Swimming That Changes Lives – How it can change yours
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on June 22nd, 2011

In the new TI book, Swimming That Changes Lives my most important goal is to give readers a more expansive vision of swimming, even an inspiring sense of possibility.  I hope to do this by describing a new purpose for swimming. Nearly everyone already recognizes swimming is good for the Body – a low-impact, aerobic, all-around body-toner.

The life-changing part is the effect swimming has on your Being – i.e. everything, other than the body, that makes us human. In health practices that focus more on Consciousness than the Body, it can be a challenge to keep things firmly grounded in the empirical and observable. Books that promise transformation often describe the means in terms more ethereal and general than concrete and specific. In “Swimming That Changes Lives” I’ll make the case that swimming stands alone among all the things we do for our health in its ability to be truly holistic . . . and back it up by suggesting specific tasks and behaviors based on rigorous and carefully documented research.

So here’s the book’s central argument:

1. Swimming is an activity that is almost universally familiar, yet what virtually all of us ‘know’ about swimming is mistaken and leads to methods virtually guaranteed to limit success and satisfaction.

2. The fundamental error has been a failure to recognize this essential fact: Human swimmers are terrestrial mammals seeking to master an aquatic activity. Terrestrial mammals (dogs and deer as well as humans) not only have bodies poorly suited for an aquatic environment, but evolution has encoded a set of instinctive responses to being in water that exacerbate the problems posed by our land-adapted anatomy.

3. While terrestrial swimming technique (head high, all four limbs churning) is a common instinct among land-based mammals, humans have turned instinct into orthodoxy. Every organization worldwide that has achieved acceptance as the ‘approved authority’ on learning to swim has formalized terrestrial technique as the method to be taught. Terrestrial technique is so inherently inefficient that (i) poor outcomes have become accepted as normal, and (ii) the paradigms for increasing both endurance and speed are based on the premise that swimming is an exhausting ordeal which only ‘more-and-more; harder-and-harder’ training models can overcome.

4. While the considerable challenges of swimming well (with grace, ease and enjoyment, as well as farther and faster) have been considered an inconvenience or impediment, in fact they represent a unique opportunity. The human brain has been encoded by evolution to be a problem-solving machine. Yet prevailing training theories have neglected this capacity in favor of building big lungs and muscles. Applying this far more potent aspect of human nature to swimming-improvement will create not only the well-known benefits of physical health but also teach and imprint attitudes, behaviors, and habits that have been documented by decades of rigorous study to be closely associated with (i) excellence and high achievement; (ii) happiness, fulfillment and Flow States; and (iii) even longer life. No other physical skill or activity matches the unique potential of swimming to produce transformation and transcendence as well as improve physical health.

5. To transform swimming from an aerobic exercise to a powerful tool for self-realization, we start by recognizing that (i) our model for the mechanics of swimming should be aquatic, not terrestrial; and (ii) because everything we do in learning aquatic technique is counterintuitive to us as a terrestrial species, it’s essential that our efforts be mindful before physical.  We must thoughtfully plan our pursuit of every swimming goal—your first lap or first mile, learning new strokes or skills, swimming in a race or open water (or combining the two, a triathlon)—to emulate aquatic technique. This leads naturally to two revolutionary paradigms:

  • The essential activities of swimming are Balancing and Streamlining, not Pulling and Kicking. Pulling and Kicking happen, but are always subordinate to Balance and Streamline.
  • To improve at swimming—skill, endurance or speed—we should focus first on training the brain, not the lungs and muscles. Training the lungs and muscles happens, but is an implicit outcome. What becomes explicit is designing lessons and practices based on how the brain processes information, rather than how the muscles metabolize energy. Rigorous research from the past 20 years provides us with detailed guidelines for doing so.


5 Responses to “Swimming That Changes Lives – How it can change yours”

  1. Grant says:

    Hi Terry
    Your quote: I’ll make the case that swimming stands alone among all the things we do for our health in its ability to be truly holistic
    Just a mild philosophical caution. Personally I have an aversion to a statement that says for instance – “This is the only way” or “stands alone”, rather a fairer or more accurate statement is “This is a way”. Having said the latter, one can go about presenting the case for “this way”.
    Looking forward to see how your latest endevour takes shape. So far it looks like it will be a valuable resource.
    May we swim with ease at the speeds we choose.

  2. Donal says:

    Coincidentally, I just wrote a piece on my swimming mentioning you:


    My last ten years have been complicated, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be swimming nearly as well or as enthusiastically if I hadn’t run across TI in my travels.

  3. Grant
    Your philosophical caution about overstatement is well taken. I’ve learned the value of such caution. But in the case of “Swimming That Changes Lives” my mission is to make a confident, persuasive assertion of the little-recognized, seldom-realized transformative potential of mindful, purposeful swimming. For one reason because I see my job description now as more swimming advocate than coach. For another because I’m confident I can back up that assertion with specifics.
    A major reason for posting previews on line is to allow friendly and constructive critics such as yourself to let me know when I fall short of my intentions. So please keep reading and commenting.

  4. Todd Erickson says:


    The first two posts have me waiting to read more. I understand Grant’s comment about absolutes but I also concur with your mission as well. What if you took the second sentence in the second paragraph above and moved to the end of that paragraph? Then you’ll have first laid out your commnets on health practices before stating what you’ll accomplish/attempt in the book.

    I like it!!!

  5. Good suggestion. Consider it done. The benefit of posting here is not only feedback but editorial help! Thanks, Todd.

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