by Terry Laughlin
A Total Immersion Instructional Manual
Copyright © 2006 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 Happy Laps. This is the most important video we have ever produced
because it is designed to meet the most fundamental need in swimming – how to swim for health, fitness or
pleasure with absolute comfort and confidence. Happy Laps is the first Total Immersion learning aid to
address the real basics: how do I swim without fear of sinking, how do I breathe in water, and how do I move
with such efficiency that I will be able to swim graceful, nearly effortless laps for as long as I like. While the
video is self-explanatory, this user’s manual includes guidance for a successful learning experience and
detailed tips for each step in the progression. For additional free articles on smart, satisfying swimming
please visit www.totalimmersion.net.
WHY TOTAL IMMERSION CAN TURN ANYONE INTO A SWIMMER
Swimming is the closest thing to a perfect exercise – a weightless, virtually injury-free, year-round body
toner that makes you feel great inside and out. But too few people ever discover that, because early swimming
experiences can be so discouraging.
It happens most to folks, probably not unlike you, who may be wary of the water to begin with, and who
quickly find themselves fighting to stay afloat, struggling for air, and probably reluctant to leave the shallow
area. For many people, that’s all the proof they need that they just don’t have what it takes to become a
swimmer. Or they may be discouraged by the prospect that – even if you can find instruction appropriate for
an adult with years of frustrating experience – it could take years to become a “real” swimmer.
But with Total Immersion, it doesn’t have to take long at all. As we’ve seen with countless thousands of
hopeful swimmers, you’ll be surprised how much you can learn each time you step into the pool. This selfteaching
book and video can be the first step in changing your swimming experience every bit as dramatically
as all the Total Immersion students before you have. This TI program offers what has been for many aspiring
swimmers an impossible dream: a simple, clear, common-sense approach to learning to move through the
water easily, comfortably, and so pleasurably that your practice time becomes the healthiest, most rewarding,
part of your day.
Too good to be true? No, it’s not. The hopefuls who hang up their bathing suits for good after a couple of
frustrating attempts are simply victims of two basic facts:
(1) Swimming, unlike walking or running, is a fundamentally unnatural activity for humans. We instinctively try
to bully our way through the water, throwing up a commotion that would mystify any easygoing fish – and
suggesting that nature never thought of us as aquatic beings in the first place.
(2) When we seek help for our churning, exhausting strokes, we’re often taught in a way that actually makes
it harder to swim easily, gracefully, and effectively.
Both problems are easily solved. First, we can get back what nature left out – a fish’s instinct for maximum
speed with minimum effort. Total Immersion has proven again and again that virtually anyone can learn to
swim easily, comfortably, and enjoyably. Second, we’re not permanently stuck with the bad habits we’ve developed.
This video and guide will show you, step by step, a completely fresh way to move through the water, a
way I guarantee will make more sense, and that will make swimming easier than anything you’ve tried before.
SWIMMERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN
Swimming doesn’t come naturally. The National Swim School Association estimates that only 2% of all
Americans can swim a quarter-mile without stopping. The other 98% either can’t swim at all, or find it such a
struggle that they can manage only a lap or two before running out of gas. What these folks lack is not ability
or endurance, but awareness. Humans don’t have to be taught to walk or run, because those abilities come
naturally to us land-based creatures – but no one learns to swim well without at least some instruction.
Swimming well seems difficult because millions of years of adaptation to life on terra firma, ruled by the
laws of gravity, have made it exceedingly difficult to move easily in a fluid environment, ruled by the laws of
hydrodynamics. Humans in water are like fish out of water. A handful of us manage to muddle through with
extraordinary effort, but swimming well and efficiently has always been harder than it needs to be.
The crowning irony, of course, is that while we’re struggling mightily to become a skilled swimmer, an accomplished
swimmer makes it all look impossibly smooth and easy. Anyone watching beautiful swimmers instinctively
appreciates what they do. And when we do observe the world’s best swimmers – both dolphins and
Olympic swimmers – we see the same qualities: grace, economy, and flow.
