longer
Slot-to-Skate+Strokes: Practice
  • In this drill, simply add three to five strokes to the faster, longer glide produced by the leaning weight shift with which you start.
  • Hold Left Hand at Slot
  • And Right at Bumper
  • Lean-and-Push Forward
  • Hold Skate B-r-i-e-f-l-y on Final Stroke
  • Spear Forward to Skate . . .
  • Keep Lead Hand in Place Until Other Enters
  • Then Flow Into Swimming

Next Steps

If you are working through Total Immersion technique for the first time, this is a good time to spend a few practice hours (over a week or more) consolidating and integrating skills and habits you’ve learned thus far. You can do this before moving on to Group Four, Seamless Breathing. Or spend 15 to 30 minutes doing so, during practices otherwise devoted to mastering breathing skills.

If you’re a TI veteran, you can follow the prescription above. Or—if you breathe with considerable ease and comfort—allocate time now specifically to minimizing drag in wholestroke.

For both groups, I recommend Skate-related exercises as a ‘tuneup.’ They’re especially useful during the first 10 to 12 minutes of practice (the part traditionally referred to as ‘warmup’) for heightening awareness and imprinting good habits on high-value skills you’d like to maintain throughout the practice. Or review them for a few minutes prior to any key set (sometimes called the Main Set) during practice.

Whether your goal is a new level of ease and control; or holding a high-efficiency stroke count (at a faster tempo, or for a greater distance) or a new best time at some distance; a more stable and streamlined vessel will greatly improve your chances of success. This can be as simple as the following:
  • 8 reps of Superman-to-Skate (or Slot-to-Skate)
  • 4 reps of Skate+Strokes
  • 2 x 25 y/m whole stroke.

As a pre-practice tuneup, repeat that sequence three times, focused on a different miniskill(i.e. touch the Bumper, keep head stable, control rotation) each time. As a pre-set tuneup, you might repeat it only once, focused on a mini-skill you plan to emphasize throughout the set

Slot to skate
Breath easy
7 Lectures 14:41
While previous lessons included only three drill steps, we divide breathing into twice as many steps because of its great complexity. This lesson includes a series of breathing rehearsals, two basic (no stroking) drills, and three drills-with-stroking. The rehearsals and basic drills will be invaluable aids along the way to breathing in whole stroke—the sixth and final step.

Breathing is often ruinous to stroke efficiency in freestyle because: (i) You must precisely integrate the breath into your stroke rhythm; and (ii) As you breathe, 10% of body mass (your head) turns sideways, while the rest of you is moving forward.
This lesson teaches three highly efficient moves:
  1. Keep head and spine aligned. I.E. Don’t lift your head.
  2. Breathe with body roll. I.E. Don’t turn your head.
  3. Keep lead arm on Track and lead hand patient as you breathe.

Because breathing challenges are considerable—and the solutions non-instinctive—this lesson includes breathing several rehearsals, two basic-skill exercises, and three wholestroke drills. The preparatory work will be invaluable when you get to the main drills.

Breathing Rehearsals

Rehearsals are more valuable for breathing than for any other skill because breathing requires a far more intricate coordination of many moving parts. If any part breaks down, overall efficiency can suffer significantly.

Breathing rehearsals incorporate two familiar skills—2.2 Paint a Line and 2.3 Mail Slot. Performing those skills correctly is critical to getting air efficiently and comfortably. These rehearsals also teach the precise coordination of rotating-to-air with the armstroke.


4.1a Single Arm Rehearsal

As you did in Recovery Rehearsals, refine and imprint the action of one arm, before progressing to alternating arms. Because bilateral breathing is critical to stroke symmetry, perform this with each arm—both as a single-arm and whole-stroke rehearsal.

Step One Breathe Without Recovery

  • Repeat six or more times on each side.
  • Pause in each position to familiarize and memorize.
  • Right Hand at Bumper;
  • Then Turn Nose Down
  • Laser Forward During ‘Risky’ Breath
  • Left in Cargo Pocket

Step Two Breathe With Recovery
This step integrates a ‘stabilizing’ recovery with the aligned breath, long bodyline; and ‘gripping’ lead hand. It also introduces proper timing of breath-to-stroke.
Repeat on each side until movements and timing feel natural and consistent, then progress to alternating arms (whole-stroke) rehearsal.

