Monthly Archives: July 2011

Total Immersion: Spearing Width and Depth

Throughout the TI forums, we find references to how the elites swim and whether or not Total Immersion needs to change its teachings so that we all drive towards swimming like Michael Phelps and like company.
One of those contentious topics is the spearing angle. I replied on one of the forum posts with this:
Like all things taught in TI, spearing angle, depth and width, is dependent on so many factors:
1. Skill level of the swimmer
2. Natural body buoyancy of the swimmer
3. Fatigue level
4. Water conditions
5. Drilling vs. Training vs. Racing
It isn’t entirely accurate to say that one way is the best way. After all, we humans are of different body sizes and shapes, our fitness levels differ, our brains are wired differently as are our nervous systems by the time we attempt our swimming.
Throwing out some observations on spearing:
1. Drag in part is caused by the amount of frontal area you present to the direction of travel. That means that when you spear deep, you are presenting more of the area of top of your arm to the direction of travel and thereby produces more drag than if you are spearing horizontally.
2. Spearing deeper can improve your body’s balance in the water. For drilling, it can be a much easier experience if you spear deeper as you are generally moving slower and lower speeds will cause your butt to drag a lot more readily than at higher speeds.
For example, I used to struggle with kicking across a pool in skate position. It wasn’t until I speared deeper than I normally do while swimming, that I realized that my body was higher in the water and kicking actually propelled me more.
So spearing deeper (in conjunction with other things like weight shift forward and reducing the time that your arms are lower than your head) will help improve body balance.
3. At higher speeds, you can spear more horizontally since your momentum helps you stay higher in the water.
4. Spearing higher also means you can execute an early vertical forearm easier since your elbow is already high.
5. I would definitely say the drag produced by a lower spear is pretty inconsequential compared to the drag produced by your lower half of your body dragging through the water. So if you spear more horizontally before you have mastered good body balance in the water, you may find you’re struggling a lot to gain speed but this speed could be regained by spearing deeper because you’re counterbalancing your butt dragging.
6. Your fatigue level will drive how deep you will want to spear. Swimming with EVF can be very tiring over long distances. You may want to rest and spearing deeper will allow you to minimize drag, maintain good body balance, and decent speed while you rest.
7. Pool water conditions are very sedate and consistent. Once you jump into the open water, all bets are off. You will find that waves (and other swimmers running into you) will constantly be challenging your balance. You may find that in order to maintain balance and some control in certain water conditions, you’ll have to spear deeper (and potentially wider too).
8. Your skill level in learning TI swimming can dictate how deep you’d want to spear. Generally, beginners in TI (or in overall swimming) will want to experiment with the depth (and width) of the spear to figure out what works best for them. This is like learning to walk before you run; you start with basics and then move up in skill from there, as you master elements before them.
Spearing deeper for beginners will help improve their experience of swimming because their body balance is improved; with better body balance, there is less struggle in the water. Once basic body balance is mastered, then they can learn more advanced TI concepts which generally mean advancement to body coordination in kick/hip/spear and then on to EVF.
But if you are of a body type/shape which has less natural body balance and you try to advance too far by spearing too horizontal, most will find that there is a lot of struggle and they may not know why or how to improve, except to back off and start from the beginning. How impatient we humans are to improve!
9. Spear depth/width will also vary if you are drilling, or training, or racing. When you drill, you practice focal points and some of those will mean deeper spears. When you train, you will want to swim laps with different spear angles to get used to swimming with that style over time. When you race, you’ll want to go for speed and hopefully you’ll have prepared properly for a spear that will minimize drag and maximize your ability to generate speed.
Flexibility in spearing is just one of those elements of swimming that should be mastered as a goal.
10. Ultimately, practicing all depths (and widths) of spearing will prepare you for the varying conditions of open water racing, and you can remain relaxed in the ocean even while 3-6′ waves are battering you. If you start getting distressed or panicking in the ocean because of rough conditions, you will waste energy doing something unfamiliar which is bad. Practice in the pool with different spear angles will help prepare you for the unexpected in open water.
11. People who swim don’t all have the same goals. Some want to just enjoy being in the water and swim without feeling like they’re going to sink and drown. Others want to experience the joy of swimming from Alcatraz to SF and say they did it. Still many others want to have the race of their life at the next Master’s competition or Ironman. Dependent on your goals, you will find that your spear may also reflect what your ultimate swim goals are.
A deeper spear involves swimming in a more relaxed fashion while still retaining a lot of propulsion. If you want to enjoy swimming in a pool or lake for fitness or fun, then you may be just fine mastering TI with a deeper spear. And being like Michael Phelps isn’t your goal so why bother trying to practice mimicking his form?
But if you want to have the race of your life, maximizing speed on the swim leg of your next Ironman, then maybe you’d want to try to master the minutiae that generate that last microsecond of speed, including those elements of spearing which accomplish that.
All in all, spearing is a much more complex topic than anyone can realize. I have found it worthwhile to explore the limits of that topic and think that TI provides the best place for that discovery and learning to be accomplished.
I forgot about injury reduction/prevention. Whenever we raise our arms out of the range of straight down to some angle up but forward of the head, it puts stress on the shoulder joint. It’s in a disadvantaged position relative to the muscles and tendons and if you try to flex there, the likelihood of injury is much higher.
So if you spear horizontally, the arms are in the “over the head” position and thus in an unfortunately disadvantaged position relative to our normal ranges of motion. Spearing deeper means your arms/shoulders are in more advantaged positions and our muscles and joints can flex with greater utility.
Overextending your arm out of the shoulder socket can also put stress on the shoulder while stroking. So spear, but if your shoulders are beginning to hurt, you may want to practice not extending so far. It reduces the total length of a stroke’s pull but better that than wrecking your shoulder joint. However, not extending so far means you can focus on other aspects of your stroke to increase speed, like coordination of your body/hip rotation/2BK to add authority to each spear, versus extending your arm so far and injuring it.

