Total Immersion Level 2

I swam in the pool twice in the two weeks that followed my last Level 1 class on November 3 last year. Then, without any kind of plan in place, I unconsciously took a break from making time for swimming and continuing to put into practice everything I’d learned. So, when I saw that Shane was offering a Level 2 class starting shortly after the New Year, I double-checked our calendar, figured out how it would work schedule-wise, and signed up! I’ll write about my Session 2 on this page, adding to it with each revelation (or frustrating lack thereof). Let’s swim!

January 4 – Class 1

I was excited and nervous for the first class. It turns out that none my fellow swimmers from Session 1 were taking this class, so it was a sea of new faces. Everyone was really nice, though, and with only eight of us, it wasn’t too crowded in the pool. After a few dryland exercises, we were in the pool, using different combinations of 100s and 50s to focus on different aspects of our swim stroke. As always, I love Shane’s approach to thinking about our sessions. His weekly email summary summed up the goal of our sessions perfectly:

Growing more aware of your relationship with the water.
I am not your coach.
The water is your coach.

We got into a stretch of swimming where we were challenged to be mindful. I had trouble focusing on the suite of things I knew I needed to monitor, and instead found my attention wandering from one thing to another. I was closely tracking my strokes-per-length (SPL) as a sign of efficiency, and was fairly consistent at 18. That said, there were times when I knew I was losing focus, and I bled into the 19/20 range for a few lengths. As Shane notes: “Typically, our mindfulness and neural endurance are the first to deteriorate and slow us down:  We become less efficient.”

Shane also introduced the “torpedo kick drill”, where we pushed off the wall, put our arms on our thighs, kicked one leg, paused, and then kicked with the other. The goal was to rock our body side-to-side, but I felt like a heavy raft. No, there wasn’t any rocking going on! I stood up mid-pool and laughed maniacally, which elicited a good reaction from Shane, who helped me find the proper form for the drill. I have a feeling this one will always make me laugh.

We finished the class with yin/yang drills, where the first length was slow with long stroke lengths, and the return length was a rapid cadence, still focusing on good technique. I LOVED this return length. It’s like running speed work, but in the pool. I couldn’t possible keep it up without the “yin” to calm things down, but I really enjoyed the feeling of plowing through the water.

January 8 – Practice!

I have a goal of getting in the water at least ONCE in between classes. We ski and have a busy winter schedule, so we’ll see how this goes. Normally a Friday night is BodyPump night, but I had done something to a muscle (or two) in my right hip while skiing some pretty bumped up terrain, and so opted for the pool after some yoga earlier in the day. This half hour session went pretty well, and I continued to mostly hit an SPL of 18 while focusing on keeping my arms separated and parallel to my torso.

January 11 – Class 2

I had a few revelations from this class, which followed the same formula as the last. First, we had a drill where we’d monitor our SPL with breathing only on one side. I found that my SPL with left-side breathing was consistently 18, and my right side was consistently 19 or 20. Shane surmised correctly that I breathed naturally on my right side, and that my body was accustomed to “reaching for air” on that side, affecting my efficiency. I also noticed that while breathing to my right side, my left arm wasn’t quite as patient as it should be, meaning I’d lose efficiency and glide. Something to work on!

We then got into kick drills, which for me is a bit like walking and chewing gum!

  • Two-Beat Kick in Torpedo
    The drill that made me feel like a raft last time!
  • Two-Beat Kick with Arms Extended
    This was new, and made me feel like a disabled manatee. I did finally get my body to rock a bit, but I have a feeling this one will continue to plague me!
  • Freestyle Swimming with Dolphin Kick
    Wearing flippers, I tried to be mermaid-ish, kicking both legs together while swimming. I had moderate success with this, but managed to source the movement from my knees, not from my pelvis as it should be. Again, something to work on!

Shane’s iPad is being all persnickety, so perhaps in some future classes we’ll have some video to post. In the meantime, I’m paying good attention to the poolside coaching and observations. Onwards!

January 13 – Practice!

I did this 20-minute workout after a 5-mile treadmill run, and it went SO well. I focused on the kicking drills in the water, with and without fins, and did a lot of laps trying to be mindful. I also did a few of those yin/yangs I love so much. The breakthrough for me came when I just turned off my tempo trainer and started trying to feel streamlined and long in the water. I don’t know what the tempo was, but for the last 200 I did in the pool, my SPL went from 18 to 15! I didn’t believe my count at first, and REALLY focused on counting for the last 150. There’s something about the mechanics of my stroke during those sessions, and I’m going to try my best to figure out what it was next time I’m in the pool. It felt SO good, and I can’t wait to get back and see if I can replicated it. I felt a bit like a fish.

January 18 – Class 3

Well, this was my first missed class. It was Martin Luther King Day, so with the kids out of school we decided to go skiing as a family. Turns out the conditions were tough, with the cold and wind combined with waning daylight, we were rather uncomfortable and managed 8 runs over 2 and a half hours. Shane kindly offered me a makeup class Thursday, but I’m in an improv performance so will consider this a “bonus week” of training!

January 19 – Practice!

I went to the gym in the morning, ran 5 miles on the treadmill, then headed to the pool. It was excellent timing, since I was in the next lane over from Shane, who was getting his morning workout it. Watching him swim is so cool, as he flip turns at both ends and was basically swimming for the whole time I was practicing. For several lengths, I set an intention to start with him at one and and follow his cadence to the other. It was very relaxing to do this, and I was successful! On my own, I went through the progression of drills, and as I found with my last practice, I was hitting SPL of 15-16. Shane asked me what changed, and I told him I was spending a lot more time in skate position. This is true, but after thinking about it, it’s a confluence of things. I AM skating much more, this is true, but I’m also focusing a lot more on not dropping my left arm for right-side breathing, lengthening my lead arm, and keeping a calmer lower body, unless kicking to flip my torso on each stroke. I only practiced for 20 minutes, but much of that WAS swimming, so I feel very encouraged!

