Total Immersion swimming and Led Zeppelin

Posted Ella Villas Articles

Terry Laughlin, who was the creator of Total Immersion, a swim training methodology, sadly passed away from prostate cancer.

I didn’t know Terry very well personally, but throughout the years gave him a lot of credit for being one of the pioneers in simplifying difficult swimming principles and distilling them down for the non-swimmers out there.

He lived and breathed swimming, was a great asset to the community and will be missed.

The Total Immersion methods, although popular among triathletes, were also controversial.

Briefly, some of the areas that many coaches dispute with TI are:

-De-emphasizing the pull
-Putting focus/emphasis on the glide
-The need for a bent elbow recovery
-Same head position for everyone

The fact is, if you are a beginner level swimmer and struggle to swim a couple of laps, TI would do wonders for you- as the above points are not going to be as important to your success in a triathlon swim.

If you are looking to win your age group in the swim, or land on the podium, you will need a little more.

However, today I don’t want to focus on the things we do differently from TI, but the powerful concepts that overlap with Tri Swim Coach, and what is needed to save your energy on the swim so you have more left over for the bike and run.

Some people get upset because many of the Total Immersion methods were around long before their materials came out, so TI didn’t invent anything.

I think this criticism, however, is misplaced.

Led Zeppelin is given a lot of credit for being a pioneer of rock and roll music, but they also took musical concepts from other sources- so even Zeppelin was not “original”, yet, they produced some amazing music.

Here are a few of those areas of overlap that I recommend paying attention to:

1. The kick. TI explains kicking as coming from your hips, and thinking about your legs as pendulums, rather than using a lot of knee bend. This saves massive energy on a distance swim.

2. Body position. TI says that your body position in the water is crucial, and hip rotation allows you to swim on your sides, thus decreasing your natural drag in the water and saving you energy.

3. High elbows/Shark Fin drill. This is the one area that I probably get the most flack as a coach. If you give me an age group swimmer training for a 200 meter freestyle, I would not teach them how to bend their elbows on the recovery. However, like the TI methods, I see the value of teaching beginner triathlete swimmers to do this, via the Shark Fin drill and Fingertip Drag drill.

Many Olympic swimmers, and pro triathletes do not in fact bend their elbows on the recovery. However, when learning as a beginner, I have seen how effective this can be to get the body position right- staying long on the water, and focusing first on lowering stroke count vs. going faster.

Anyway, I hope this helps and you as a reader can see the value Terry brought to the swimming and triathlon world. Combining these methods with a few other things will have you more confident than ever in your next triathlon. RIP Terry Laughlin.