Becoming a Total Immersion Coach: the Application

Well, I finally got around to submitting my application to apply for TI coach training. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while and after talking to Coach Shinji about it, he was very supportive and thought I would make a good coach. So I went on the Total Immersion website, found the Become a TI coach page, and submitted my application.
Here is my application below – wish me luck in getting accepted and I hope to enter the coach training session in Coronado in September!
Briefly tell your “TI Story” and how you became interested in teaching TI.
I started triathlon back in 2002 with Team in Training. I was at a low point in my life and felt that nothing was moving forward, and I was learning nothing new in my career. So I tried something physical even though previous attempts at running had left me with sore knees and nothing but frustration. Still, I chose to get back not only into running but also swimming and biking.
When I started, I still had preconceived notions about training from my past adventures with running and weightlifting, and also from friends and family. I started with TnT training and that got me to the Pacific Grove Triathlon, but it also left me sore and in pain.
After Pacific Grove, I was determined to get myself into racing shape. I made a bunch of friends in the triathlon community in the Bay Area and they seemed to race numerous times a year with little or no injury. Certainly the frequency at which they raced was amazing to me; if triathlon and its individual elements were reportedly so destructive to the human body, then how were they able to race so often and be so fast?
In 2003, I took my first TI seminar in search of ways to increase my swim speed. I was regularly swimming Masters, but somehow, hearing the commands shouted by the coach really weren’t effective enough – there wasn’t enough individual attention at what I needed in particular. I also dug into several books on swimming, searching for those elusive secrets to allow me to swim faster.
The seminar was good, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t reinforce what I was supposed to do after the seminar. I got a bit better but didn’t get much better after that. I fell back into the patterns of my Masters class and my performance overall was a bit better, but wasn’t consistently advancing beyond a certain point. I certainly didn’t know how to improve from there except to cycle my arms faster.
I got through 6 Ironmans and a few Alcatraz crossings but my speed had plateaued, or even see sawed faster and slower. And through it all, my shoulders were getting sore from trying to cycle my arms faster for a longer period of time.
After my last Ironman in 2009, I had a new baby and decided not to race triathlon for a while. Due to the time requirements of bike training, I elected to solely focus on improving my running and swimming, both of which I felt I could achieve better results in shorter workout times than biking which can require hours on the road. However, without the stress for preparing for a race, I could just focus solely on mastering the details of swimming by drilling for as much and as long as I need to.
Around the same time, someone sent me a link to Shinji’s Youtube video and that brought me back to TI:

I was further elated to find out that he coached individually and was located in the SF Bay area where I was! When I started Ironman training, I worked with a popular Bay area coach named Michael McCormack. I learned the value of having more individualized coaching versus working in a group. Mike didn’t focus on swim training but now I found a TI coach in my backyard and was excited to engage Shinji and learn how to swim as graceful as he does,
I began with Shinji in late summer of 2009 and devoted my entire swim training to constant drilling, without the stress of race preparation. I was determined to train and retrain my nervous system to move like how Shinji moves, and also as directed by TI concepts. I discovered that my drilling tolerance was about 800-1200 yards, after which my brain, muscles, and nervous system got tired and refused to give in to swimming more. I threw my complete trust and devotion to training TI and rebuild my stroke from the ground up.
I saw Shinji monthly and in between I would swim 3-4x per week, picking certain drills and focal points and doing them over and over until I got to some level of mastery. Then I would work on another drill, or different focal points, or increase the difficulty by a little bit, like increasing the stroke rate on my tempo trainer. Slowly but surely over 2 years, and adding in TI Tune Up instruction from Dave Cameron, I was amazed to be swimming with such great ease but yet I was faster than before. Just the other day I jumped back into my Masters swim group and found that, even with rather sedate tempos, I was passing swimmers who were formerly much faster than me.
My personal experiences and successes with TI further reinforced these concepts in my brain:
1. Traditional thinking is often filled with outdated and/or wrong information on training.
2. Individualized coaching is exponentially better than group coaching. Everybody is different; one coaching method or style may work great for some but not for others.
3. We must continue to advance training as time goes on and integrate new discoveries and methods. We cannot remain static in the past.
4. Information that has been trapped within research journals and in the brains of elite coaches must be disseminated to the public in order to help advance their own ability to become better athletes.
5. The right technology can advance training exponentially.
Learning and growing with TI was immensely satisfying, but wasn’t complete. A few years back, I underwent life coaching and discovered that not only did I enjoy learning and growing in life, but I also enjoyed teaching and mentoring as well.
As I advanced in TI, I saw others who were still training in the past, using methods that had been established for decades and were the accepted norms. However, I always saw them reach a certain point where they either got injured or they plateaued in their progress.
This motivated me to learn as much as I could about swimming, trying these techniques on myself and understanding them not just from a theoretical standpoint but from a practical, applied standpoint. Then, when I got to a level of mastery and understanding, my interest grew to want to teach these methods to the community and help spread the word about why the past was mired in training methods that didn’t need to be only ways, but that they were only facets of a host of methods that can be employed in swim training.
I hope that through TI coach training, I can help be more official in my capacity to teach people to become better swimmers in a more structured manner versus being frustrated at their progress.

What aspects of the TI approach do you particularly identify with?

1. Attention to the subtle details and drilling to imprint
2. Training the nervous system instead of just strength and aerobic
3. Breaking with “tradition” and “dogma” to find the best teaching/training methods
4. Recognizing individuality in performance, goals, and skill development

Who do you feel best qualified to teach? What type of swimmer(s)?

Most likely beginners and intermediates, perhaps some advanced who are open to learning.
I am an Ironman triathlete (completed 6 Ironmans) and identify best with the triathlete crowd. I feel very familiar and comfortable with the issues surrounding the swim leg of triathlon and teaching on this subject.
I have concentrated mostly on freestyle up to this point, so teaching freestyle is where I’ll begin.
What are your 3 highest-value reasons for swimming?
1. Learning something new and bringing it to some level of mastery
2. Challenging myself on what my true limits are, and not what other people say they are
3. Solving the neurological puzzle of my body, or mastering the control of my limbs even in water
What are your 3 most important swimming improvement goals.
1. To swim with grace, like Shinji
2. To get faster (of course!)
3. Flawless technique, symmetrical technique
My Demonstration Videos Ultimate Speed Training