  • Paint a Line—Grazing surface Pause Rag Doll Arm at Slot
  • Drop Hand and Nose
  • Together
  • Chin Follows Shoulder
  • Keep Right Hand at Bumper

4.1b Whole-Stroke Rehearsal
This rehearsal coordinates both arms with breathing. Imprint same three skills—paint a line; Rag Doll sensation; drop through a slotwith both arms. You’ll also work on coordinating the breath to the stroke. To strengthen awareness of critical moments in breath-timing, pause briefly with fingers at Slot. After eliminating pause, keep movements deliberate. Repeat on each side until new skills feel natural. Then progress to Bilateral Rehearsal.

  • Right Hand Entry Initiates Rotation to Breath
  • Take ‘Risky’ Breath
  • Chin Follows Shoulder . . .
  • Paint a Line;
  • Fingertips Graze Surface
  • Right Hand at Bumper
  • Left at Slot
  • Head to Neutral as
  • Hand Goes to Bumper

4.1c Bilateral rehearsal
In this rehearsal, you breathe every third stroke, rather than every second one breath to the left, the next to the right. Bilateral breathing improves efficiency by encouraging stroke symmetry.

  • ‘Risky’ Breath
  • Right Hand Still at Bumper;
  • Left Hand at Slot
  • Right Hand at Bumper
  • Left Hand Paints a Line
  • Left Hand at Bumper
  • Right Hand Holds at Bumper
  • ‘Risky’ Breath; Paint Line on Right
Breathing rehersals

Basic Breathing Drills

These drills imprint habits that are integral to breathing in whole stroke. Practicing them in simpler drills (with few moving parts) will improve coordination in the more advanced drills that follow.
Focus on imprinting three critical habits:
Rotate from hips. Initiate rotation from your hips let your head follow the body to air. Use lead hand as a ‘rudder’ to guide rotation.
Stay aligned. Rotate around head-spine line—keeping laser aimed forward. Travel through the water like an arrow through the air as you rotate up and down.
Weightless head Feel your head resting on the water at all times—before, during, and after rotation.

Start in Skate:
Simple Roll to Air: How to Practice
This drill was originally designed for novices (formerly called Sweet Spot), but has proven valuable for experienced swimmers too because it’s so effective at teaching balanced, aligned rotation around the spinal axis. As with Skate drill, don’t turn it into a kicking exercise.

  1. Practice in sets of 3 breathing cycles (or half a pool length)with right arm extended (rotating to the left) going away from the end or the pool, and with left arm extended returning. Repeat this once or twice for each Focal Point.
  2. Spend several moments in each position nose up, and nose down. When nose down, review Focal Points for Skate.
  3. Slip through the water with minimal disturbance while rotating up or down. Strive to kick with more ease: Reduce drag and wavemaking.

Partner Practice

  1. Assist Partner Into Skate Position
  2. Stabilize in Breathing Position
  3. Help Return to Skate Position
Simple roll to air

This is also called ‘Risky’ Breathing because you breathe with water touching the corner of your mouth. Mastering ‘risky’ breathing here will make it easier to do the same in our final step (4.6) because, here, you have less momentum—and thus little or no bow wave. This drill has three goals

  1. Minimize Rotation. In 4.2 you rotate almost to your back, with nose pointing up. Here you rotate just enough to clear your mouth trying to keep shoulder and hip just short of ‘stacked.’ This is far less rotation than in 4.2 . . . but considerably more than in the next three steps.
  2. Stay Aligned. Even while rotating less, stay focused on moving through water like an arrow through air.
  3. Keep Lead Hand at Bumper. This is a rare and high value skill in whole stroke breathing. You focus on it for the first time here, and reinforce in the next three steps.

Practice as in Simple Roll to Air. Keep repeats short. In fact, start by doing just one ‘risky’ breathing cycle:

Start in Skate. Rotate to breathe. Return to Skate. Stand up.. Repeat one cycle on the other side. Proceed to two or three cycles when you feel comfort and control of all Focal Points for one cycle.

Do many short reps with correct form, rather than continuing on just to reach the other end of the pool. 

