Category Archives: Swimming

Total Immersion: Can’t Seem to Get the 2BK? Try Cross Crawling

If you’re finding that 2BK coordination is difficult, give this a try….
The kicking practice i typically use with first timers of 2BK is simply, use both hands and hold onto the wall of the pool. Put your head in the water, and push out from the wall while still holding onto it and extend your body straight horizontal on the surface of the water.
Then practice 2BK of one leg at a time, while holding the other leg perfectly still. Do this a few times, then switch to the other leg.
As you may guess, with many people, they cannot hold one leg still while only kicking the other leg in 2BK form. Often they will move both legs.
After trying both legs and seeing difficulty, I have them stop and stand. Then I have them do a standing cross crawl exercise. This is simply: raise one leg and touch the opposite hand to the thigh or knee. Note the leg raised is bent. Imagine yourself marching but instead of raising your hand high along with the opposite leg’s knee going high, you touch the hand to the rising opposite leg. Then repeat with other leg/hand. And so on.
This improves your contralateral or crossing the midline movement pattern and stimulates the vestibular system to operate better, and what it was designed to do. Often through years of improper use (ie. walking around with a bag slung on one shoulder, or having things in your hands – essentially walking without swinging your arms) or disuse (ie. sitting too much!), the nervous system can literally forget how to enable cross body movement patterns.
I have found instantaneous results before and after doing cross crawling. I have them stand there and I cross crawl with them. I do it for 10-20-30+ times – more the better! Then I put them back on the wall for the 2BK kicking practice. Now they can do it! It just shows that with the proper nervous system reactivation and stimulus, things like 2BK can now be more easily learned.
Pro tips: For even better results, make sure your mouth is closed and your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. If your mouth is closed, make sure your jaw is not slack in the mouth which makes it hard to touch your tongue to your roof of mouth; barely touch your teeth to make sure the jaw is not slack. Why does this help? People have found that touching the tongue to roof of mouth further enhances stimulus of the vestibular system to speed up learning and imprinting. If you find results are spotty, makes sure your mouth is closed and tongue touching roof of mouth and you may find that results are much better.
Note that the first level in the cross crawl progression is to touch your hand to the opposite rising leg, either on knee or thigh. The second level once you improve your skill, is to touch your forearm to the opposite rising leg, either on knee or thigh. The last and highest level is to touch your elbow to the opposite rising leg’s knee/thigh. This requires not only coordination but also mobility and stability as well.
A small detail, you may find better results if you dorsiflex the foot as you raise it (ie. do not point the toes down but rather bend the foot up to 90 deg or a bit higher). Dorsiflexing the foot will help you engage muscles to bring the leg up as high as possible and help enable meeting the opposite arm’s elbow/forearm/hand.
Many thanks for Original Strength for showing me this technique.

