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FREESTYLE MADE EASY: A User’s Manual
By Terry Laughlin
Copyright © 2005 Total Immersion. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, printing,
recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Total
Immersion, Inc. For information, contact Total Immersion, Inc., 246 Main Street, Suite 15A, New Paltz,
NY 12561. Revised: December 16, 2003 Total Immersion, Inc.
Congratulations on purchasing Freestyle Made Easy. We are more excited about FME than any
video we’ve produced previously because it addresses every question or challenge raised by our
students over the years. While the video is self-explanatory, this user’s guide includes detailed
tips for mastering each drill and should prove invaluable as a continued guide on the path to
mastery of the TI process. For the most complete guide to swimming freestyle for any distance
and in any body of water, we strongly recommend our book
Triathlon Swimming Made Easy
,
available from
www.totalimmersion.net
or 800-609-7946.
Three Steps to Success
The most exciting insight of our experiences in teaching thousands of improvement-minded
swimmers has been that virtually anyone can learn to swim beautifully through intelligent and
patient practice. The key to foolproof learning is in mastering three non-negotiable skills:
1.
Increase your comfort and stop wasting energy on fighting the water by learning balance.
When you master balance, you'll also learn every other swimming skill much faster.
2.
Learn to
pierce
the water. By slipping through the smallest possible "hole" in the water,
you'll need far less power, and expend far less effort at any speed.
3.
Learn to stroke smoothly. The “Human Swimmer’s” arm-and-leg churning habit wastes huge
amounts of energy on creating turbulence. Learning to propel with fluent, whole-body
stroking movements provides effortless power and maximizes economy of movement.
Step by Step Mastery
Whether teaching our students face to face or via video, we follow a process inspired by the
mindful practice of yoga and tai chi. We begin by teaching a series of balance positions that are
exceedingly simple, yet establish a profound connection with the water. By patiently mastering
the basics, you’ll be prepared to advance through a whole range of more challenging skills with
ease and speed. Next we teach a thoughtfully choreographed sequence (Switch drills) that leads to
graceful, fluent swimming. Success at each step leads seamlessly to the next step. The synergy
produced by mastering these simple moves in a logical progression is so powerful that even after
the first few drills, you should feel yourself flowing through the water with more ease and less
struggle than you ever thought possible.
About Our Swimming Models
After teaching thousands of improvement-minded swimmers, we know that TI works for
anyone, regardless of age, experience, skill or fitness. Beginners find our drills the fastest way to
establish harmony and balance in the water, and to imprint the slippery positions that will let
them move through the water with ease. Advanced swimmers find them the best way to polish
their technique and increase efficiency. For this video we have chosen swimmers from a range of
ages and abilities to show you how universally our drills can be learned and applied. In fact, five
of our nine demonstrators only began swimming as adults. We hope you gain some insight and
inspiration from each of the swimmers on our tape by observing the individual ways they express
fluency and realize that your own expression of TI Swimming doesn’t have to meet a rigid ideal.
Tobey DeMott and Jennifer Armstrong are novices who were introduced to Total
Immersion only three months before this video was made. Kathryn Loyer, Mark Wilson and Ian
Murray are all triathletes who began swimming as adults. Kathryn and Ian are now TI Teaching
Professionals. Suzie Baggs is a former collegiate swimmer who had been introduced to TI drills
in her Masters program only a few months before this video was made. Joe Novak swam for
Terry Laughlin at the U. S. Military Academy, becoming one of the best sprinters in the U.S. He
is an officer in the U.S. Army and a trained TI Coach. Fiona Laughlin was a college swimmer and
is now a TI Teaching Professional. Terry Laughlin has been swimming since 1966 and is still
improving his efficiency and fluency 37 years later.
EFFECTIVE PRACTICE: HOW TO MAKE A FISHLIKE STROKE PERMANENT
While the old saying tells us that “practice makes perfect,” in truth, practice makes
permanent
. Every length you swim contributes to a habit of either fluency or struggle and muscle
memory makes your old stroke resistant to change. The fastest way to become a more efficient
swimmer
and make that efficiency permanent
is by learning a new way of swimming from the
bottom up, through stroke drills, rather than piecemeal stroke corrections.
Why Drills Teach Better than Anything Else
Some swimmers, fearing a loss of fitness, are reluctant to spend precious pool time on
stroke drills. But because your endurance and speed are determined far more by efficiency than
fitness, an
hour
of concentrated skill practice can often produce more improvement than a
month
of hard training. Here are the ways in which TI drills perfect your stroke better than anything else
you can do in the pool:
Your muscles need a dose of amnesia. If you’ve been swimming for any length of time,
your inefficiencies have become a deeply ingrained habit. Every lap simply reinforces your
energy-wasting old style. Because your nervous system doesn’t interpret them as “swimming,”
drills give you a “blank slate” on which to engrave change. This allows for dramatic improvement
that is nearly immediate…and will become permanent through practice.
Small pieces are easier to swallow. Because your stroke is made up of so many finely
coordinated parts, it’s virtually impossible to focus on the whole at once. Stroke drills simplify
the complex whole stroke into a series of mini-skills, each of which can be quickly mastered and
becomes the key to solving the next. These building blocks assemble easily and gradually into a
new, more efficient stroke.
Instead of trial and error, it’s trial and success. Because mini-skills can be mastered so
quickly and easily, you begin practicing graceful, fishlike movement right away. The more you
practice it, the more it becomes your new habit and crowds out the sloppy old one. And the less
