Less Is More
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on November 16th, 2012

I swim most mornings for 30 minutes in my Endless Pool. I feel fortunate to have that opportunity because it’s not just a swimming machine. It’s a feedback machine–letting me know instantly when I’ve made a good technique choice. Because the speed of current is constant, when I make an advantageous ‘tweak’ to my stroke, I either move forward in the current, or I can remain in place with noticeably less effort. Because that effect occurs immediately, I know exactly what intention produced the improvement.

Earlier this week, while swimming butterfly, I had one of those magic moments that makes Endless Pool practice addictive — and helps me understand fluid dynamics better.

I was swimming the Endless equivalent of 400 Individual Medley repeats. For me that means 40 strokes of Fly, 40 cycles (80 armstrokes) Back, 40 strokes Breast, and 40 cycles Free. After each series I turned up the current speed slightly. I was aiming to maintain a constant sense of ease and leisure as the current got faster.

During my 3rd round I began feeling a ‘creeping edge’ of fatigued after about 20 strokes of Fly. When I feel that I’m in the habit of examining my streamline. I tried to make my kick smaller (less knee flexion) and to feel that body motion–rather than thigh muscles–was driving it.

Keep legs within the ‘slipstream’ of the upper body.

As soon as I had that thought, instead of holding my place I began to creep forward and had to lighten my stroke pressure to avoid crashing into the grill.

This was just the latest instance of having my practice confirm the truth of the maxim that Less is More. This is accepted wisdom outside of swimming, but it seems especially true in swimming because:

1) Human swimmers are Energy Wasting Machines – converting as little as 3% of energy and power into forward motion. Thus out greatest and most accessible improvement opportunities will always come from saving energy rather than working to increase fitness or power.

2) It seems ingrained in our nature–as terrestrial mammals in an aquatic environment–to overDO and overWORK in almost any aspect of our swimming.  Excessive efforts lead far more to commotion than locomotion.

3) Energy and power are scarce and non-renewable resources. Attention, care, grace and precision are plentiful and non-diminishing resources.


16 Responses to “Less Is More”

  1. Maryjane says:

    Hello Terry,
    I always like to read what you say about swimming technique. I continue to struggle with my butterfly. I wish you would come and give a workshop here in Europe. I live on Lago di Bracciano, a huge lake outside of Rome. You could easily give a workshop here.

  2. GregJS says:

    I’ve always been a total natural pro at butterstruggle – so I’ve pretty much avoided the stroke my whole life. Just started making a few attempts at it based on some of what I read in Extraordinary Swimming, which has helped. This tip about letting the kick come from body movement rather than thigh effort sounds like a real key. Looking forward to trying it out. Thanks very much. (Also, your reason #3 for why Less Is More sounds like a key to resolving issues on just about any level, right up to some of our most pressing worldwide ones – so I’ve got to say, you’ve packed quite a bit into this one little post!)

  3. Matt says:

    Hi Terry, I do enjoy your blog. I’m not a great one for blogs buy yours I read regularly. Quick question – I have a ‘temporary’ endless pool (the one with the large blue liner in a frame that makes up the pool) and I find it difficult to remain within the stream and get the sort of consistent feedback you write about here. Do you have the same type of pool, or a permanent one, and if so, is it likely to be the stream that’s ‘moving’ around me, or inconsistencies in my stroke that are making it feel that way. All the best, Matt

  4. Doug Alt says:

    It seems to me that EVERY breakthrough I’ve had during my TI journey has been accomplished by expending LESS energy than I had been utilizing just prior to experiencing the breakthrough.

  5. I love this phrase,short,pithy and oh so true. I find myself using it frequently when coaching.
    With muscle bound triatheletes struggling with horizontal balance: less is more. Less muscle contractions leads to more balance. For those frantic deep knee kickers: less is more. Less knee bend and less energy expenditure means more streamlining and more propulsion. I could go on and on. It is a great principle to teach and a delight to watch swimmers gain awareness of less is more, put it into practice and improve.

  6. Elna Joseph says:

    Thanks or this post, I love the hypnotic motion of the fly. This is a wonderful reminder of where to focus attention.