Breath Training for Intra-Abdominal Pressure from the Total Immersion Forums

I thought I’d repost this thread from the Total Immersion forums. It touches on some key points I’ve learned about IAP generation, and the context is for swimming. The full thread is entitled Reasons for the arched back and how to fix it?.
User sachintha writes:
In a recent underwater video I was surprised to see the amount of back arching happening
(by arching I mean my head and butt being relatively close to the surface while midsection is towards the bottom of the pool as in a banana shape). I think this obviously breaks the head-spine alignment.
So the question is what causes this and how can I fix this? I believe I could significantly reduce the drag and improve body position if I could sort this out.
My reply:
The most common reason for arching your back is lack of proper torso stabilization technique. The reason why you might do it more in the water is to attempt to lift your arms/head and butt/legs up to the surface, thus forming an arch with your body at both ends.
You will likely have an arched back while standing on dryland. Thus often the postural problem starts on dryland and is transferred to water.
The easy fix is to try Torpedo (stand tall like a statue and straight up with arms at sides), and then holding this position, lean forward like a tower falling, and fall into the water and attempt to hold your straight body position despite falling into the water and now you are not even standing any more. You will need to engage your core and figure out how to turn on stability up and down your spine to stop you from losing your shape even though you may be floating in the water.
The harder and longer but more proper way to do this, is to:
1) make sure you are diaphragmatically breathing.
2) once you can d-breathe, then learn how to generate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) with each breath inhale.
Proper IAP generation will engage the correct internal torso stabilizing muscles which will not wipe out despite being used for long periods of time. They are designed to stabilize all day long but if you don’t d-breathe, they will stop engaging which is bad.
The torpedo leaning exercise can help with this, but you can hold a straight stiff body by using other core muscles. It is possible to do this while swimming, but you may find it hard to maintain this for long periods of time.
If you want a taste of d-breathing and IAP training, check out this post of mine:
How to Train for Abdominal Breathing and Generating Intra-Abdominal Pressure
This post may also be good for you to read, regarding d-breathing:
Optimal Breathing: The Case for Diaphragmatic Breathing
User sachintha replies:
Thanks David. You are spot on regarding my dry land posture. I tend to have anterior pelvic tilt which makes the back arch prominent. But I have worked on stretching (specially the hip flexors) and strengthening for some time and it is significantly less severe now.
When you say “harder and longer but more proper way to do this …”, do you mean harder to learn but easier to maintain for longer swims once learnt or harder to learn and also harder (more effort) to maintain?
My reply:
Sorry bad choice of words. harder = more time/difficulty to learn due to doing something for so long as habit, and to create a new habit while removing the old one.
However, if you do this, it will take MUCH LESS EFFORT and a LOT LESS ENERGY to maintain torso stability in the water using the internal torso stabilizers (ie. transverse abdominis) which were built for this, versus other torso muscles which are typically primary movers (ie. obliques, rectus abdominis) and aren’t built to maintain stability for long periods of time. You’ll likely wipe them out and lose stability once you tire.
You may also want to explore the dead bug:
Total Immersion: The Dead Bug
Note that i need to shoot that video again. one crucial point I did not describe in there was the importance of lifting your tailbone off the ground while doing this. This will engage your anterior core and give you feedback when it has let go (ie. tailbone touches the ground again).
It is only through proper IAP generation that you will be able to sustain dead bug reps. Otherwise, you’ll start vibrating and shaking like crazy. But that’s ok in the beginning – that’s also your nervous system telling you it’s learning.
Good luck and let me know if you have other questions.
User bx then writes:
Regarding torso/core stabilization with 360-degree breathing (which I’m familiar with from weight training), is this compatible with the “tummy up” instruction from Richard Quick in his Posture, Line and Balance dryland exercises, where he gets Shelly Ripple to draw navel to spine?
To my mind, these seem like pushing out versus pulling in, if you get my drift.
I WAS a pusher-out, but when I saw the Quick video, I became a puller-in 🙂
My reply:
Note that a traditional PT/coaching technique was to create transverse abdominis activation via drawing in. While this DOES happen when you draw the navel to spine, it is conscious action, not a reflexive one. Also, you cannot breathe properly if you are trying to stabilize by drawing in the navel and trying to maintain it through the entire length of a training session or race. You will end up chest/clavicular breathing the whole time which is sub optimal. then you will wipe out either physically and/or mentally to hold your navel to spine the whole time.
See: How Are We Still Getting It Wrong: Abdominal Hollowing vs. Bracing
If you use d-breathing to activate the transverse abdominis (TA) through stabilization reflex, this is a much better and natural strategy. It is one that we are born with and happens when you are a baby – sadly we lose it through our 21st century lifestyle over the years. You will find that the TA and other torso stabilizers will activate naturally and sustain their activation with far less effort.
The idea for swimming is that you renew your d-breath and torso stabilization every time you take your breath. Then you hold it until the next breath. So a quick inhale drives the diaphragm down and activates stabilizers all the way down to your pelvis. this gives you an incredibly stable platform on which your muscles and limbs can perform from.
About pushing out – this is something i’ve learned which is that you should not be simply pushing out with your belly the whole time. I only use this part as a transition to proper d-breathing and IAP generation. It is however, really good as a way to retrain activation of the diaphragm WHILE removing activation of the chest and clavicular breathing muscles. So it is possible to d-breathe via belly in/out, but it may not generate much IAP at all. Most people, when they train for d-breathing, do this, but then do not proceed further.