The 3-Step Easy Breathing Sequence
You swim whole-stroke at each step in this sequence. You rotate your head as if to breathe in all three steps, but actually breathe only in the final step. Removing the ‘pressure to get air’ in the first two steps makes it much easier to perform three skills that allow you to keep your stroke ultra-efficient when you do breathe.
Those (by now familiar) skills are:
  1. Rotate to air with head low and Laser forward.
  2. Breathe with body roll: Chin follows shoulder to air.
  3. Breathe with lead hand at Bumper.
Breath in skate

In this step, you rotate as if to breathe, but keep both goggles submerged while looking to the side under the surface.

As you do check the following:
  • Head Aligned: Is your laser still pointing forward?
  • Head Low: Is the side of your head parallel to the surface?
  • Hand Patient: Is extended hand relaxed and stable with palm facing back?

Practice Tips

  • Not breathing limits you to about four ‘nods’ per repeat. Nod to left side on one rep, to right on next.
  • Start ‘nod’ to left as right hand enters Slot.
  • Let left-side gaze ‘linger’ throughout left-hand recovery. What do you notice while looking sideways?
  • Side of head should feel parallel to surface . . .
  • And right hand should hold at Bumper.
NOD (non-breathing)

This drill is named for the thrilling moment during a whale-watching cruise, when a whale glides alongside the boat, seeming to study you with one eye. Perform this exactly as Nod, but clear the surface with just one goggle. As in Nod, let your gaze ‘linger’ there a moment and notice the stereoscopic view—seeing just above and just below the surface.

Practice Tips
Practice Whale-Eye just as you did Nod. Devote at least one set of repeats rotating in each direction—to each key Focal Point, in this order:
  • Head neutral . . . and resting on water.
  • Lead hand holds at Bumper
  • Fingertips skim surface on recovery (see it pass your eye.)
  • Head returns as hand enters.
Whale eye (non-breathing)

This drill recalls the way Popeye the Sailorman stretched his mouth to 'inhale' spinach.You'll stretch your mouth to air as shown above. 

Review Breathing Rehearsals:
4.1b Whole
Stroke and 4.1c Bilateral.

Glide briefly in Superman, start stroking—then just turn your head a tiny bit farther than in Whale-Eye. Bring your mouth above the surface on every cycle—but don’t feel obliged to breathe right away. You might actually try for a breath on the third or fourth cycle. Rotate one way on one rep, the other way on the next. Is there water in your mouth? Air can still pass over it on the way to your airways.

Breathing Practice
At this stage you’re no longer drilling. You’re swimming whole stroke, integrated with breathing. Though you’ve completed the 3-step Easy Breathing sequence, you should continue practicing each of the steps for at least several weeks. There are two ways to do this:
  • As you’ve done so far, doing repeats of just four or so cycles of each breathing exercise. Stand for a breather between repeats. Choose a Focal Point for each pair of repeats.
  • Do four cycles of Nod or Whale-Eye at the beginning of a lap . . . then continue, breathing consciously the rest of the way. Alternate between drilling and breathing left on one length, and to the right on the next. Choose a Focal Point for each pair of 25s.

So far, our focus has been on the mechanics of breathing. But we shouldn’t wrap up this chapter without some reminders about the process of exchanging fresh air for ‘used’ air.
Here are four things to think about:
  • Put most of your focus on exhaling. Let the inhale ‘happen.’
  • Make air exchange continuous – never hold breath at any time.
  • Expel air forcefully as mouth clears. Think of blowing the water away from your mouth.
  • This helps make the inhale automatic by creating a vacuum. Air will rush in.
Finally, inhale just enough, and exhale just enough. Neither try to fill nor empty your lungs
Popeye (non-breathing)
The whole stroke
8 Lectures 07:16

Lessons 1 through 4 of this video series illustrate a step-by-step method for increasing the efficiency of every key component of your stroke. This whole stroke study shows how all the pieces work together as a holistic system. We do that via a series of stroke studies, from multiple stroke views, to show each part of the stroke from it’s most revealing perspective.
In a holistic system all parts are intricately interrelated. This study guide, in combination ith the video studies, is designed to deepen your understanding of those relationships and empower you to make confident and knowledgeable choices about your own stroke.

Each view is shown first at normal speed to let you take in the natural flow of the stroke.
Then it’s repeated at slower speed to allow you to look closely at fine points.
You will learn the most by using the cursor key or your computer’s mouse to advance or reverse the video one frame at a time, while following the study cues we’ve provided for each stroke view. These study cues provide a systematic way to understand the synergies between all parts of the stroke.