This natural ease, universal among sea creatures, is rare among humans, as the water-frothing lappers at
any health club pool graphically illustrate. It’s probably this stark contrast between fish gliding through an
aquarium, and our fellow humans churning up pools, that makes skill more impressive to us than raw power
ever could be. The serenity and grace of a middle-aged swimmer who can flow – like water itself – up and
down the lane, seems a more elegant accomplishment than the power-oriented speed of youthful competitors.
And that elegant swimmer could be you, whatever your age. For while most of us have little chance of
recapturing the power and athleticism that world records require, the grace and skill of that older swimmer
– who may be very much like ourselves – are within our grasp.
Ask Don Walsh, a Total Immersion teacher who decided to dedicate himself to stroke mastery at age 49,
then swam 28.5-miles around Manhattan at age 50 and 52. Today, Walsh is stopped regularly at his health
club by envious fellow swimmers, curious about how he learned to swim so beautifully. “There are plenty of
faster and more physically impressive people around here,” he relates, “but it’s my smoothness that seems to
Or take Mark Seides, a Total Immersion workshop alum, who resolved to improve his stroke after watching 72-
year-old Ben Reynolds glide up and down the pool one day. “There was this older guy swimming alongside me
and I’d never seen anyone look so smooth and relaxed in the water. I asked him where he learned to swim like
that and when he told me Total Immersion, I knew I wanted to learn the same thing.” And he did.
GOING TO FISH SCHOOL
So what can we learn by watching fish? First, of course, is that they move through the water much more
easily than we do. Faster, too. While the fastest human swimmers travel only about 5 mph at full throttle,
some fish have been clocked at over 50 mph. It not only looks easy, it is easy. Dolphins swim 10 times faster
than the fastest humans using a third less power.
They’re not “gifted,” they just know what all fish know: how to avoid drag, how to simply slip through the water.
Being slippery is far more important than being powerful because when you’re trying to move through water –
which is a thousand times denser than air – the water acts like a virtual wall. The harder you pull and kick, the
harder the water resists you. Small wonder we find smooth, relaxed, swimmers so fascinating. How can they
get so far, so attractively, on so little energy?
THREE MISTAKES EVERY HUMAN SWIMMER MAKES
To swim better tomorrow, you must understand what’s holding you back today. Chances are, you’ve thought
there was something wrong with you because:
(1) You find it difficult to float. The most common misconception is
the notion that you’re supposed to float on top of the water. This is,
in fact, impossible! No matter how “buoyant” you are, sinking into the
water is what the human body is designed to do – every part of the
human body, except for the chest cavity, is non-buoyant. The first
step to swimming well, to moving through the water with the greatest
of ease, is to learn to “sink cleverly” – in a horizontal position
instead of legs-first, like a capsizing boat. In a horizontal position, you
give the water much less surface area to resist, making progress far easier. You find your ideal body position
by getting your head aligned and redistributing your body weight until you feel the water support you. Once
you stop fighting to stay on top, you’ll be amazed at how much energy you have to move ahead. Our self-guided
“Discovery Exercises” will take you through the steps that help you find this “floating sweet spot.”
(2) The water holds you back. Why do you tire so quickly? In large part because most of the energy you
expend goes into making waves and turbulence, not into effective propulsion. Again, this is the result of a mistaken
notion most people have about how you’re “supposed to” swim. Most swimmers figure that since they
propel themselves by pulling and kicking, swimming better means pulling and kicking faster and harder. That’s a
good way to churn up the water and tire yourself out, but a bad way to gain speed. Again, consider fish. No
arms or legs, so no pulling and kicking. But speed to burn, with just a few tail flicks, because they are perfectly
balanced, beautifully streamlined and propel with fluent, whole body movements. Our self-teaching program
will teach you how to comfortably master the body positions that will allow you to slip through the water with
the greatest ease and then to use smooth and coordinated whole-body movements for propulsion.
