Help Ben Improve his Swimming (& improve your grasp of how to improve yourself.)
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 16th, 2010

This post from beniny appeared this morning on the TI Discussion Forum:

Hi everyone. this is my first posting here and I’m excited to get some constructive advice on how to improve my freestyle stroke and gain some speed. My history is that I had little idea how to swim freestyle. 1.5 years ago I decided to try triathlons and took some one on one TI swim lessons which helped alot. Now I can swim 1-1.5 miles in the pool or lake without any breaks which is a huge accomplishment for me. Now I want to try to improve my speed through the water and seem to be stuck. Ben posted this video, inviting feedback.

The feedback he received was virtually all on the benefits of improving his balance.  After viewing his video and comparing it to mine, would you have said the same?

Here’s the feedback I gave

There has been a clear theme to the feedback you’ve gotten: Improve Balance. I took a look at your video and agree with the others. Even if I hadn’t seen it, it’s about the safest bet in swimming that improving balance will improve [I]everything else[/I] about how you swim. My specific comments on the video is that your form is basically good in terms of timing and rhythm, but that you need to employ too much muscle/power for propulsion. Reducing the power-requirement in your stroke will instantly allow you to maintain “initial pace” without fatigue and greatly reduce the “moving water around” aspects of your stroke, turning them into “moving you [I]through[/I] water.”

The simplest summary of how TI differs from traditional approaches is this:
1) The three ‘pillars’ of good swimming are Balance, Streamlining, Propulsion.
2) Develop them — and devote time and attention to them — in that order.
3) For the first 100 hours of your TI practice, focus on only one of them at a time (with the 1st 10 to 20 hrs exclusively on balance, before devoting some attention to Streamlining. After 100+ hours of ‘[U]deep[/U]’ TI Practice, you can likely begin integrating two of them in your thinking/focus at one time, but never more than two.

When do you know that you can begin shifting your focus — both in drills and whole stroke — from Balance to Streamlining? When you feel almost literally weightless.
Here’s how better balance will improve your speed:
1) Being more fully horizontal will reduce frontal resistance. This will allow you to swim the same speed, with less effort. Or faster with your current effort.
2) When you’re not balanced, your arms and legs are kept occupied trying to correct that sinking sensation and are unable to contribute effectively to propulsion. When feel fully supported, you can both pull and kick with greater effect and less effort. You’ll propel better and be able to maintain a given speed longer without fatigue.

it’s FAR easier to improve speed by correcting things that cause you to slow down, than it is to try to generate more velocity.

Balance means learning to orient yourself with gravity

It allows you to swim your optimal pace for endurance

It helps you move through the water rather than moving the water around.

It helps you translate the pull of gravity into forward motion (i.e. Direct available forces rather than generate new ones.)

Where to go next? I recommend devoting 10 to 12 hours of concentrated practice to Lessons 1-3 of the Self-Coached Workshop.

When you learn from a coach, you don’t always take full ownership of the skills. When you coach yourself that becomes far more likely.

8 Responses to “Help Ben Improve his Swimming (& improve your grasp of how to improve yourself.)”

  1. James says:

    Wonderful ! Thanks Terry ! Another video I’ll watch 100 Times ! Truly beautiful.

  2. Hola Ben,
    Thanks for your video.
    I am not an expert in this area, but I can see 3 easy points that can improve your technique:

    1- Try to improve (train) your “skate position”. You will swimm more horizontal and “straight”, and you will gain balance
    2- The propulsion with your right hand must be accompaied with the propulsion of your right leg (the same when we talk about the left side). This point is easy and you can learn it fast (you will notice the difference)
    3- Your left hand/arm enters and skates much more efficient than the right hand/arm. It seems that your nervous system works better on that side. Try to practice breathing to the right, so you will compensate (Balance) your whole swimming.

    I hope it will help you.

    Saludos from Spain

  3. how do u achieve that weightlessness and stop that sinking ssnsation

  4. Chris Norman says:


    I am trying to learn bi-lateral breathing. I have always taken breaths every two strokes. Learning to take a breath every three strokes has been really difficult. I feel like I am gasping for air (almost hyperventilating). I am made a little progress. Is it worth all the work to do this, or would I be fine to stick with my two stroke breath?


  5. James says:

    Watching Ben’s video motivated me to post one of my own and I wanted to share some comments:

    1. Study (don’t just “read”) the most recent revision of Terry’s book “Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier.” Dedicate serious uninterrupted time to absorb everything written. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have dedicated far more than 20 hours to *studying* the book.

    2. Consider using an underwater video camera. You can see a lot about your stroke above the water, but what you need to see underwater is at least as important (maybe more) than what you see above the water.

    3. In the T.I. book, Terry stresses the importance of practicing with left and right side focus (sagittal and coronal planes) rather than top and bottom (transverse plane). Ben’s video elucidates differences between his sides that he can learn from and the first thing I noticed is how much more efficiently Ben’s left arm enters the water than his right.

    4. Like most of us T.I. fanatics, I watch a plethora of online videos over and over again. I also think there’s a lot of value in spending real time watching and coming to visually recognize different swimmers at the gym. Watch many of the swimmers and try to get a good visual-mechanism sense of where they are along the active streamline efficiency spectrum. Then strive to emulate in your own swimming what the more efficient swimmers are doing while seeking to match your own proprioception with what you reasoned the more streamlined swimmers are doing (reiterated in the T.I. book).

    5. Play. I’ve found that “playing” with T.I. drills (which is implicit in what Terry teaches) is extremely helpful. For example, I’ll sometimes do a lap in ultra-slow motion: So slow that I’m getting from one side of a 25 meter pool to the other in 8 strokes. I almost laugh underwater thinking that there’s probably someone watching me thinking “oh poor guy look how slow he is.”

    Happy T.I. Swimming!

  6. Thanks for sharing great advice, James.
    WATCHING VIDEOS: 1) We absorb and process movement information far better visually than verbally. Learning happens far faster, and more accurately, when you watch someone do it well than when it’s described. 2) We draw much more powerful inspiration and motivation from watching a beautiful movement. Which is why new TI CEO Shinji Takeuchi is the 2nd-most ‘popular’ swimmer (only Phelps ahead of him). He probably has far more repeat views than Phelps because people find that watching him before the practice really improves how they swim.

    PLAY: Play — curious. open-ended experimentation — with drills and focal points is essential to Continual Improvement. (1) It makes practice more enjoyable than ‘following the black line.” And that creates motivation to practice again and again and again. (2) It provides a far greater range of kinesthetic (muscle-sense) information, and stronger self-perception, which are essential to effective self-coaching. (3) It accelerates adaptation. The whole point of training is adaptation – changing/improving the organism. The most valuable adaptation takes place in the brain, not the muscles or CV system.

  7. Definitely worth the effort because it’s the best way to improve symmetry. Breathe to right one length – or any chosen # of strokes – then to the left for similar distance, to relieve breathlessness.

  8. Dorothy. Master Balance, the first and most fundamental of the three TI Principles of Efficient Swimming. (The next two are Streamlining and Propulsion.)

    Balance is the first skill or quality taught in every TI self-help DVD or coached lesson.

    Search for TI Self-Coaching Tools at

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