Once again, the book Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss has me trying one more new thing!
For the last few months, I’ve been working on my strength through Russian techniques (see Deadlifting is HARD (and Dangerous) and Deadlifting for Faster Running). I’ve seen some definite increases in my track workouts, having dropped from 39 seconds to 37 seconds for a 200m run (that after dropping my time from 45 to 39 seconds simply by altering my form and in addition to my normal weekly treadmill neuromuscular speed training).
But having no real race goal in the foreseeable future, I cracked open my copy of Four Hour Body and engaged with, the automated website training program built by Barry Ross using some breakthrough research from Rice University (see High-speed running performance: a new approach to assessment and prediction by Matthew W. Bundle, Reed W. Hoyt, and Peter G. Weyand) which is able to predict the final distance/time or time/distance of a runner from a few meters to a run of about 4 minutes. Then using this algorithm, Barry Ross and his colleague, Ken Jakalski, created a training system which removes two old ways of training:
1. Workouts of set distances and set number of repeats.
They cite the problem here is that a runner is always holding back in order to make sure they make the requisite number of repeats, and therefore, never trains at his maximum potential.
2. Running overdistance.
Running overdistance makes runners too tired and reduces top speed by its very nature to improve the energy system.
They and the researchers at Rice University figured out that for maximum speed, you don’t want to train the energy system but rather you want to train the muscles which the energy system fuels and reduce their rate of fatigue.
You first run a time trial. Then the website takes that data and returns workouts for you to perform. The workouts are in the form of distance and a goal time. You are NOT given a set number of repeats to run; instead you run full out each time until you can’t achieve the goal time, at which time you stop. If you hit 10 repeats and are still under the goal time, you stop. The website then makes you retest the time trial – in theory, you should be faster this time!
Without any races on the horizon, I decided to give this a go. In theory, if I get faster at short distance, this should make me faster at long distance as well. Also, it would be a complement to my strength building program from the same Barry Ross.
To prep for this, I got some blue masking tape to tape lines on a track. I also bought a Ultrak 495 100 Lap Memory Professional Stopwatch (using a wristwatch timer is OK but not ideal due to button position and pressing them on a full sprint).
Then I also bought a CST – MeasureMark 31-10M Single 4-Inch ABS Plastic Wheel Measuring Wheel in Meters/Decimeters to measure out the workout distances given by the website. You need this because the workout distances are not standard distances of any sort. Plus, I could never figure out track markings no matter what.
It also helps to bring some objects that you can drop on the ground to mark distances before you tape. I actually found some discarded pieces of flat plastic that worked great. Sometimes I end up just using the plastic and not taping the track ground.
I went to the website for my first workout, which was to run the time trial. This was 3 repeats of a 10m run, with a 25m fly-in (headstart, so that you are at full speed when you hit the start of the 10m). The second time trial was a 300m run, with 5m fly-in.
For the 10m run, my times were: 1.42s, 1.50s, and 1.49s for an average of 1.47s. My 300m time was 53.9s. I entered these into the website and then got another workout. The next workout I did the following day as I was not sure about taking days off or frequency of workouts per week. (The workouts seemed short enough that I could potentially run every day or nearly so – well this proved to be false.)
This workout was 40m repeats with a goal time of 6.30s, and rest interval of 4 minutes, and as many as I could before I could not hit the goal time. I used a fly-in of 25m although the website didn’t specify exactly how much. My times were:

Repeat Time (sec)
1 6.04
2 6.10
3 6.10
4 6.10
5 6.08
6 6.14
7 5.80
8 6.05
9 6.00
10 6.02

I was under the target time by about .3s and was able to do this 10 times. So I called it quits and came back to enter the info into the website, at which time it asked me to run the time trial again.
One thing I found out was that this is more stressful on my body than I thought. Even though I had a whopping 4 minute rest interval which allowed almost full recovery, the hours after and certainly the day after left me sore. Full-on sprinting was a new stress on my body and while I tried to do my best at maintaining a soft but rapid footfall, it was still enough to make me more sore than I thought.
I think that I will adapt to this workout, but I don’t think that I could do this every day. I think my starting workout week will be ASRSpeed workouts twice a week, and then a 1 hour run added in. In the past, I have found that without at least one 1 hour run per week, it caused my overall fitness to drop where my track workouts were hard to make gains week over week. I will intersperse this with my strength training regimen, which is talked about on the website but gives no details, and my swimming.
More on this later as the months progress – I had entered my goal race as a 400m and my previously my fastest recorded 400m time was 1:27. I am hoping that this training program added to my strength training will improve that time, as well as my marathon times.