Total Immersion Level 1 (1st Quarter)

I’ll be writing about these classes every other week, so with an 8-week class that breaks down to a nice quarterly check-in. First things first, if you arrived here and are wondering what Total Immersion is or why I’m doing it, read about my swimming and who inspired me to take this on in my early forties.

Good. Back with me now? Here we go!

Amy told me that I’d not only get the swimming instruction, but also a weekly dose of zen. I figured with the stresses of life, zen would be a welcome addition! Shane started off our first class with an orientation of sorts. We sat haphazardly around a monitor and soaked in the essence of Total Immersion’s principles, most notably the concept of effortless power, and how we can harness gravity as a means to propel us forward. Shane talked about balance, streamline, and propulsion, and how it would be unnatural at first to balance ourselves fore and aft in the water. I thought to myself, “how on earth can I balance myself in water if my center of gravity is at my chest?”. The answer was revealed soon enough … keep your arms in front of you to redistribute your mass, as uncomfortable as that can be in the water. We introduced ourselves to the group, then got down to business.

Sharpening the Axe

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. — Abraham Lincoln

This was by FAR the most impactful quote of the evening. We were going to spend a lot of time getting our axe ready to cut, or in swimming parlance, making sure all of the principles of balance, streamline and propulsion were aligned and in proper working order before getting down to SWIMMING.

saulbhPlay, Play and Play

I enjoyed the exercises in this first class, aimed at playful exploration of our body’s relationship with the water. First, keeping my head totally relaxed, face down in the water. I saw Shane do this first and ask a student to push down on his head. His head bobbed up and down in the water and I thought, “bobblehead! How freeing to do this myself in the water, just letting my arms out front and my head just bob about.

We played with pushing off in this mode, arms out front, in a Superman/Superwoman glide. Again, so freeing and relaxing!

We added a transition to skate (or the hammock, as Shane calls it) with a lateral rotation, just a shoulder sticking out of the water with that hand down on the thigh. We had flippers on, and while I initially struggled with the desire to get myself horizontal, it turned out to be a lot of fun to propel myself while my body was at an angle.

Moving Through Water Without Moving Water Around

I’ve always thought of swimming as being 100% about propulsion. Keep those fingers together! Move the water underneath you with each stroke! Power in the shoulders! Kick, kick, kick!

Not so. Not even close! The principles I’m learning here will result in the ability to move through the water, not moving around in the water. I practiced twice between the first and second class. Once I embraced Shane’s admonition against racking up yardage in the pool, I was fine. This was playtime. Serious play, for sure, but this was going to be fun.

It’s All About the Arm

We started the second lesson with a discussion about the mechanics of transition from skate on one side to skate on the other. We would minimize the amount of time in this transition state, focusing on keeping ourselves in skate on either side. We were NOT going to work on breathing yet, which was a good thing, per Shane. He expected us to stop when we needed air; allowing our brain to reset and resume the practice of perfect technique. Plus, air keeps one afloat. So, I enjoyed holding my breath (mostly) while practicing during class.

We learned about the timing for transitioning our arms, and how to keep our forward arm patient, waiting for that transition from skate to skate to move. We learned about not extending our arm backward past the scapular plane (a common source of swimmer injury), instead using our shoulder to lead the arm up and into a recovery posture in our peripheral vision (our “poise point”). I admit feeling a bit like a zombie with both arms extended in front. I was poised to strike! This visual did help me, adoption a zombie-like posture as we did our front-quadrant walk around the pool.

We did more first-week drills in the pool, and I got a helpful bit of correction as we started transitioning skate positions. My x-y coordinate (target) of my lead arm was not low enough, making my feet sink. Indeed, in practice I’d play with this more, learning that having my arms lower made my feet go higher, and having my arms higher would make my feet go lower. Playful!

We headed over the warm pool (thank God!) for some more drills, focusing on using our shoulder to lead our recovery arm out from its position after transition. We did forearm painting through the water, though in practice our arm would be transiting out of the water. We worked on various ways of switching skate positions, with our forearm both in and out of the water.

I practiced twice again this week, and really enjoyed the progression from bobble-head to full-on swimming (albeit without taking a breath, stopping instead). I’m excited for tonight’s class, to see what cards we’ll add to our “house of cards!”

Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything

The first week, Shane recommended this TED video. I enjoyed listening to Tim’s anecdote about learning to enjoy swimming, after he was introduced to Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin.


This is part of a bi-weekly series on my Total Immersion learning experiences. If you arrived here and are wondering what Total Immersion is or why I’m doing it, read about my swimming and who inspired me to take this on in my early forties.

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