(3) You run out of steam too soon. Even highly conditioned marathon runners wonder where all their fitness
went the minute they begin swimming. A couple of laps and they’re done for. Where did all that endurance
go? Here’s where: If you haven’t first learned to relax in water, to be supported by it, to slip through it,
almost any attempt to go faster will wear you out. Total Immersion shifts the focus away from pushing
harder against the water, to learning to work with it. When most of your energy and attention have been
refocused on keeping yourself slippery, you’ll be amazed how much easier it will be to swim any distance at
any speed. That’s why the fastest swimmer in the world today, Alexandre Popov, spends most of his practice
hours becoming slippery, rather than swimming hard. You will soon, too.
FIRST START PLAYING AROUND
When it comes to swimming well, kids have the right idea – swimming is just another form of play. The fact
that they’re learning as they play is a bonus. But in their water play, they gain an instinctive understanding of
the freedom and flow that being nearly weightless offers. Adults typically play too little and worry too much
about “getting it right” and in the process make improvement a struggle instead of a pleasure. And since
traditional instruction leads to frustration anyway, it just makes things worse.
The solution? Become a child again – in the pool, at least. Conventional wisdom says that to develop the
strength and stamina to swim better, you first need to grind out the laps. I say that’s a mainly a good way to
perfect your mistakes. You must first learn to relax and be at home in the water, or all those laps will do is
make your bad habits more permanent.
The foundation of the Total Immersion program is a series of thoughtfully-choreographed learning games and
self-awareness exercises – guided “play” that will put you in touch with your body again, and teach you the
same things that children learn when they have fun in the water. The most comforting aspect of this program
is that there’s no “right or wrong” about these exercises. In fact, you can gain a sense of greater freedom by
choosing, in some cases, to do the exercises “wrong” and discover how your body reacts when you do. You’re in
a safe place, so there’s no risk in making that choice. If you do each step with an open and curious spirit, you’ll
find that each step is designed to reveal how your body really behaves in the water which will help you make
informed choices on the smartest way to take advantage of those properties.
Step by step, you’ll begin to understand how to move with the water instead of muscling it out of your way.
Lesson One will show you how to become comfortable and relaxed in the water and how your body naturally
behaves in a fluid environment. In Lesson Two, you’ll learn which body positions allow you to slip through the
water with the least drag and commotion. Finally, in Lesson Three, come the skills of “fishlike” swimming, propelling
yourself with unprecedented ease and speed by learning to swim with your whole body instead of just
your arms and legs.
HOW YOUR BODY LEARNS BEST
The most helpful thing you can do for yourself is to trust your instincts. The human body is a marvelous
learning instrument, teaching itself through routine life experience how to move, balance, lift, climb, and carry
– usually on land. Swimmers who began as children learned a lot of their “natural swimming ability” in the
same instinctive way. As a result, they usually can’t tell you how they came to swim so efficiently because so
much of what they do is intuitive.
The Total Immersion program gives you a second chance to acquire that “instinctive ability” for yourself – in
much less time than it usually takes children. We’ll guide you through a series of exercises that will let you
learn (as opposed to teaching you) how your body naturally behaves in the water, and how to become perfectly
comfortable with that. Think of these exercises as structured playtime, a more organized path to
learning what child’s play at your local pool would have taught you years ago.
And for now, please don’t worry about “your stroke.” Though stroking and kicking are the starting point for
traditional instruction, we give them far less emphasis here. Once you learn how to move your entire body
easily and naturally with the water, it becomes almost inevitable that your arms will follow the efficient, fluid
pattern that propels you most effectively. With Happy Laps, you’ll explore your movements in the water in a
free and informal way before channeling your increasingly natural relationship with water into formal
strokes. And once more, please don’t think too much. Your senses will tell you how you’re doing. What feels
right, is right.
