I'm a big fan of Total Immersion, an outfit based on the east coast that teaches swimming. You might think that there are many people who teach swimming, from coaches to the YMCA to your high school swim team. But after experiencing some of them, I've found that Total Immersion has done a better job than most breaking down the elements required for swimming and helping to improve each one.
I love this Perpetual Motion Presentation that Terry Laughlin gave at a New England Multisport Expo. What I love:
1. Terry asks the audience whether they are swimming better today than in years past. Most say yes, but he also talks about reaching what one of his students says is "terminal mediocrity", which is no matter how much they swim, they never seem to get better. I feel that over the years I've swam now, this very much applies to my swimming. I am doing some things better, but I have not made significant strides, and sometimes I feel like I'm regressing in my swimming during the season.
2. Terry talks about the fact that with each swim session, his goal is to swim better at the end than when he began the swim session. I think this is crucial and something that I've set as a goal, but not seriously pursued or even attained in the sense that as the season has gone onward this year, I've actually started swimming slower and slower. Obviously I'm not swimming better or else I should be faster right?
3. He talks about things that are counterintuitive in increasing swimming ability, which I agree with more and more. I don't feel like swimming more and more laps, at decreasing interval goals, is doing anything but make more frustrated and tired. Although there is this notion that I need to figure out what it is I need to do in the water to be better, and also trying to apply the minimal clues that a unfortunately distracted Masters coach is trying to tell me, neither is enough information to get me to doing the better thing. Nor am I given the opportunity to practice what I need as an individual during a normal Master's workout because these are set workouts for the group as a whole.
I have found Total Immersion techniques are setup to drill specific parts of the stroke, and to discover which parts need more work and which ones need less. Also, in working with Coach Shinji at TI Swim West, it's been great having one and one sessions where someone can focus on what I am doing, and help me adjust at a micro level what to do better.
4. He talks about the importance of imprinting correct habits, which is something I can only do by drilling by myself over and over. I don't often get the chance to do this during a Master's workout. Thus, I am swimming more and more by myself now so that I can just make sure I am swimming exactly the way I should be swimming each time, and if I can't hold that form, I just get out of the pool because I've either become mental burnt out and/or I'm too tired.
5. I love his explanation style. It's obviously been built up from years of thinking about, studying, and explaining this stuff. Most coaches don't talk about swimming in this way and just ask you to try things from a physical standpoint, but lack the mental explanation part of the training which I like, which is to noodle on things in my brain as much as I try to do something physically.
I have really enjoyed watching this presentation; it really helps fill in the gaps in my thinking about swimming and how to get faster.
I think it's a shame that many coaches talk down on Total Immersion and its teaching theories and techniques. It's sort of like when martial artists say their kung fu is better than someone elses - if you've studied a lot of martial arts, you'll know that every style has its own specialties, and that many of these work better for certain body types and personalities. There are so many factors in winning a combat against another individual that it isn't that one style is better than another, but rather it's you picking the best fighting techniques (which may or may not be style dependent) based on what works for you. So Bruce Lee's philosophies on taking what works for you applies not only to martial arts, but to other types of training like swimming. I'm learning that there is much variability in what makes an individual fast in the water, and what works for one person may not work for another because people are different in body type and shape. I think Total Immersion is great for figuring out what is going to work for you from a technique standpoint.