Most TI videos show our techniques done as correctly as possible, generally performed  fairly slow pace. This clip shows me swimming a continuous 100 yards at gradually faster speed.

I swam the first length at ‘cruise’ pace—a relaxed and restorative pace that feels as if I could swim indefinitely and never tire. This approximates the pace and effort I’ve used in marathon swims of 20 or more miles.
On each of the next two lengths, I increased tempo and stroke pressure slightly. On the last length, I swam at what I call ‘brisk’ pace—strong, but quite controlled. It equates to how I swim while racing 1500 meters in open water.

I counted strokes (as I do habitually) while swimming this 100. My plan was to take 13 strokes on the first length, 14 on the next two and 15 on the fourth. (My Green Zone in a 25-yard pool is 13 to 16 SPL.) I missed my target counts by one stroke, taking 15 on the third length. As I increased tempo, pressure, and speed, I focused on keeping my stroke quiet and splash-free—as I always do when increasing pace.

From the video, I took split times, counted strokes, and timed tempo for each length. Here are seconds, stroke count and Tempo for each length:

1st 25: 21.7 sec., 13 strokes, 1.24 sec/stroke
2nd 25: 21.7 sec., 14 strokes, 1.20 sec/stroke
3rd 25: 21.6 sec., 15 strokes, 1.16 sec/stroke
4th 25: 20.2 sec., 15 strokes, 1.06 sec/stroke

My 1650yd/1500m pool pace (calculated by multiplying 25-yard split times by 66) improved from 23:52 on the first length to 22:12 on the final length.

Besides the efficiency skills of balance, stability, streamline, etc., this swim also displays a high level of pacing skill, which is critical to racing success. Few swimmers can maintain or increase pace on each successive 25 of a continuous 100. Fewer still can increase pace by 6.5% from start to finish.

Both skills you see me display in this swim have come from tirelessly working on all the fine points of technique shown and described in 5.2 through 5.7—first at very short distances and quite slow tempo and speed, then for gradually longer distances and brisker paces.

What changes do you observe between first and final 25 on this 100?
And what changes do you note from this continuous 100 and the stroke views shown in 5.2 through 5.7? And what remains unchanged in both cases?

Whole stroke: progressive pace (how speed happens)

This is a good perspective for observing:

• Head is a Still Point . . . while other body parts are in motion.
• Relaxed Hands: Barely clear the water, and enter without splash.
• Core Body Rotation: Controlled and symmetrical.
• Path of Elbows: During recovery, elbows travel straight forward (no lateral motion) outside torso.

5.2 Slow Motion Study Cues
Click through video, one frame at a time, to study:
• As right hand enters, left hand is well forward of head. This reduces drag by maintaining a ‘long vessel.’
• Right hand extends on Right Track--directly forward of shoulder.
• As left shoulder and elbow lift clear of water, entire body is aligned from right hand to streamlined feet.
‘Click’ left hand forward through recovery and study:
• I maintain an extended stable bodyline on Right Track with right hand ‘anchored’ in place. Feet barely begin to separate only as left fingers enter Slot. This requires an engaged core.

As left hand extends:
• Head follows right shoulder toward the air.
• As I breathe behind the bow wave (i.e. beneath the surface), head stays perfectly aligned with only right goggle showing.
• On recovery, relaxed right hand follows a wide straight track forward. Fingertips graze the surface. (Don’t lift 10x arm more than necessary.)
• Head returns to neutral (nose down) as right hand slices cleanly through Slot.
• Left hand remains forward of the head at this moment.

On next left hand recovery:
• Pause with left hand adjacent to ear and notice equilateral triangle beneath my arm.
We call this the ‘geometric recovery.’ It’s orthopedically-healthy, and biomechanically strong.
• Bodyline is extended, stable, and streamlined on Right Track.
• As weight shift begins, right hand moves slightly wider to hold water more firmly.

Right recovery is a mirror image of left recovery:
• Relaxed hand ‘paints’ a wide, straight line.
• Fingertips graze surface.
• Equilateral triangle as right hand passes ear.
• Left hand is firmly anchored as right hand approaches Slot.

On final (left) breath:
• Head is aligned with spine, but slightly higher. [Note: Left was my natural breathing side; I didn’t begin breathing to right until I’d been swimming 25 years. Today (25 years later) my right-side breathing technique is better, because I hadn’t practiced 25 years of improper breathing habits on that side.]
• Right hand is firmly anchored as I inhale to left.