This is why I move quickly to 3D/360 deg breathing so that it is less an in/out of the belly, but a pressing down of the diaphragm, which then becomes more of a pressure increase (hence intra-abdominal PRESSURE) in all directions in the area of torso that is the lumbar spine. Thus in/out is in all directions 360 deg and not just in front. So the feeling will be much different than you experienced before I’m sure.
User sachintha writes:
Does the IAP decrease when breathing “out”? The reason for asking this is, if we exhale (which we do) when our head is in the water and if that leads to a decrease in IAP wouldn’t the posture go back to that sagging form until you take the next breath?
My reply:
Good detail point –
The idea is to train yourself how to activate those muscles and maintain it even if you are exhaling. However, one thing to note is that you shouldn’t exhale completely. Thus IAP is maintained if you can keep some air in your and don’t blow it all out.
Note that ultimately when activity happens, you should always have some reflexive stabilization capability that just is there simply because your body knows it’s doing movement.
Also note that if you practice this a lot, you will find that you will be able to activate the stabilization strongly even without breathing in. essentially you can command some descent of the diaphragm to give you IAP but not be taking in air. this will happen over time.
If you analyze freestyle, there are really only moments when you need a lot of IAP. You need more IAP during the moment of rotation to the other side and maintaining body shape during that rotation as your spear and stroke with authority. Once you are in the recovery phase, you just need enough IAP to maintain a straight body line but not as much as for a body that is rotating strongly to the other side.
User jenson1a writes:
I watched the video regarding how to get IAP. I can do the belly and the sides, but the back part barely moves. More practice needed. The million dollar question is how do you do this in the water? Obviously if one makes this type of breathing an everyday practice, there is no problem. But how long does it take to make this IAP a reality?
How would one go about integrating this iap while in the water? A focal point?
My reply:
Great question.
It depends on the individual as you might guess. Habit change can take months or seem incredibly long (and frustrating). Think about how long you have ingrained your current breathing habits – decades maybe?
As a case study of one (myself), it took me about 2-3 months to switch from my chest breathing to belly breathing. However, I noticed that under certain circumstances I would still go back to chest breathing, like during a reflexive yawn or cough. At the time I didn’t know about 3D breathing until I took a Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization course whose basis for rehabilitation is to make sure breathing happens properly and is used for good IAP generation and torso stabilization. I immediately started practicing 3D breathing and a few months later, I took my first yawn with my diaphragm descending versus via my chest.
I think the first thing to do is to make sure you are just breathing naturally using d-breathing on dryland. After all, we spend the other 23 hours of the day on dryland and only 1 in the pool, right? The more time this becomes habitual, the better results you’ll have in the pool.
The water provides a new environment, with new sensory experiences which can interfere with transference of dryland practice to the water. How many times have we practiced the swinging arm recovery on dryland and then returned to the pool to swim a few laps with our videocam on, and then upon playback we are doing not a swinging arm recovery!
I would say that the next stages for IAP practice is to:
1. Practice driving IAP way down to the pelvis on every breath. Instead of just pushing out the belly, make the diaphragm descend until you feel a “quickening” way down in your private parts. Make this natural on every one of these breaths, breathe in and way down and don’t stop inhaling into you feel it way down at the bottom. Then exhale and repeat.
You can start with doing a set number of reps, like 5 and then taking a break. Then you can build up from there. I once did this practice sitting in a theater for the entire length of a 2 hour movie. You learn a lot about breathing when you do that!
2. Once you get 1., then practice taking in a quick breath and being able to feel IAP generation in the lower torso all the way down to the pelvis. On every quick inhale, practice to generate IAP quickly and reflexively down there.
While I’m an advocate of nasal breathing, swimming is pretty much done via mouth breathing. So in this case you may want to try a few inhales with the mouth instead of through the nose. The change in intake methods may make IAP generation difficult and need to be reinforced in the other method.
3. In the pool, practice your basic drills with IAP generation and holding it. As you prepare to launch off into SG, take a breath in and generate IAP. You can use your fingers on your sides to feel them pressing out. Hold IAP and your breath, then launch off into SG. Were you able to hold IAP? You may notice that the touch of the water and how it suspends you may all of a sudden cause you to release IAP. Practice holding the IAP despite launching off into SG.
Once you get this, then try holding IAP and launching into SG and then Skate.
Then try holding IAP while taking one stroke. Could you perform a complex movement like one stroke without letting go of IAP? Once you get this, try a few strokes but without breathing.
The next step on this is reinforcing IAP upon every breath. This can feel hard, but if you are practicing on dryland the reflexive, quick generation of IAP via a quick breath in, I believe this will come quickly.
A quick note on IAP and being relaxed:
Remember that we in Total Immersion like to tell people to relax. However, this is a cue. Most often it is used on people who hold too much tension because of unfamiliarity with the water, nervousness, fear, etc. But we have also seen people take that too far, where people are way too relaxed in the water like a piece of loose spaghetti. So great job in working on that cue, but bad because we didn’t tell you at what level of tension you should have stopped relaxing!
This relaxation extends to IAP generation. You need to maintain the minimum level of tension necessary to hold body shape and adjust it based on the need to perform movements. IAP will need to rise during that moment of stroking – when the limbs have a stable base to perform from, they will perform optimally. You don’t want the limbs stroking as if attached to a bag of jello right?
So yes, relaxed down from a lot of tension, but not so relaxed that you are like a loose piece of spaghetti and have lost IAP.
Give this a try and let us know how it goes. Be patient, it can take many months to develop this new breathing habit. Diligent, mindful, consistent, and constant attention to it will make progress faster.