January 21 – Practice!

This period of self-discovery continues. After going through some warm-up drills and continuing to hit my new range of 15-16 SPL, I turned on the tempo trainer and adjusted it after each 50 to match the cadence that I’d been maintaining, which was 150 (a stroke every 1.5 seconds). I had been going at 1.33 (a stroke every 1 1/3 seconds), so it’s a bit slower. It’s so wonderful that in the pool, slow can mean fast, more mindful can mean more energy left in reserves. Just 20 minutes and I’m dialed in for the rest of the day. Ahh.

January 25 – Class 4

There were just four of us for this class, which I understand from Amy happened to her in the depths of winter. Schedules and weather conspire to keep some of us away, as it did me last week. I was encouraged by my practice, though, and enjoyed this session, right up until Shane introduced the grip/press. Oh no! Something new would surely have my house of cards come tumbling down. I’ll save the lengthy discourse of what this new focus called for, but we drilled on it for the last half of the class. The goal was to get your forearm vertical, and use your shoulder to press your vertical forearm back until it won’t be vertical any longer. Here’s a slow-motion drill of Sun Yang doing this technique:

Pause Drill (Pause-to-Get-a-Grip), and then Pause-to-Get-a-Grip-with-Fist. Have you ever swam with your fists clenched? I managed to continue forward motion, but how frustrating, and how much more difficult to get my breath! It’s important to get this, but it’s also subtle, and I’m sure practicing this in the coming weeks will prove to be a bit difficult. Bring it on!

January 27 – Practice!

After a 5-mile treadmill run, I spent 20 minutes practicing in the pool, not wanting too much time to elapse since class and that dreaded grip/press. Oh my! Sun Yang’s video helped immensely, though, and I consider this 20 minute session time well spent. I sure do need more practice, but there were times where I felt like I “got it” and, more importantly, I didn’t freak out during the Pause-to-Get-a-Grip-with-Fist drill, which I did for 50 yards.

February 1 – Class 5

We had a nice group in today’s class with 6 people. After our dryland drills (we got to do front quadrant walk: my favorite), we got into the pool and started our focal point drills. I got to do my favorite (not) Pause-to-Get-a-Grip-with-Fist drill, but seriously my most favorite drill was focusing on extending my arm from the poise point just before driving my hip forward. It feels like a wonderful chain reaction, using my hip motion to continue driving my arm to the focal point. Shane gave us some nice feedback as we went through the various drills, and I have two takeaways for work in the coming weeks:

  1. Making sure my head does not come up when I breathe. If I maintain a laser lead, my mouth will reach the surface faster than if I tilt my head upwards like I used to breathe.
  2. Driving my arms not quite so deep. You can see it in the attached video, but I struggle with the depth of my head and the depth of my focal points. I need to keep everything light and near the surface.

I’m still having a great time, learning a lot!

February 11 – Class 6

I couldn’t make Monday’s class, but Shane invited me to attend his Thursday night “Kaizen” class instead. We were a small group, as it was bitterly cold outside (not sure if that’s the reason), but it was a really great session. The most helpful aspect of the evening was video, and not just any ordinary video … underwater video! Shane has ordered a new iPad, and as such, put the waterproof enclosure of his current iPad to the test. He shot underwater video from the side and from the front, and as we watched the videos in the hot tub afterwards, it was SO revealing. My focal point targets are SO low in the water. I thought that after the feedback from the last class that I was fixing that, but the video doesn’t lie. Light and near the surface, that’s the goal for me. So, onwards!

February 18 – Class 7

After a week of feeling sub-par and not getting into the pool (or doing any other fitness for that matter) I went again to Thursday night’s class. I feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and am focused more on honing different skills as I do subsequent laps. For example, tonight I was curious about the intersection of strokes per length (SPL), perceived rate of exertion (PRE) and TIME. I hadn’t measured how long it took to swim a length, so I used my tempo trainer to experiment with different settings from 145 down to 130. I found that I could drop my time by increasing the cadence, only dropping SPL by a stroke or two. My rate of exertion wasn’t too bad with the increased cadence either. I was only doing 50s and 100s while experimenting with the clock, so the next step is to practice with these combinations doing 200s … and something to write down my findings with. Shane shot underwater video again tonight, and I found another thing to work on, still, with raising my head to breathe. When I do so, my spine arches, which drops my legs (first right-side breath in the video below). I need to keep that strong laser lead and rotate the head to the side to breathe, keeping my spine straight. The video did reinforce that the timing of my breath is right on (second left-side breath), as I have my breath as my arm exits the water and begins re-entry. So, that was good to see!

February 25 – Class 8

Ah, the last class of Session 2! I have really enjoyed this next step in re-training my brain and body to have a more efficient swim stroke. This class was all about repetitions, and didn’t disappoint. Shane had us do 200s with varying foci, and it was a really good workout. I definitely am getting better at managing my exertion level, and keeping my arms higher in the water as I extend them to the target after entry. The BEST part about this class was swimming with Shane at the end. He matches the cadence and style of each and every swimmer in the class – a true testament to his skill – and being a part of that is just magical. Here’s our dual swim across the pool, capping off the 8th and last class of this series.


This is part of a 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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