Above water: front surface

5.3 Overhead: Forming Lines
A key element in an ultra-efficient stroke is to form lines with your body as you move through the water. This angle displays the three lines the body should form and maintain during each stroke cycle:
1. Spinal Axis: Always moving forward, as rest of body rotates around it.
2. Right and Left Tracks Align body on these as you reach extension—then hold that line as other arm moves through air during recovery.
3. Recovery Line ‘Paint’ this with your hand. A wide straight line (and an engaged core) keep your extended side aligned on Track as your ‘10x’ arm moves through the air in recovery.

5.3 Slow Motion Study Cues
Segment begins with left arm on its Track, and right arm following its Track forward (I notice it moves a bit toward centerline, which will make me more mindful of avoiding this.)

Click through to study:
• I hold right-side line as left hand ‘paints’ a wide, straight line on recovery.
• Head-spine line continues moving directly forward as left hand enters and extends and as my head (10% of body mass) follows shoulder to right for a breath.
• Left hand ‘anchors’ and bodyline is stable and streamlined on Track, while right hand paints wide straight line and head returns to neutral.
• I then line up on Right Track. The body aligns itself on the same line my hand ‘painted’ during recovery.
• I maintain fingers-to-toes alignment on Right Track until left hand is poised to cut a Slot.

Overhead: forming lines

5.4 Under Water Front
This is the best perspective for studying:
• Stable Head: Keeping the head still, and always moving forward--is critical to a stable core body--which stays aligned during the breath.
• Controlled Symmetrical Rotation I rotate just enough to maximize drag avoidance and effortless propulsive power, while avoiding ‘stacked’ shoulders which would destabilize my core.
• Hands move through the stroke via a nearly straight line—which closely follows the Track—with palms always facing back.
• Legs avoid drag by ‘drafting’ behind the upper body. Note that feet are mostly hidden from view.

5.4 Slow Motion Study Cues
This clip begins with right hand (fingers separated) in position to hold water and left fingers just cutting the Slot. In the next moment, the extending arm—aided by gravity—will release propulsive energy via the weight shift.

Click through and study the following:
• Right hand presses directly back on its Track
• As weight shift begins (left hand fully below surface) right elbow flexes. This occurs automatically as weight shift accelerates forward velocity, increasing load on arm muscles. This position offers greater natural leverage. I don’t consciously bend my arm. I simply continue to hold water with palm facing back.

• Body continues rotating onto Left Track. Wrist flexes to keep palm facing to rear as right arm straightens. I don’t consciously flex my wrist. My hands have learned to instinctively find optimal position to hold water.
• Body aligns on Left Track, while left hand (fingers separated) follows that Track in pressing back.
• Chin follows shoulder to left breath as right hand cuts through Slot to fingers-down full extension.
• Right hand stays in palm-back position (and body stays aligned) on Right Track, as I breathe left--with head aligned and right goggle submerged.
• Head returns to neutral as left hand slices through Slot and I precisely replicate the previous stroke.
• At midpoint of rotation, right foot appears (barely below bodyline) adding leverage that drives left hand to full extension (in fingers-down position).
• Left foot appears barely below bodyline in midpoint of next rotation, contributing ‘Diagonal Power’ to propulsion.
• Body remains stable and streamlined on Right Track through left-hand recovery until left fingers appear in Slot.
• Chin follows shoulder to right breath, where everything that happened in left breath is precisely replicated.
Clip ends after one more precisely replicated stroke.

Underwater: front

5.5 Beneath: Forming Lines—from below
Similar to the overhead view, this is a great perspective for studying how I form and maintain lines while stroking. Two lines are the same:
• Head-spine line moves directly forward as body rotates around it.
• Each side of body aligns and travels forward on its Track.
One line is different: From below, you can watch the hands follow the Track, holding water during the propulsive phase.

5.5 Slow Motion Study Cues

Clip begins with body aligned fingers-to-toes on Left Track:
• Left hand follows Left Track in pressing back
• As right hand enters, right hip and left foot combine to drive body into long sleek position on Right Track
• I hold a stable streamlined Right Track position throughout left-arm recovery.
• Head follows right shoulder to breath as left hand extends to fingers-down position
• Body is aligned on spinal axis from top of head to toes during inhale
• Head returns to neutral as right hand cuts through Slot
• Left palm faces back to hold water as weight shift propels me into Right Track alignment.
• Head remains stable during rotation onto Left Track.