Total Immersion: Ankle Mobility

Ankle mobility is important for swimming well and with the least drag. Swimming with your feet not pointed behind you means you have two feet that are creating drag as you swim.
Sometimes it’s a motor control problem. You tell the swimmer to keep the toes pointed behind them and they imprint it, and just keep doing it. They don’t have any inherent mobility problem but rather they just weren’t keeping their attention on it, and now they are and they can do it.
For others, pointing the toes behind them as swim can be hard if not impossible. This is because they have restrictions in their muscles and soft tissues around the ankle that hold them in their normal bent position and getting out of that position can take a lot of effort if the soft tissues aren’t addressed. If you ask these swimmers to point their toes, they will either 1) point for a few strokes but when they get tired they revert back to not pointing, or 2) they will cramp their calves which will be overworked to keep their toes pointed.
Watch this video for some ideas on increasing your ankle mobility:

Total Immersion: The Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is a funny name for a pretty important exercise. It is called Dead Bug because you lie on the floor with your arms and legs up in the air, just like how dead bugs look when they are dead and lying on their backs.
I first learned the Dead Bug from Original Strength. Then I cruised through physical therapy sites and Youtube and found a myriad of variations of the Dead Bug. In this video, I distilled some info about how to do the Dead Bug, and how to build yourself up to the hardest version of the Dead Bug. Certainly there are other variants available to try; I picked some of the more useful ones and put them here.
Key to executing the Dead Bug correctly is the ability to stabilize the torso. While many of us know how to do this with what we like to call a “high level strategy”, meaning squeezing the heck out of every muscle around our torso, yes it accomplishes the task but unfortunately it uses so much energy and restricts your ability to breathe. Thus, we need to train our ability to stabilize with a “low level strategy”, one that creates enough stability for general movement tasks and does not require so much energy and effort. A “high level” stabilization strategy is still important and required in some cases, like attempting a maximal lift of an object. But you shouldn’t be using the same level of energy and effort for things like bending down and picking up a pencil…or swimming.
The other value of the Dead Bug is that it trains our nervous system and re-encourages our coordination in using the cross pattern of moving our limbs. The cross pattern is when our left arm moves with the right leg, and right arm moves with the left leg. This pattern is so important to the normal functioning of a human being; we use it every day for moving but our 21st century lives have cause severe atrophy in this essential skill. Re-educating and reinforcing that with the Dead Bug will increase your ability to learn new movement skills and improve your swimming greatly.
Note that Dead Bugs are especially great for those have over extended backs. There are many reasons why people exhibit over extended backs. One of the possible reasons is lack of proper activation in the anterior muscles and structures of the torso. Without proper activation, they cannot lock their rib cage down to their pelvis. The entire region below the rib cage essentially opens up, and the lumbar spine behind becomes extended. Dead Bugs activate and stimulate the anterior structures, and trains the torso to stabilize in neutral spine position.
Take a look at this video on The Dead Bug:

Total Immersion: An Assessment for Swimmers Part I

In my work with swimmers, I’ve come to realize that we, as 21st century creatures, are now coming to the pool with a bunch of adaptations due to our lifestyles that are constraining the ability to swim properly and advance as quickly as they could.
Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in the physical rehabilitation world, mainly through certifying in the Functional Movement Screen and becoming a Crossfit Movement and Mobility Trainer. Additionally, I’ve supplemented my knowledge through Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and the Original Strength systems. Through these systems, I’ve developed a physical assessment for swimmers, which I like to do when I meet them for the first time.
Why assess?
When I see the results of the assessment, I can almost predict now where a swimmer will have issues in the water and where their performance limitations will be. These limitations are magnified in beginner/intermediate swimmers, whereas in experienced athletes we often see them compensate their way around these physical limitations. Still, they are limiters to their full potential, and in either case, are areas for potential injury.
My assessment series is this – these are in the instructions I give. There is no further prompting. I want to see the person’s first, natural inclination to perform the action or movement without me coloring it further:
1. Stand up straight – I take shots of the person from the front and side. i have lately done the back too.
2. Take a deep breath in, then let it out.
3. With palms facing in, raise your arms slowly above your head, then let them down. I video front and side, usually asking for it twice.
4. Make fists with your hands, holding the thumbs in your fists. In one smooth motion, raise one fist over your head and bring the other fist behind your back from underneath and attempt to touch your fists behind your back. I repeat for each side and video from the back.
5. Bend over and touch your toes. I usually video from the side.
6. Squat down as you low as you can go. I usually video from front and side.
This assessment set is a modification from the Functional Movement Screen and adding in some MobilityWOD tests. My problem with just using the FMS is that there are tests that require a tool (ie. the bar/pole) and require the person to get on the floor. I didn’t want someone to get on the floor of the deck of a pool, or have to lug around extra tools.
However, I add in some MobilityWOD style tests to get at more detailed mobility problems. I think that depending on the person, you’ll find everyone has their favorite tests, which are all derived from standard physical therapy physical evaluation tests. As MobilityWOD likes to say, every movement can also be used as a test. My criteria for forming this set of tests was: 1) focus on swimmers’ issues, 2) don’t require extra tools, and 3) don’t ask a person to get on the ground.
What exactly do these tests assess?
Let me stop here for now and let those of my readers who want to take the tests themselves do so now without more information as that can alter their performance on the tests if they already know “the answers.” Grab your video camera or smartphone, set it up on a tripod or have a friend video you as you go through the tests one by one. In a few weeks, I’ll post a more fuller discussion on what I look for in these tests and what they mean for swimmers.
On a related note, I hope to produce posts on common physical problems of 21st century athletes, their effect on swimming, and suggestions on how to fix them. This assessments can tease out what the limiters are, if they are not obvious in a swimmer’s posture.

Total Immersion: Neck Mobility for Swimming

Neck range of motion is important in swimming. The problems manifest themselves in:

  1. Forward head on neck where the neck is stuck with the head in a forward of spine position. This puts your head in a deeper than necessary position which makes breathing hard.
  2. If you cannot turn your head enough on either side, then you may not easily turn to air. It could mean that you will need to compensate by turning your body more. However, the more vertical your body angle is, the more likely you will sink which will make it even harder to breathe. As you turn to air to vertical, you actually start sinking which takes your mouth further from the surface.
  3. If your neck is not mobile and movement of your head is restricted, you may find that the head moves back and forth with the body as it rotates from side to side. The head wants to maintain the forward position relative to the chest due to the stiffness of the neck. This will increase drag when swimming. We want the head to be looking down the whole time and motionless as the body rotates from side to side.

