Skating: Key to a better Freestyle
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on December 1st, 2010

What do you see in this picture? If you answered “the Skating position” you’re right.

Skating with Hand Targets (X/Y Coordinates)

But it’s more than that. It’s also the lowest-drag position a human body can be in, other than the fully streamlined, arms-locked-overhead, underwater position in which we leave a wall on pushoff or after a dive.

What makes it so advantageous?

  • Full extension of the body (the span from my fingertips to my toes is nearly 50% longer than I am tall) reduces wave drag.
  • The horizontal body position – head, torso and legs all at the same level – reduces form drag.
  • The slight rotation of the body – exposing one shoulder – makes it far easier to “part the water” I’m passing through, than would be the case if my torso was flat.
  • That I’m not rotated too far — I. E. I’m off my stomach, but not on my side — improves my stability and reduces the amount of power (and time) it takes to rotate to the same position on the other side.
  • The slight downward angle of my leading arm causes my legs to ride higher – with only a light kick to maintain momentum.  This not only reduces drag and turbulence.  It saves lots of energy.

The main thing to understand about this position is that, unless you’re Michael Phelps or some other elite swimmer, there’s nothing natural or instinctive about the position, or any of the bullet points I listed above.

Anyone can learn this position – and most of those who have now swim farther and faster with less effort. But we’ve never seen anyone do it without having a clear and specific intention to do so.

In other words, it takes mindfulness to learn, imprint – and then replicate on every one of the millions of freestyle strokes you may take over the balance of your swimming lifetime.

But the fact that it takes mindfulness is perhaps the best thing about learning to Skate – even better than the energy savings or improvements in speed. Because mindful practice is the key to experiencing Flow states in your swimming, and to optimizing the adult brain.

In my next few posts I’ll explain the connection between Skate position and virtually every desirable skill in freestyle.

If you’d like to learn or touch up your Skate position, it’s introduced in Drill 2.2 of the Self Coached Workshop.

Or you can learn it direct from a TI Coach in special 1-day Freestyle Made Easier classes led by me Dec 13 and 15 in Coral Springs FL.

Coral Springs Aquatic Complex - site of Freestyle Made Easier class

12 Responses to “Skating: Key to a better Freestyle”

  1. Rob Polley says:

    I just finished reading “Flow”, “Drive”, and “Talent Is Overrated”. Your work and the work of the authors of these books all point to the same thing – that mindful, deliberate practice, with immediate feedback, is the way to improving skill in any area. It’s the perfect storm of achievement. It’s all “a practice” as you’ve said you want swimming to be. I use these ideas with both my swim lesson students and with my elementary school students. The work you are all doing (you and the authors of the books I mentioned) is having a big impact on many lives. Thanks you!!!


  2. Moody says:

    I’ve loved swimming all my life, never had a single lesson, been swimming breastroke at ‘perpetual mediocrity (1 mile 45 mins) until my lower back problems (pretty serious) prevented it, and my partner pointed me towards TI (he’d heard about it from a book called the 4 hour work week) I watched the You tube videos and gave if a go, and in weeks, I’m converted and swimming 100% freestyle with much lower levels of back pain. I can’t afford private lessons but want to order a book and DVD for Christmas. You have so many, I don’t know where to start? I swim in the local 25 metre pool, but do have the option to swim at my local lake too (I like in the UK< so not all year round). Which book and DVD should I order? I only want to learn freestyle for now?



  3. mazza says:

    I tried this tonight in swim practice and really noticed a difference. What surprised me even more was the benefits of this techique on my other strokes! We had IM repeats tonight in my masters swim practice and my butterfy was EFFORTLESS for the first time ever. All my strokes felt more balanced and smooth. And I was able to keep up the pace times with my lanemates.

    Thanks for this post! (And your blog, and your site, and your endless sharing.)

  4. […] entering arm crosses the water surface. The Total Immersion drills that are useful for this are Skating and Swing […]

  5. Rachel
    I’m delighted to hear of your conversion from pain and frustration to flow states and optimism. It certainly makes life brigher and I think that’s the most compelling reason of all for TI Practice.
    I recommend the Self-Coached Workshop – 10 Lesson Series. It’s designed to teach you as much about how to learn as about how to move, and the balance drills in Lessons 1 and 2 will be as helpful to breaststroke as to crawl, and should help you eliminate back pain for good.

  6. Rob
    Methinks it’s time you contemplated becoming a TI Coach. One thing you are doing already that anticipates what we want more and more of our coaches to do is teach kids. Over the coming year we will document a TI curriculum for ages 3 through adolescence – mainly by consolidating the work already being done all over the world by TI Coaches who have adapted Balance-Streamline-Propel principles to teaching those age groups.
    I’m familiar with swimamerica from Coral Springs (I spend 3-5 weeks a year there conducting various TI programs). And I’ve watched TI coaches who are teaching the same age groups in New Paltz,Minneapolis, Tokyo, Singapore, Manila, etc. etc. They all have fleets of kids who look like Junior Shinji’s. I’ll post some amazing video of TI Kids in Singapore swimming in open water, shortly. Took that in late Oct.

  7. Rob Polley says:


    I appreciate your thoughts. I am more than contemplating becoming a TI coach; it’s definitely something I want to do. As soon as I can fit it into my schedule, I will begin. I already use TI principles when I teach, even with 4 year olds. Also, another book in the “series.” “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck.” She’s delivering a similar message – everything is learnable.


  8. I’ve been following Carol Dweck’s work for some years. I’ve referenced and quoted her, and included a graphic she created on mindset types, in the TI Coaches Manual

  9. […] on maintaining balance at all times. Focus on being able to maintain balance without effort. The skating drill works very well for […]

  10. Donna says:

    Having purchased an entry-level racing bike last summer (and already being a runner), I started researching triathlons, figuring if I started early enough, I could work on the hardest part for me (and from my research, the hardest part for most people), the swim leg. I started with the Self-Help Course on Breathing in Swimming, and Terry Laughlin: Easy Freestyle Swimming DVDs this past fall, September, 2010, eventually borrowing Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier. Early September, I could barely swim a pool length in freestyle (my pool is 35 meters) without feeling completely exhausted by the time I reached the other side. Total Immersion swimming changed my life. Within the first week, I went from alternating a lap of breaststroke with a lap of freestyle, to being able to swim a mile entirely in freestyle! I am now capable of swimming a mile easily, and have gone as far as two miles in the pool, stopping only because I was afraid the facilities would close before I was ready to get out!!! I can’t wait until the weather warms up to try open water swimming, and my next pool goal is to learn how to do flip turns. Thanks so much Terry for all your help!

  11. Donna Congratulations and thanks for sharing your inspiring story. Progressing to a continuous mile in freestyle as rapidly as you did suggests that you have a real strength of disciplined, purposeful focus. Are there any insights about learning and improving you could share with others?

  12. […] start off from a swim Skate position. As you know, in Skating you have a high side and a low […]

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