Beneath: forming lines from below

5.6 Slow Motion Integrated Breathing Study

This brief clip of one breath to each side provides a close-up study of how head and hands move with body rotation throughout each breath. The clip opens immediately after I inhale to right. Click through to study:
• Head, torso, and hand move in unison as right hand cuts thru Slot--returning head to neutral. Left hand also moves with body rotation—not independently—as it presses back on its Track.
• Mouth remains open between breaths and head is stable through next stroke cycle.
• Notice right knuckles grazing surface at beginning of recovery.
• Then chin follows left shoulder to air.
• Head remains stable and perfectly aligned during left inhale. Right hand maintains hold on water with fingers-down, palm-back position during left recovery.

My proximity to the wall shows an interesting effect: The water between me and the wall ‘boils’ because it has to move aside for me to move forward, and the wall leaves it nowhere to go. This reminds us how important it is to slice—not muscle—through the water.

Slow motion integrated breathing study

5.7 Under Water Side: Ultra-Efficient Propulsion
This perspective is best for understanding how arms, torso, and legs work as a holistic system to create ultra-efficient propulsion.

Slow Motion Study 1: Study Cues
Clip begins with bodyline extended and streamlined on Left Track, wrist flexed and hand below bodyline--so any pressure will produce forward thrust. Click through to study:
  • Shadow crossing rib cage shows right arm moving forward through the air while my bodyline is shaped to minimize resistance. This requires an engaged core and symmetrical recovery.
  • As right arm passes shoulder—initiating weight shift—left hand continues pressing back.• Left foot begins to lift as right hand enters slot--positioning itself for downbeat. An engaged core makes this happen as an automatic result of weight shift.
  • Midway through weight shift, downward leverage from left foot combines with gravity-aided drive of the body’s ‘high’ side to propel me past left-hand grip.
  • Feet come together in streamline and I maintain a long, stable bodyline to maximize distance and velocity during non-propulsive phase as left hand recovers.
  • Right foot lifts (a little too far—need to correct that!) into position to drive down and help gravity and body mass propel me into Left Track streamline.
  • As left hand cuts through Slot on next stroke, study path of right hand. Hand pitch adjusts to keep palm facing back (a learned habit, not consciously controlled). Forearm moves into vertical position to hold more water as weight shift initiates—the moment when propulsive power is maximized. Right arm flexes to accommodate this force, while maintaining firm backward pressure and maximum surface area for holding the water.Clip continues for two more strokes.

Slow Motion Study 2: Study Cues

This tighter shot, from a three-quarter front view, allows for a better study of the most critical part of the armstroke—how the hands move into position to trap and hold the water.
The clip begins with right fingers cutting through the Slot.
  • Right hand continues its trajectory from Slot entry slicing forward and below bodyline 
  • Hand remains fairly stable, anchoring leading edge of bodyline as left hand travels forward (you can see its shadow crossing upper left chest).
  • Palm and forearm move into a position where they can trap more water behind them.
  • Palm faces directly back as left hand cuts through Slot, triggering the propulsive weight shift. (Right foot presses down to help left hip rotate the body—generating tremendous
  • forward thrust.)
  • Left hand follows same trajectory from Slot to palm-back position below bodyline—prepared to hold water during next weight shift. (This is also the ‘trim tab’ position that lifts legs toward surface—making it easier to streamline them until next weight shift.
  • Notice stable head position as right hand drives through Slot and weight shifts again.

A stable head helps keep bodyline stable and streamlined while the arms apply force to water.
Clips ends as left hand enters Slot.

Underwater: side - ultra efficient propulsion
What next?
1 Lecture 00:37

Dear Friends

Thank you so much for taking my Total Immersion course. I hope you've experienced, as thousands of others have, the exciting potential of the Total Immersion approach for improving your swimming. I hope it has also inspired you to believe in your higher potential--not only in swimming, but other endeavors as well.

In case you missed them, all 3 of the downloadable eBooks are available below. They provide information on this course and guides for further training.