  7. Ken Holland says:

    I think what makes TI and Terry work so well is that TL spends time in the water…. I am amazed at the number of “coaches” that have not been wet in 20, 30+ years… IT MATTERS. The “little” fluid dynamic discoveries continue to come to those who search. I had a great swim today and have been really focusing on my left (weak) hand catch position. For the first time ever, I was able to keep an SPL of 12 for my entire warm-up! Makiin the pool shorter DOES matter, it beats working!!!
    Swimming is a Zen thing, that is why I am addicted…. Keep up the good work.

  8. Veronica says:

    Thanks Terry, please write more about how to get the best out of an Endless Pool. I only swim in an Endless Pool, no lap pool swimming, with the occasional foray into open water, not very frequent in cold English waters, and find it hard to estimate my stroke length/ speed / etc. for when I do swim elsewhere.

  9. Mat Hudson says:

    Oh, and Endless Pool is on the top of my Christmas list this year and every year until I get one!

  10. Susan Dahl says:

    While at the Multisport Conference in Boston last Spring, I watched the TI Swim clinic from the Conference Room terrace about 2 stories above the pool. I was able to see beginners struggling with the new techniques as well as coaches demonstrating them. What a difference! It helped me understand what is meant by “whole body swimming.” I watched as one of the coaches slipped effortlessly through the water. I saw clearly how the arms are only the forward part of the chain. But to call it a “chain” isn’t right, either. The swimmer I watched was a unified whole, not just with himself but with the water. Now when I swim, think of that whole picture, even if the “how” of making that happen involves specifics like mail-slot entry and turning my hips, etc. I think of that swimmer and “embrace” the water.

  11. jack boehm says:

    Hi Terry,
    Great reading. Just got back from 3 weeks in Aruba where I swim about a mile every day out in front of our time-share.
    While swimming I always think about stretching out and takingn fewer strokes. Less is better. Keep up the great writing and contribution to our great fasination with swimming. Come on back to Block Island when you get a chance.

    jack Boehm

  12. Veronica
    Thanks for the encouragement to write more about using an EP. I spend about three hours in mine each week, every minute quite mindfully. That should produce no end of insights to share. I’ll be in the UK myself the first week of March.

  13. Ken It’s easy for me to swim regularly. Every time I do it’s the best part of my day.

  14. Maryjane – Do you swim often in Lago di Bracciano? How is motorized boat traffic there? Do you live there full time?

  15. Maryjane says:

    Hello Terry,
    I live in Trevignano (lago di Bracciano) year round. I go to the U.S. in the summer. You could come and give a workshop here in September. It is the nicest time of the year here, not too hot, but the water is still very warm and the rain has not started. There is no motorized boat traffic on the lake because the water is used for drinking in other areas. Small boats are used occasionally for fishing but lots of us swim here on a regular basis. At this time of year, it is far too cold to swim though workshops are still being given for scuba diving.

  16. Maria says:

    Hi Terry

    Firstly, I am so pleased that I found out about TI swimming this year. I then attended a two day workshop. One thing that is hindering me a bit is feeling very self-conscious in the gym pools doing these exercises. Everyone else is doing intervals and using the aids or doing laps in a ‘normal’ manner. Anyway, I did the course a few months ago and have been practicing the exercises but I also use the aids sometimes and in the last month or two I have virtually given up on the TI exercises due to feeling self-conscious. Also, I swim more slowly with it and when I try to put everything together and use my core more, I actually get more out of breath than when doing things my old way. One thing I have discovered in the last week or so is just to relax. I know that is what we are taught at the course, but I get self-conscious and tied up with practicing the exercises properly or not doing them because I don’t want people to think I am wierd. But I just decided to relax and talk to the water and try to switch off from the gym and the people around and pretend I am in a lake by myself somewhere and it is starting to work. My resting pulse rate has been up in the last few weeks due to probably doing too much of other training and stress in general. I was worried about it and decided to try to get back to the TI swimming techniques more and, in particular to focus on relaxing in the water. Well since I just gave up about a week ago and decided that my primary focus in the water has to be to relax rather than the technique (with just a vague thought at the very back of my mind on each lap as to something I should be doing rather than the main focus during swimming) I feel much better in the water and after I swim and get home my resting pulse rate is down to normal. In the water the thought at the back of my mind as to what I should be doing (like relax your head, or try to only start bringing one arm back when the other hand enters the water) are easier to do in practice and I am finding that I am starting to not lift my head as high when breathing as I usually do without actually thinking about it. It is very interesting, the power of relaxation. I wonder whether we really are as foreign to water as we think we are?

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