How would Einstein teach swimming? Balance, Streamline, Propel.
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on October 26th, 2010

If you have gone much beyond ‘dipping a toe’ into TI,  you might well have practiced a dozen or more drills – some older, some newer — and 20 to 50 Focal Points or Stroke Thoughts, especially if you practice four strokes, rather than just freestyle.

Consider that just one part of the crawl stroke — Recovery and Entry, lasting a fraction of a second  — can be polished via 10 or more SwingSwitch and OverSwitch drills, and five or more Stroke Thoughts (Circle the Elbow, Marionette Arm, Draw a Line, Ear Hops, Mail Slot). Though the average observer would be unable to distinguish any difference in the movement as a swimmer worked through them, countless people have found each of these thoughts consequential.

I recently realized that, after 20+ years of practicing and teaching all those drills and thoughts, I’d wandered so deep into the forest, all I could see was trees. I needed to regain the knack of conveying the essence of the TI Method — the fundamental principles that distinguish TI from other swimming methods and can help any swimmer answer questions and set priorities for practice.

I received the gift of simplicity from Shane Eversfield, TI Master Coach and creator/author of Zendurance. While leading TI Teacher Training in Poland in August, he related to me that, at every step, he reminded trainees of three unifying principles — Balance, Streamline, Propel.  In training teachers myself  I’d conveyed a mass of detail (drills, mini- and micro-skills, stroke thoughts, SPLs, Tempos, etc) without the clarity and unity of those three principles.

I realized Shane had revealed the TI version of what Einstein called the Elegant Solution: The simplest explanation is usually the most effective. In fact, regardless of how many drills or thoughts we devise to teach them, TI follows the same progression in every stroke.

Master Balance. Balance means ‘in harmony with the water.’ It’s also the foundation without which skilled movement is impossible on land and in water. Balance provides the new swimmer with both physical control and mental calm. It replaces the reflex of survival stroking with the possibility of thoughtful choices about every subsequent aspect of skill. Balance is hardest to master in crawl, but once learned, allows you to swim almost any distance.  If you tire while running, you can always walk. Balance gives swimmers a ‘walking option.’

Master Streamlining. There are two forms of Streamlining. In Passive Streamlining, you shape your body to be longer, sleeker, more hydrodynamic.  In Active Streamlining, you stroke in ways that move your body forward, rather than moving the water around.  Your greatest energy savings – and therefore increases in both endurance and speed — come from Streamlining.

Master Effective Propulsion. Traditional swim methods fall short because they start with Propulsion, progress to it too quickly or give it too much importance. They also overemphasize the role of power. The TI Method teaches two elements in Effective Propulsion: (1) Direct ‘available’ forces, rather than Generating muscular forces, another felicitous phrase from Shane. Maximize use of naturally-occuring forces, particularly the combination of gravity and body mass, to minimize reliance on muscular force. Because the available forces are ‘free’ this reduces energy cost. (2) Convert Force (horsepower) into Locomotion. This means stroking to move yourself forward, rather than to move your hand, or the water, back.

In every stroke, in every skill, in every question or decision that arises, if you address Balance first, then Streamlining, then Propulsion, you minimize the potential for frustration or confusion and maximize the potential for clarity and success.

17 Responses to “How would Einstein teach swimming? Balance, Streamline, Propel.”

  1. Shane brings it all into focus doesn’t he. Thanks to both of you for teaching me more about swimming than I ever thought I could learn (and thanks to Dave, and Kim and John B and….)

  2. And you have become a Master Teacher of TI yourself as fast as anyone in our family of coaches. Namaste.

  3. dinah says:

    thanks Terry. i like this quote from Einstein ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’.

    your detailed thoughts are necessary to master balance, streamlining and propulsion. thankyou!

  4. […] How would Einstein teach swimming? Balance, Streamline, Propel. […]

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  7. marvin cantos says:

    Terry, that is an excellent article…Even though I am very new to swimming, I related to the article as watching pro golfer Fred Couples swing a golf club. He does it with such grace and flow, and the mental calmness is just alarming. Hopefully, in a little while after reading your book and dvd’s I will have a little of that calmness and balance!!

  8. Marvin. Are you familiar with the work of sports psychologist Robert Rotella? He has done extensive work on the PGA Tour. One of the most uplifting insights I’ve gotten from his work came from his noticing that there was a strong correlation between a particular golfer’s ranking on the scoring or earning list and the # of hours Rotella observed him on the practice tee. When he interviewed them he found their motivation to practice so much wasn’t competitive or financial. Rather it was that the most rewarding part of their day was the time spent swinging a golf club – because for the world’s best golfers that is reliably a Flow State activity.
    That produce a ‘virtuous cycle.’ The more they practiced, the more they improved, the more they enjoyed swinging a golf club . . . the more they practiced . . . and so on to Golfing Nirvana.

