Swim Faster; Be Healthier (Maybe even live longer!)
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on December 6th, 2013

When you train the TI way, efforts you expend to swim faster aren’t for the momentary ego gratification of the time itself, nor for the higher placing it may bring in an event.

The more compelling reason is because those efforts can bring proven benefits to physical and mental health. [Also because time provides an objectively measurable scale for your pursuit of Kaizen.]

This makes training for speed worthwhile even for those who value swimming mainly for its sensory and psychic rewards. Read on to learn how.

Traditional speed training relies on a mix of muscle and masochism. TI speed training develops problem-solving and decision-making skills along with stroking skills.

The overall effect is to make speed training the TI way a prescription for healthful aging. Two recent articles show how this can work.

How to Have ‘Youthful’ Mitochondria at 90+

Gerontologists have noticed something extraordinary about Masters athletes in their 80s and 90s: They have ‘youthful’ mitochondria–the ‘power plant’ of the cells. Mitochondrial deterioration—which is common with aging—leads to losses in endurance, strength, and overall function.  Reversing that process can keep us ‘youthful’ longer.

What elixir of youth have these aging athletes discovered? Researchers believe that pursuit of personal performance goals is a major contributor.

Read The Incredible Flying Nonagenarian for the full details.

Health for All

You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to gain similar benefits–as reported in the article Why A Brisk Walk is Better published this month in the New York Times.  The article reported on results of the National Walkers Health Study, which tracked health changes among some 40,000 regular walkers over nearly 10 years.

Walking is the most popular form of exercise. Few people who do it have speed goals. Almost none walk ‘competitively.’ Yet walking regularly undeniably promotes better health.How much better health, it turns out, seems to be determined by how fast you walk.

Exercise guidelines call for walking about 30 minutes per day, four or more days per week, at a ‘moderately intense’ pace of about 15 or 16 minutes per mile.

Participants in the study ranged from some who walked as fast as 13 minutes per mile to those who took nearly twice as long—25 minutes–to complete a mile. All walked the same distance—meaning overall energy expenditure was the same. The slower walkers just took longer to burn that energy.

Researchers divided study subjects into four speed groups. Over 10 years, 2,000 of the walkers died–with deaths disproportionately clustered among the slowest walkers.

Those whose walking pace was slower than 24 minutes were 44 percent more likely to have died than faster walkers and were much more vulnerable to heart disease and dementia.

Dr. Paul T Williams, who analyzed the statistics, said “Our results do suggest that there is a significant health benefit to pursuing a faster pace.” While a slower walking pace in some instances probably reflected a lower level of general health and fitness, Dr. Williams still believes that walking speed can act as a barometer of health status.

How to Make Swimming More Healthful

What must you do to have more youthful mitochondria or extend lifespan? Swim a little faster. That’s right, just a little.

When you swim faster, water resistance goes up exponentially.

  • When you swim 2% faster, you need to overcome 4% more drag.
  • At 3% faster, drag goes up by 9%.
  • At 5% faster, the increase in drag is 25%!!!

What’s 5% faster? If your pace for 100 yards or meters is 1:40 (100 seconds), five percent faster is 1:35. If your pace is 2:00 per 100, 5% faster is 1:54

Working efficiently to overcome that drag (especially in a low-impact environment that minimizes injury potential) is an excellent way to help both muscles and cardiovascular system resist the losses associated with ‘typical’ aging.

How to Swim Five Percent Faster

The simplest way is by counting strokes and using a Tempo Trainer. If you can comfortably maintain, say, 16 SPL at a tempo of 1.2 sec/stroke, do a series of short repeats (25-50y/m), on which you advance tempo by .01 (i.e. to 1.19) every 2 or 3 repeats.

Your goal is to maintain the same SPL as tempo gradually gets faster. Swim more repeats at any tempo as needed if you’re finding it a bit difficult to hold SPL at that tempo.

If your starting tempo is 1.20, you’ll be swimming 5% faster when you get to a tempo of 1.14 – at the same SPL.

If your starting tempo is 1.00, you’ll be swimming 5% faster when you get to a tempo of 0.95 at the same SPL.

If your starting tempo is 1.40, you’ll be swimming 5% faster when you get to at tempo of 1.33.

Multiply any starting tempo by .95 to learn your 5% faster (at same SPL) speed. Then patiently work your way toward it in .01 tempo increments.

It may not happen in a single set. Perhaps it takes several practices. Be patient and keep working mindfully and purposefully. The health benefits you may realize make it worth the effort.

9 Responses to “Swim Faster; Be Healthier (Maybe even live longer!)”

  1. Robert Mar says:

    Hello, Terry,

    I am a sixty-year old male who would love to be able to learn to swim using your techniques. I first heard about you from information shared by Tim Ferriss. His story was quite inspirational. I have tried adult swim lessons conducted by the swimming program of a local college, but I was not successful. I live in Orange County, California, and I have been unable to locate a TI program in my area. I love being around the water, but I am one of those whose swimming has been described as a “controlled drown.” In addition to your DVD’s, do you have any suggestions on how I might begin? Thanks!

  2. Robert First suggestion: Join the TI Discussion Forum. You’ll find an amazing amount of support and guidance there from people who’ve successfully followed the path you’ve just set out on.
    You can find a directory of TI coaches at the Learn TI link on our web site. Scroll down to Find a Coach.

  3. Robert Mar says:


    Thank you very much for your very fast reply. I will follow-up with your suggestions. I have already spent some time looking at your web site, and I found additional inspirational stories of people my age (as well as many years older!) who have accomplished their goals using your program. I am encouraged that I may be able to accomplish my goals as well.

    Thanks again, and enjoy the holidays!

  4. PS Robert – I had dinner with Tim Ferriss last night in Kona, HI where I’ll spend the next week improving his swimming for an episode of his new cable series The Tim Ferriss Experiment. Our episode will air on Feb 16.

  5. Robert Mar says:

    Thanks for the update, Terry. That is an episode that I am definitely interested in watching. On which channel will be show be airing? Will your episode be available online at some point?

    Small coincidence: Your episode will air on my birthday.

    Thanks again!

  6. William says:

    Just wish to commend you and TI on a wonderful training program. I’ve only scratched the surface, but yesterday at the Suzanne Berlioux 50 meter lap pool (Paris), I did 1700 continuous meters freestyle in less than 40 minutes. Prior to TI, my mile time was over 45 minutes and required swimming breast and backstroke as “recovery.” Granted, only 33 turns vs. 72 turns in 25 yard pool, but very pleased with progress as I begin my 70th decade!

  7. gene says:

    Note to Robert: I used to live in OC and I’m 90% sure there is a TI coach in Lake Forest – sign up for one of the week-end boot camps! They are great: I couldn’t do a length without dying, now I swim a mile+ per week!

  8. Mike Kearney says:


    If you couldn’t swim by the age of 12, it isn’t your fault. Someone failed to teach you right!
    But it isn’t too late. Swimming is one of the few physical activities where it is possible to continue to get better as one gets older. An exciting new adventure awaits you…….!

  9. Marwan says:

    Swimming is a sport that requires the movement of every body part. It helps excercise the upper body and lower body. Swimming also helps with lungs, making them healthier than ever. Swimming does not only help your body physically but also mentally. Swimming requires a lot of thinking and coordination, it helps strengthen a person’s focus and his way of thinking. A swimmers immune system is extremely strong as it can deflect the worse of diseases. As the blog stated, it can help you live longer and healthier. Even if you did not start the sport when you were young, the movement of the body in swimming can still help strengthen you and make you healthier.

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