What is a good range? You should be able to put your nose in line with your shoulder on either side. If you can get a little more behind the shoulder, that’s even better.
However, note that your head should be on the neck and aligned with the spine when you test this. If you need to tilt your head in order to get your nose to line up with your shoulder, that doesn’t count! So posture is important here, and needs to be restored as you work on neck mobility.
Watch this video on some techniques to increase neck mobility:

Swim Pro at Menlo Swim with Team Sheeper

After months of searching, I finally found a new home with Team Sheeper at Menlo Swim. I now coach Total Immersion swimming as a Swim Pro (click on Meet the Pros) at their Belle Haven pool.
What happened? I was coaching at another pool but apparently the managers there were way too lax and let me coach there against their rules. New management came in and began to enforce the real rules, and I had to leave.
Swim coaching must be one of the hardest to break into – you have a limited set of places to coach in, and they often have swim staff there already whose business they want to protect. I became a coach without a previous swim coaching staff job anywhere and found out firsthand how difficult it is to find a position as a coach.
However, I am very thankful that Tim Sheeper is taking a chance on me and offered me the position. I am looking forward to continuing TI coaching there.
If you want to sign up, go to Menlo Swim’s Mind Body Online page, click on Belle Haven, and look for times there. See you soon!

What’s the Deal with Kicking in Freestyle Swimming?

There always seems to be some controversy surrounding kicking in Freestyle swimming. In the TI forums, someone posed a query about kicking and here is how I answered it, with some minor edits:
Some thoughts about kicking that I’ve discovered:
1. There are those who can kick to propel themselves at speed, and those who cannot.
2. There are many reasons why someone cannot propel themselves at speed, some physical, some neurological.
3. The younger you are, the more likely you can develop the correct physical and neurological attributes to enable kicking for speed. Entering swimming when you are older means you will most likely have a harder time developing attributes for speed generation via kicking.
4. Some theorize that bigger feet can propel you faster. I’m not sure this has been conclusively proven that big feet always make you fast via kicking since there are other elements involved besides big feet, but there are definite advantages to being able to have more surface area for moving water.
5. In my experience, poor balance will result in negating any kicking advantage you might obtain. If you’re even gonna have a chance at speed via kicking, you better have your act together in balance. This goes for flutter kicking in SG, or Skate. It also applies to kicking with a board. If you are dragging your body in the water behind the kickboard, you’re gonna have a hard time obtaining speed while kicking behind it.
6. Thus, one bad aspect of kicking with a board is that in order to get your body up, you’re most likely going to have to overextend your back and arch to get your hips and legs up horizontal. This can be VERY bad for your back. To combat this, you could keep your head down in the water but then you have to tip your head up or to the side to take the occasional breath.
7. There is a risk that if you imprint overextending on the kickboard, it can ruin your posture for regular swimming. The majority of the population in today’s society already exhibits overextended backs (ie. “sway”). I do not think it’s a good idea to reinforce already a bad postural aspect.
8. Some physical and neurological attributes:
a. Ankle flexibility seems to be a major element. You must also be able to point your feet and toes and keep them pointed without straining other muscles while swimming (ie. no calf cramps!).
b. Proper movement pattern for kicking, very unlike any other kind of movement pattern on land.
c. Proper mobility and strength in the lower body, from hips to feet.
d. Ability to move legs rapidly enough in that movement pattern from a physical conditioning standpoint. Moving your legs so much requires more oxygen and energy and thus there is some fitness you will have to develop in order to kick for a long time.
e. Timing some of the kicks to the arm stroke to generate power spearing forward. If 2BK, then all of the kicks, 1 each stroke, is timed to the spear.
9. If you are kick challenged, then don’t waste time developing your kick like someone who has been swimming since they were a kid or someone who has mastered the 6BK. Go to the 2BK immediately.
9a. If you are finding that kicking isn’t moving you forward all that fast, then also don’t bother. You will probably find that kicking will use up resources faster than you want, versus getting you more speed.
10. You should also ask yourself why would you want to kick in Freestyle swimming. If you are trying to be the fastest for short course racing, then it may be worthwhile. If you are a triathlete and need to save the legs for the bike and run, then kicking might not be desirable.
11. If you are kick challenged, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t develop a kick. Like it or not, kicking is a valid swimming skill and if someone wants to learn, then by all means go for it.
I was kick challenged but then over the years of working in TI, i could actually start moving myself across the pool with kicking! The things I had to adjust for myself were:
a. If I kicked in Skate, I had to spear much deeper, like 30-40 deg than for regular swimming. This would ensure I had my hips really high and a great horizontal position in the water.
b. I had to metabolically prepare for constant and fast movement of my legs, and at a rate that was higher than I was accustomed to. This rate was much higher than for running. And I had to maintain it while I could not get constant air due to being face down longer than I would for a land activity.
c. I learned that kicking on my back was different than kicking on my stomach. If you kick on your back, you need to also exert kicking force to the back of the leg in addition to kicking forward. This helps bring your hips up. Also, this aspect applies to kicking in Backstroke – the first time I was drilling Backstroke, I could not even move! But then Coach Shinji told me I needed more down kick, or when on my back I needed to kick to the rear of my legs versus only to the front, and that fixed everything.
So it can be trained, and there are ways to train for 6BK that are optimized. The later in life you start swimming, the more time you’re going to spend developing the basic attributes for kicking. I do think it is possible at any age to do so. It’s just that most people are too impatient to work at it and arguably you can swim pretty fast without kicking so much.

