Group croppedEight TriBy3’ers returned from an all-day swim camp up in Arkville, NY, as newly minted experts in swim technique! Okay, not really. I’ve been swimming for nearly 30 years and I’m still not an expert. I find ways to improve daily. I even found that I had areas to improve after completing the Total Immersion Swim Coach Certification course back in July, which I used this past weekend at the clinic. Mastering swim technique takes years and years of practice to unlearn bad habits, relearn good ones, and train your body to do them automatically without thinking when you jump in the pool. We endeavored to the Catskills Recreation Center (a mere 2:15 drive from upper Manhattan) to spend the day in a beautiful facility we hope to have many more clinics in down the road. For now, I’ll give a recap.

We started off the clinic by shooting a video of everybody from three angles: front above water, front below water, and side underwater. We then spent another 30 or 45 minutes running through the basics of Total Immersion technique as a group, and then put our new skills to the test. The first session 90 minute pool session ended with video analysis before heading to lunch. The afternoon 90 minute session started with a recap of the morning, some fun drills, a few hard sets, and another video shoot. We then capped off the day with another video analysis session of the afternoon videos to see how we’d improved. And then we were all exhausted from having spent 3 hours in the pool!

Total Immersion technique is based on 3 principles: balance, streamlining (or “shaping the vessel”), and propulsion. The teaching philosophy behind TI is that you start with the first and build to the last. I won’t go into the details about TI, although their website is a great resource and we can give you discounts on the learning materials they have there. The first, balance, focuses on the idea of allowing your body to find balance in the water. This means letting your body relax in the water and trust that the water will hold you up. You might say, “but I can’t float” or “my legs are so muscular they always sink”… there are a number of reasons that might be true but it’s probably because you’re trying too hard. TI is all about reducing the amount of effort it takes to swim. This is especially important for triathletes in long-course races because the less energy you waste in the first hour or so, the more you’ll have for the rest of the bike and the run.James - vessel shape cropped

The second principle, streamlining, is important because it allows us to make our bodies into a low-profile swimming machine, much like dolphins or a submarine. James demonstrates in the picture to the right a pretty sweet looking swimming vessel. Notice how you can’t see his feet? That’s because they’re drafting behind his body. Notice how his lead arm is cutting through the water in front of him to allow his body to follow in the slipstream it’s created? That allows for better hydrodynamics. This is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish with “shaping the vessel.”

The third principle, propulsion, is all about moving ourselves forward. You have to have a balanced body and a fish-like vessel in order to move as efficiently as possible, but you need propulsion to actually make forward progress. Propulsion can take up a whole blog post on its own, but one key Laura hand entrycomponent is the very beginning of each stroke when the hand enters the water. In the GIF below, Laura does an excellent job of demonstrating a great hand entry. Her fingers enter first, cut through the water so that her arm follows directly behind, and she continues that angled entry until her arm reaches the point where she will “catch” in the stroke, i.e. start to pull back and move herself forward. She doesn’t waste energy or time by entering her hand flat on the top of the water and then pushing down, which only lifts her upper body out of the water and dips her hips down (probably one of the reasons many swimmer out their have “sinking legs”… it may have nothing to do with your legs!). Her hand enters as if cutting through butter (mmmm butter) and get straight to the catch. In TI, we call that “reaching to the hood of the car” because it feels like you’re reaching down and over the hood of a VW beetle.

While not one of the 3 principles, recovery is also important. Not the kind of recovery we do after a hard workout, but the recovery of the arm from the end of the stroke until thNancy - elbow swing croppede next one. It starts when you take the hand out of the water and ends when you put it back in. It’s probably the least-thought-about part of the stroke because it doesn’t impact our movement forward since of course the arm is up in the air at that point. But you’d be mistaken to think it doesn’t impact other aspects of the stroke. A flailing arm above water can throw you off balance. A dropped elbow in recovery makes it incredibly difficult to enter the water like Laura does in the GIF. So actually, recovery is just as important as the rest of the stroke. See how beautiful Nancy’s arm is in the picture below? She’s got a perfect right angle at her elbow, her fingertips are barely hovering over the water, her hand is relaxed, and her elbow is leading the stroke. She’s perfectly set herself up to enter the water like Laura did.

All of these swimmers, including myself, still have a ton to work on. But it’s these moments of brilliance that build, over time through repetition after repetition with conscious focus on the task at hand, into a beautifully efficient stroke. Next time you jump in the water, don’t spend the next hour thinking about what you need to do when you get out of the pool. Treat your swim workout like a yoga session. Think about every single move you’re making and be intentional about every stroke. You’d be surprised how fast the time goes and how much better you get by just consciously thinking about what you’re doing instead of zoning out.