  • 139 page Swim Ultra-Efficient Freestyle Workbook which walks you through the entire Total Immersion course.
  • 138 page Swim Ultra-Efficient Freestyle eBook which gives more background on the Total Immersion technique and Terry’s story as well as suggesting some next steps.
  • 55 page Image Guide eBook to demonstrate the each component of the stroke in detail

In addition to a much more efficient and satisfying stroke, there are two things I would love for you to take away from this course:

1. We often say we use swimming as a vehicle for teaching you how to be an Expert Learner--in swimming as well as other valuable skills.

2. The spirit of Kaizen--or Continuous Improvement--is a core value in Total Immersion and swimming is perhaps unequaled as an activity with lifetime learning potential.

We extend a warm invitation to visit our website to check out the wide array of free learning and improvement resources available there—such as my blog.

We'd also like to offer you a FREE copy of our recent e-book 'Sneaky Speed: Swim Faster with Smarter Choices' ($9.95 value). Simply enter coupon code SPEED101 at checkout to receive your free copy now!

Finally, the Expert Academy, publish courses on a variety of topics, and seeing as you made it to the end of this course we thought we'd treat you to some free bonus course:


If you would like to try our course on how to make a cup of coffee, completely for free please click on the link below:

How to make the perfect cup of coffee with Richard Hardwick

All the best,

Terry & The Expert Academy team

What next?
About the Instructor
Terry Laughlin
4.3 Average rating
114 Reviews
2,745 Students
2 Courses
Head Coach of Total Immersion Swimming

Terry Laughlin, the founder and Head Coach of Total Immersion Swimming, is considered by many to be the world's leading authority on how to swim efficiently. He was credited with “revolutionizing how the Navy Seals teach swimming."

The Army Rangers, Air Force Pararescue team, Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers, and U.S. Border Patrol have all sent instructors to Terry for Total Immersion training. Terry was also notably mentioned by best selling author Tim Ferriss in his TED lecture “Smash Fear, Learn Anything"

Back in September 1988 Terry met the innovative coach Bill Boomer. His unconventional ideas, capsulized in the maxim “the shape of the 'vessel' matters more than the size of the engine in swimming", would become the chief influence on how Terry would swim and coach forever after.

Terry devoted 10 years to shaping his own vessel, acting as the primary 'guinea fish' for refining the techniques taught at TI workshops. During this period he made a distinct shift from 'working out' to practicing, and experienced marked gains in efficiency, insight, and self-perception. This led him to embrace the ethos of kaizen, a Japanese philosophy that no skill is ever static or fixed but can be improved continuously.

In 2002, to celebrate having turned 50 a year earlier, Terry swam the 28.5 mile Manhattan Island Marathon. His decade of work on efficiency was reflected in completing a loop of Manhattan in 26,000 strokes (8 hours and 53 minutes at an average of 49 strokes per minute) compared to an average of 39,000 strokes for the rest of the field. On the strokes he saved, Terry could have swum another length of Manhattan! He completed the swim pain-free and felt fully recovered the next day. That's despite only training about five hours or 15,000 yards per week, a fraction of the training others had done.

After his Manhattan swim and a decade of vessel-shaping, Terry began to focus on propulsion skills. Four years later, at age 55, Terry's transformation as a swimmer culminated in a 4-month stretch of accomplishments that would have seemed wildly improbable 35 years earlier.

In May 2006, at the U.S. Masters Nationals, he recorded pool times faster than he'd seen in 13 years. During the open water season, between June and August, he completed his second Manhattan Island Marathon, much faster than before (and in 25,000 strokes). He won four National Masters Open Water championships, from 1 mile to 10km. He broke national records for the 1 and 2 Mile Cable Swims. He also placed 8th in the World Masters Open Water Championship.

At 64, Terry is ever more focused on swimming for health and happiness, though he still enjoys competition, particularly in open water events. Some of his open water swimming is for adventure. In October 2013, Terry and two TI compadres swam Gibraltar Strait. In October 2015, the threesome swam from Corsica to Sardegna. One thing is unchanged: Terry still begins every swim (even long swims like the 18km Gibraltar crossing) with an explicit intention to improve his swimming, believing fully that he can be a better swimmer at the end of practice than at the beginning.

Expert Academy
4.4 Average rating
665 Reviews
14,641 Students
11 Courses
Supercharge your learning with the world's leading experts

The Expert Academy is a specialist creator, publisher and distributor of high-quality online courses. We bring together leading experts from around the world so you can learn from the best.

Our experts will teach you skills that will have an immediate positive impact on your life. We help you learn from the very best.