THE TOTAL IMMERSION “BUDDY SYSTEM”
While some swimmers will feel comfortable doing these exercises on their own, we’ve designed the Happy Laps
program to work best as “collaborative learning.” In teaching thousands of swimmers in TI workshops and
classes since 1989, one of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made was how dramatically a “Buddy” approach
In the Buddy System, swimmers learn in pairs, taking turns in two roles:
The swimmer, who learns the correct positions and movements with help from their partner.
The coach, who helps the swimmer find the right position, offers support as needed, assists with momentum
by towing or launching, then releases and continues observing the swimmer to assist in any way that may be
ADVANTAGES OF THE BUDDY SYSTEM
Learning to be comfortable, balanced and “slippery” in the water presents some unique challenges:
(1) Many new swimmers are uncomfortable and feel a bit insecure in the early stages of exploring the “alien,”
and perhaps threatening, aquatic environment. The inhibitions that naturally result make it more difficult to
respond naturally to the water. Your partner can help a great deal in making you feel more secure and learning
to trust yourself and the water.
(2) In the beginning, new swimmers can’t yet recognize important sensations such as: Is my head in line? Are
my hips sinking? Is one arm dry from shoulder to knuckles? Are my shoulders stacked? Your partner can
clearly see and help you with the subtle adjustments that will make such a difference in achieving the best
position. And once you feel it, you can then replicate it much more easily on your own.
(3) As land-based creatures, we’re not accustomed to actively controlling torso muscles to stay balanced
horizontally. On land we stand on our balance; in water we hang from it. Your partner can assist you in
achieving balanced positions, giving your muscles more time to learn how to maintain them.
USING THE BUDDY SYSTEM EFFECTIVELY
Those who sink more easily (usually those who are leaner or more
heavily muscled) and those with non-propulsive kicks will benefit the
most from the Buddy System. Their instinctive reaction to sinking or
loss of propulsion is to flail about or kick harder, which increases
turbulence and discomfort, while doing nothing for momentum.
Towing allows these swimmers to master balance and ease with
greater comfort and fewer concerns about sinking or momentum.
The added momentum is invaluable in helping them learn to do the
drills solo, because it’s far easier to conserve momentum, than to generate it when you’ve lost it.
When swimmers with a weak kick are towed, then released, they may lose headway quickly. If you’re acting as
the coach, resume towing for a moment, then watch to see how long they maintain it and how they’re kicking.
Repeat as needed. In most cases, your swimmer will gradually learn how to maintain momentum for longer
stretches. Repeated experience of traveling through the water seems to help them acquire better hydrodynamic
awareness. Gradually, you should be able to tow less frequently and more briefly.
While coaching, it’s sometimes helpful to tell your swimmer exactly what you are going to do – i.e. “I’m going
to support your feet now,” or “I’m going to move your arms closer to your sides.” This minimizes disruptions
to concentration, and helps your swimmer stay relaxed.
Finally, if you have any doubts about your qualifications to “coach,” set your mind at ease. Coaching in the TI
Buddy System takes no expertise at all. You only need to recognize ease and sleekness, compared to struggle
and awkwardness. Compare your partner’s positions with those on the video and objectively report what
you observe – or gently assist their adjustments. Pay particular attention to head position and alignment.
Minor misalignment in head and neck is usually multiplied many times in the legs.
As the swimmer, your task is mainly to allow your partner to guide you and to tune into how you feel when
they say you’ve got the position right. (1) Memorize how your head, torso, limbs and general position feel at
that moment, so you can replicate them without help. (2) Remember the feel of ease and comfort you experience
while being towed and stay as close as you can to that sense after release. In particular, keep your
kick as streamlined, supple, quiet and gentle after release as when being towed. Don’t kick harder if you feel
yourself slowing. Instead focus even more on sleekness and balance.
WHO CAN BE YOUR BUDDY?