  9. […] recent comment by Marvin Cantos on my blog How Would Einstein Teach Swimming reminded me of one of my favorite illustrations of what it means to Love Practice.  Though […]

  10. Mike says:

    George Leonard had 5 keys in his book, “Mastery”: Instruction, Practice, Surrender, Intentionality, Edge. Can I suggest two more for TI: Relaxation and Rhythm.

    I’ll admit I stole two of them from Turetski’s 3 R’s, Reach, Rhythm, and Relaxation. Reach could easily be subsumed under effective propulsion. However relaxation is a key part of never practicing struggle. How many swimmers do you see that can’t achieve balance or streamlining because they are tense?

    Finally, many of your video demonstrations are set to music. And that music has a beat or rhythm that reflects your swimming cadence. That can’t be just a coincidence. It’s what perpetual motion freestyle, tempo training, 2 BEAT, 6 BEAT kick is all about–rhythm. My thinking goes like this: everyone speeds up and slow down while swimming. The “best” swimmers have the smallest differential between their fastest and slowest speeds. Rhythm–it’s a key component of grace and speed. Incidentally, I do practice rhythm with and without a tempo trainer. Just a suggestion. Mike

  11. Mike I gather that by this >>The “best” swimmers have the smallest differential between their fastest and slowest speeds.<< you mean the least difference in flow or grace, rather than in speed. I'd certainly agree on that. It's what we all strive for when trying to raise our tempo – or alternatively change gears via SPL.

  12. Mike says:

    Terry by “best” I mean fastest, at least as measured by a company, Team Termin, see that places sensors on swimmers’ hands to record propulsive forces and speed. This is from a USMS forum discussion:

    “Better swimmers have a smaller max/min variation in velocity than swimmers that are slower, and that might be obvious. However, many slower swimmers we have tested can generate similar peak velocity values, but their max/minimum velocity difference is much greater. In addition, that difference between swimmers can be very small when looking at one stroke cycle. But during a race where swimmers are using stroke rates between 50 and 60 stroke cycles per minute, that small difference becomes cumulative, and can define from a swimming perspective differences in performance.

    One conclusion one might draw is that fast swimming is not about generating the most power but about swimming with the highest possible grace and flow.

  13. I haven’t read the whole thing but I suspect the min and max they’re talking about is the difference between the accelerating phase and decelerating phase in a single stroke. A more streamlined swimmer conserves momentum better during the finish of stroke and through recovery until the beginning of the more propulsive phase of the next stroke. Those who are not streamlined have a steeper loss of momentum (and velocity) and therefore need to generate more power to overcome inertia in the next stroke. They tire faster at the same speed. That’ one reason to balance and streamline before working on propulsion.

  14. […] I posted How Would Einstein Teach Swimming, I find myself reminded almost daily of the clarifying simplicity of Balance-Streamline-Propel as a […]

  15. Bartek says:

    I participated in the training course for TI teachers in Poland and I can remember very clearly the three elements: balance, streamline, propulsion which were repeated many times by Shane. It’s much more uderstandable now for my TI students the purpose of the drills we do.

    If I could add anything to the three elements I would think of relaxation. I think that you should be sure that your body is not tense in the water before starting improving your balance, streamline and propulsion.

  16. Bartek
    You make a very good point about relaxation. For me practicing with Balance Thoughts is intended for two things (1) To put me in a deeply relaxed state and (2) To become “one with the water.”

    However, for people who are still learning or developing the sense of Balance/support/weightlessness I’ve enjoyed for nearly 20 years, setting aside time for relaxation exercises prior to entering the water could be just as valuable as practicing Balance when you start swimming.

    TI Coach Grant Molyneux’s book “Effortless Exercise: A Guide to Fitness, Flow States and Inner Awareness” which we just began selling as an ebook on the TI site includes a recommendation to start all training sessions (or practices in the case of TI Swimming) with a process he calls “Checking In.” During Check In you (1) Create inner calm with nose breathing and relaxation; Nose-breathing stimulates parasympathetic nervous system and lowers your HR. This increases “HR reserve” for your practice. (2) Inventory your mental, then physical, state.

    Immediately after reading that chapter in Effortless Exercise, I went down to the outdoor 50m pool at the hotel where I was staying in Taipei for my daily swim. I sat at the pool’s edge with my feet hanging in the water, looking down the lane where I would swim.’ I breathed through my nose, gradually slowing and deepening. I used my watch to time my breaths. First minute, 9. Next minute, 8. Third minute, 7. Fourth minute, 6 breaths. At this point I slipped into the water and began swimming.

    The hour that followed was as relaxing and meditative as any I’ve ever spent in the pool. At the conclusion of my practice I repeated the exercise. It took me five minutes to again slow my breathing to 6 per minute.

    That was one of my best practices. found it improve my readiness to turn practice into a moving meditation with at least a few minutes devoted to mental calming and centering. Grant Molyneux calls this “checking in.”

  17. Julia says:

    A fantastic read thanks Terry! Such simple advice but so thoroughly effective…something all of us teachers can use. Cheers, Julia.

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