A Practice to Improve Balance, Streamline . . . and Focus
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on March 21st, 2011

On Saturday Mar 19 at the Multisport World Expo at MIT in Cambridge MA, we offered 75-minute classes in Endurance Skills. These focused on whole-stroke repeats with Focal Points designed to improve Balance and Streamline. During the final 20 minutes we used Tempo Trainers to consolidate the new thoughts and skills. Here’s a practice based on what we did at those classes. If you do this practice, please post any insights or improvements that result.

Total Immersion Mindful Swimming Practice

Mindful Swimming Practice has a dual purpose:

1) Train your body. Focus on an aspect of stroke improvement that allow you to sense and measure improvement with some ease. Repeat a narrowly focused technique enough times to leave an imprint on muscle memory.

2) Train your brain. Practice holding one specific thought. If you notice your thoughts have wandered, bring them back. At the end of each set evaluate how well you’ve maintained focus just as much as you evaluate how you’ve changed your stroke. Improving focus will have longer-lasting and more expansive benefits than improving your stroke.


Swim 50 yards. Count strokes.

Swim 6 x 25. Odd 25s with index-finger-only extended.  Even 25s with ‘normal’ hands.

Compare SPL (Strokes Per Length) one finger to normal hand.  Can you reduce the difference between them?

Swim 50 yards as before. Count strokes. Did 50-yd count change?

Balance/Relaxation Focus

Swim 4 to 8 x 25 with this focus:

  • Hang Your Head Feel head hanging – weightless – between shoulders. Focus only on keeping a sense of a weightless head and relaxed neck and shoulder muscles.

Swim 4 to 8 x 25 with this focus:

  • Weightless Lazy Arm. Feel your arm float forward as if cushioned. How slowly can you extend? Notice if fingers are tense or relaxed. Look for ane eliminate bubbles.

Swim 3 to 5 x 50 [25 Hang your Head + 25 Weightless Lazy Arm]

Streamline/Swim Taller Focus

Swim 4 to 8 x 25 with this focus:

  • Swim Slightly Taller Reach a bit farther than usual – as for something barely beyond reach. Don’t strain, but aim to extend reach by a couple of millimeters or nanoseconds.

Swim 4 to 8 x 25 with this focus:

  • Overlap Slightly increase overlap between hands. Overlap enough that you notice it, but not so much that it feels out-of-rhythm.

Swim 3 to 5 x 50 [25 SwimTaller + 25 Overlap]

Combined Focus

Swim 3 to 5 x 50 [25 Combined Relax Focus + 25 Combined Taller Focus]

Tempo Trainer Pyramid

Swim 10 x 25. Reset TT after each: 1.3 – 1.4 – 1.5 – 1.6 – 1.55 – 1.50 – 1.45 – 1.40 – 1.35 – 1.30

Choose any focus from those above to maintain for the entire set.

The goal of this set is to improve efficiency (reduce SPL) as tempo slows, then be very ‘stingy’ about giving back the strokes you saved, as tempo increases again. As tempo slows, you’ll notice extra time in the stroke. Use this time to extend a bit further (as in Swim Taller focus) and be more patient about beginning the stroke.

Take Note of: (1) SPL at start of set; (2) how many strokes you ‘save’ as tempo slows from 1.3 to 1.6; (3) SPL at finish of set; (4) at which tempo you feel most comfortable.

SPL Maintenance Set (without TT)

Swim 4 x 25 + 3 x 50 + 2 x 75 + 1 x 100.

Goal is to maintain SPL within two strokes of best count from TT Pyramid, as repeat distance increases.

7 Responses to “A Practice to Improve Balance, Streamline . . . and Focus”

  1. Terry, this is great! How did the swimmers at the expo respond to it? This is all my favorite practices built into one set…lots of good stuff here for sure. Building blocks of some amazing practices. This is gold.

  2. Tomasz says:

    Very nice, thank you very much Mr Laughlin, could you post also more exercises to reduce SPL with TT please.

  3. More to come. We had about 160 swimmers take our classes at MIT. All showed visible, and measurable, improvement. Many expressed a palpable enthusiasm for the refreshing sense of escaping from tired and unimaginative workout formulas based only on how hard or long.

  4. DundeeChest says:

    The TT session at the end of this article is something I’ve started doing recently. 1.3 seems very quick; I feel as though I’m ‘tripping up’ over myself. 1.6 is tough, but good to feel the glide. I seem to find that 1.45 is a good “marathon” pace, allowing me to average 14 SPL (25 metre pool).

    I’d just made up the TT pyramid, but I’m very pleased that you endorse it!

  5. Hi Terry,

    Thanks for posting this series. I’m really excited to try it out with some of my adult swimmers as I’m always looking for new things to try and you always have such creative ideas and good ways to incorporate tempo trainers. I do have a quick question though…what does Overlap mean? Is that relating to their front quadrant timing? Sorry…not up on that terminology. :o)

    I will give you an update on how it goes. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. Shannon
    Good to see you here. Yes, overlap means the recovery hand comes a bit closer to lead hand before it begins stroking. Even better is to focus on making the lead hand more patient.

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