time you spend swimming with your old habits, the faster you learn to swim better. Your string of
successes boosts your motivation and self-confidence and you learn faster.
It’s language the body understands. Conventional stroke instruction tries to get to your
muscles through your mind. First you read or hear a description of a skill, then try to figure out
what the movement will feel like, while wondering if you got it right. Drills bypass all those
vague translations. They simplify and accelerate the learning process by teaching your body how
it should
feel
when you swim well. And because drills heighten your kinesthetic awareness, they
make it easier to fine-tune your form after you begin practicing whole-stroke again.
Revised: December 16, 2003 Freestyle Made Easy: A User’s Manual Page 2
Copyright © 2005 Total Immersion. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, printing, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Total Immersion.
How to Master the Learning Curve
How should you use this video? The more you have to learn, the more you should drill.
For novices this can mean up to four times as much drilling as swimming. Every lap of drilling is
positive reinforcement for your swimming. Every lap of swimming the old way is likely to pull
you backward. Though every swimmer is different, drills work for most with incredible speed.
The TI drills will work fastest if you:
Think before you swim. Drills teach you what you’re hoping to learn only if you do them
correctly, never carelessly or in a hurry. Study our images carefully, using slow motion and stop
action. You might initially watch the entire video straight through to understand the whole
progression, then, before each practice, review just the drills you intend to practice. Do every
length with clear understanding and purpose.
Practice with feeling. Spend 30 uninterrupted, thoughtful minutes on each new drill to
firmly imprint the new sense into your muscle memory so that you can eventually be guided more
by
feel
than thought. Then, each time you go to the pool, experiment with subtle refinements until
the skill begins to feel natural and effortless. The more familiar you become with the drills, the
more you should shift your attention from the
mechanics
to the
qualities
of economy, ease, flow,
and grace. As these qualities become habit in your drilling, your swimming will be transformed
as well.
Shorter is sweeter. Repeats of 25 to 50 yards – with 3 to 5 “yoga breaths” between each
for rest, reflection, and adjustment – and sets of 10 to 15 minutes duration, will bring the greatest
benefit. Each successive length should feel a bit smoother and more relaxed, a bit more precise
and economical. If not, check the video again (or have a friend watch as you practice), or go back
to the previous drill and polish that one before returning to the drill that’s giving you trouble.
Swim as well as you drill. After you’ve practiced a drill long enough to make it second
nature (for advanced drills this could take weeks), alternate drill and swim lengths – at first more
drilling than swimming, but shifting gradually toward more swimming. Try to make each swim
length feel a bit more like what felt best about the drill. The main benefit of the drills is that they
give you heightened insight into how to make your swimming feel more efficient. When you can
“swim as well as you drill,” you know the lessons have been learned.
Use the right tools. We’ve found at TI workshops that Slim Fins and the Fistglove®
stroke trainer can be valuable learning aids. During the momentary pauses in Sweet Spot, which
are integral to each drill, you’ll need a moderately propulsive kick to maintain momentum and
stay smooth. If your kick is non-propulsive (usually from rigid ankles), you could tire quickly and
find your drill practice compromised. Fins can “buy you time” to pay better attention to fine
points. Just keep your kick
very
relaxed if you do wear fins. (Also see below on how practice with
a partner can overcome a poor kick.) Fistgloves move you to a much higher level of awareness
for what the drill is supposed to teach, and encourage you to focus more on movement quality.
But take time to master the basics of the drill before putting on the gloves; they’ll work better in
reinforcing the lessons, once you already drill well.
Keep practicing! The best aspect of drills is that they’re self-adjusting. We teach the same
drills to unskilled adults as to highly accomplished swimmers. Each group gets exactly what it
needs: The inexperienced swimmers learn basic skills. The more advanced swimmers acquire
subtle polish. So as you improve, you won’t have to learn new drills; you’ll simply do the same
ones with more refinement.
Revised: December 16, 2003 Freestyle Made Easy: A User’s Manual Page 3
Copyright © 2005 Total Immersion. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, printing, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Total Immersion.
The TI Buddy System
Recently, we made an exciting discovery in our workshops. By having our students
partner and teach balance to each other, following guidance from our coaches, everyone learned
faster. The Buddy System had the greatest impact on students who struggled with their kick or
tended to sink. But more accomplished swimmers benefited as well, probably because they were
also teaching as they learned. And following the workshop, quite a few of our alumni told us of
exciting successes in teaching friends and family members to swim better. In Buddy System
learning, swimmers take turns in two roles: The
swimmer
, who learns the correct position for that
drill with help from the coach. The
coach
, who positions and supports the swimmer’s head, and
assists with momentum by towing or launching, then releases and continues observing the
swimmer to assist as needed. Over time, we’ve applied the Buddy System to virtually every stage
in the learning process, in every instance with exciting results. While many swimmers will be
able to successfully master all the steps in solo practice, we do encourage you strongly to
collaborate with a learning partner as illustrated on the video, if you have the opportunity. Having
a partner who understands the TI method as well as you do will be the next best thing to having
your own TI coach.
Advantages of the Buddy System
Learning to control our bodies in a horizontal position in the water presents some unique
challenges:

We lack visual feedback on our own position.

We are not accustomed to actively controlling torso muscles to stay horizontally balanced.
On land we
stand on
our balance; in the water we
hang from
it.

We aren’t yet
tuned in
to sensations that we must learn to recognize over time in the water –
for example: Is our head aligned? Is the lead hand as deep as it should be? Are our shoulders
stacked?

Using the Buddy System, students:

Experience perfect balance without struggling to achieve it,

Learn better by helping and observing others solve the same problems,

Develop a cooperative,
we’re all in this together
attitude, and

Can focus on what good balance position
feels like
, and
how little effort
it takes to maintain it.
Assisting “sinkers” and poor kickers
If your partner struggles with balance, your assistance can be invaluable. Their instinctive
reaction to sinking or loss of momentum is to kick harder, which just increases turbulence and
fatigue. Towing allows them to master balance and ease without worrying about sinking or loss of
momentum. The added momentum is also invaluable in preparing them learn to drill solo,
because it's far easier to conserve momentum, than to regain it when you've lost it.
When decent kickers are towed, then released, they can maintain momentum on their
own. But poor kickers lose headway quickly. When this happens, resume towing for a moment,
then watch to see how long they maintain it. Repeat several times, as needed. Repetition – and the
fact that they are traveling through the water – seems to help poor kickers acquire better
kinesthetic awareness. Gradually, you should be able to tow less frequently and more briefly, and
see your partner learn to maintain momentum for longer stretches.
Revised: December 16, 2003 Freestyle Made Easy: A User’s Manual Page 4
Copyright © 2005 Total Immersion. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, printing, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Total Immersion.
In addition, the most effective response to a loss of momentum is to find ways to reduce
drag – including drag from a big splashy kick. Vertical kicking is also effective in making the
kick gentler and more compact.
When playing a coaching role, it’s sometimes helpful to tell your swimmer exactly what
you are going to do, before you do it. For example, “I’m going to support your feet now,” or “I’m
going to move your arms closer to your sides.” This minimizes disruptions to the swimmer’s
concentration, and helps to keep the swimmer relaxed.
Finally, if you have any doubts about your qualifications to “coach” your partner, simply
report to your partner exactly what you observe. Pay particular attention to head position and
alignment. Minor misalignment of the head will be multiplied by a factor of 5 or 10 in the legs.
Revised: December 16, 2003 Freestyle Made Easy: A User’s Manual Page 5
Copyright © 2005 Total Immersion. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, printing, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from Total Immersion.
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