Swim Optimization: Beyond Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion

In the current TI method, we like to talk about the 3 stages of teaching progression: Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion. Generally speaking, mastering swimming requires mastering skills in those 3 areas in that order. One should generally have some basic level of mastery before progressing to the next level or else they will have difficulty executing the next level’s drills properly.
At a detail level, those 3 levels of progression are really areas of emphasis during our training and in drills we give to our students. In reality, you are touching upon all 3 concepts in every drill, but just to varying degrees of focus as we want to emphasize some particular concept at each level.
One thing I hear when I talk to people about TI and see also in forum posts around the internet, is that people think TI just stops there and our swimmers never get fast. And swimmers often get confused by our materials or if they do not continue coaching from a TI coach that they reach a certain point in their swimming and they don’t advance any further. Often I hear TI is at fault, or is missing something, or isn’t for competitive swimmers. This is far from the truth.
As a level beyond Balance/Streamline/Propulsion, I like to talk about Optimization, which is what you do when you master Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion. But what is Optimization?
Optimization is:
1. Further mastery of Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion in coordination, time, effort, speed, etc.
Drills don’t end with what is shown in our DVDs, or with your workshop, or with your first few sessions with a coach. We teach with more advanced progressions to fine tune your swimming, and also with focal points which are individualized to your own issues. Teaching the use of tools like the tempo trainer and tracking can help bring consistency and accurate, actionable information to your training, versus training in a data vacuum from workout to endless workout. The next level is to take your newfound skills across time, and to train you to hold form with faster tempos and for longer periods of time, and to increase your capacity to generate velocity while not wrecking your streamline and balance.
2. Application of Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion in more situations like racing, or in open water.
TI coaches have a wide variety of experiences ranging from short/long course racing to triathlon to open water racing to crossing the English channel. We apply TI techniques to make swimming in those situations more effective.
3. Pursuit of a higher goal than just mastery of swimming itself. This can be something like comfort in the water or obtaining their PR in the swim leg of Ironman. Or it can be using swimming as a means of improving mental focus and growth.
Following on 2., many TI coaches can advise and coach you to your particular goals which go beyond skill-based mastery of swimming. Swimming, like any physical activity, has benefits which can translate to activities outside swimming. Many TI coaches can help you realize the connection between the two, and perhaps even strengthen that connection.
It is an unfortunate fact that many people perceive that TI ends with Balance, Streamline, and Propulsion, or has little or nothing to offer beyond the teachings of the DVDs. Optimization of swimming is something that every TI coach I’ve encountered knows well, especially in the areas of their expertise. My hope is that over time, Total Immersion is more well known as a full system of learning and mastering swimming and for improving aspects of your life beyond the pool.