What is most exciting about the Buddy System is that it can empower literally anyone to teach anyone else
how to swim with ease, efficiency and pleasure. The TI program has proven so simple and foolproof that hundreds
of TI swimmers, who had never done any teaching, have told us of exhilarating success in helping other
swimmers learn the TI way. The Happy Laps program is designed so you can teach and learn effectively with
no special experience or knowledge. Two complete novices can absolutely help other effectively at every step.
But you can also invite an already experienced swimmer to be your partner. Even if they can already swim far
or fast, there will be learning opportunities in these exercises that make their swimming even better. The
symbiotic experience of switching between teaching and learning provides deeper understanding for both
partners at every stage. And the best part of using the Buddy System is that you can begin creating your
own Total Immersion Community of intelligent, mindful swimming. A partner who shares your experience and
goals gives you an invaluable support system.
• • •
During these exercises you’ll experience water in all the ways you do when you’re swimming, but you’ll be freed
from the pressure to swim “right” or to go fast. Experiment with each exercise for as long as you want,
repeating it as many times as you want. Your goal is not to do them correctly but to do them in a relaxed and
fluid way, to turn each exercise from unfamiliar and possibly a little awkward, into smooth and easy.
Learning to swim this way will also put you in a frame of mind to appreciate the value of practicing swimming
in the mindful spirit of yoga and tai chi. We have consciously designed Total Immersion to be practiced as a
“moving meditation” in the same way as yoga and tai chi. And once you begin swimming mindfully, you won’t
want to swim any other way.
The best way to start comfortably is not to get in over your head. Literally. I strongly suggest practicing all
of these exercises first in shallow water, as shown on the video. That guarantees you’ll feel relaxed and in
the mood to have some fun, knowing that if your play doesn’t go exactly as planned, getting out of trouble is
as simple as standing up. You’ll know – as any kid would – when your body has learned its lessons well and it’s
time to head for the deep end.
And when that finally happens, you’ll wonder why you waited so long for your second childhood.
AT HOME IN THE WATER
Lesson One will help you develop a comfortable, trusting relationship with water, understand its properties,
overcome common fears, and build the confidence to move on to mastery of balance drills. You’ll let the
water do what it does naturally, while you calmly experience how your body behaves in a fluid, so you can
move without resistance or inhibition. Eliminating tension will allow you to progress more easily through every
step of our learning process. In Lesson One, you’ll also learn how to breathe comfortably while in the water
and how it feels to glide short distances effortlessly. Follow these steps at your own pace, moving from one
to another as you feel ready.
A note about our demonstrators: At age 6, Rosa Wilson helplessly witnessed a young friend drown in the ocean
and has never been able to enter the water since. In the lessons on our video, working with Alice Laughlin, you
see Rosa’s actual first venture into the water in over 50 years. Vik and Dianne Malhotra took conventional
swimming lessons for years without learning to swim. They took their first TI lessons just a few months before
this video was shot and have progressed so far that they are now teaching TI to adult students.
BEFORE ENTERING THE WATER:
Practice “Yoga” Breathing. At home, or in a comfortable place at the pool, lie flat on your back with legs
apart, and arms slightly out with palms up. Support your head so your chin is neutral, not tilted up. Breathe
slowly and deeply, 20 to 30 breaths, drawing air deeply into your lungs. Feel your abdomen rise as you inhale
and sink as you exhale. Feel every part of your body relax as you breathe – starting with your face, neck and
shoulders, arms and finally legs and feet. Feel yourself “melt” into the floor with each exhale. Use yoga
breathing regularly to create a sense of relaxation and serenity that you’ll aim to recreate in the water.
Breathe under the Shower. At home or at the pool, practice breathing with water streaming on your head
and over your face. Breathe in through your mouth through the streaming water. The point of this exercise
is to become comfortable simply letting the water run over and off your face without wiping or spitting.
Breathe out through your mouth and nose, releasing tension with each exhale. Take 20 to 30 relaxed breaths
until you feel as free of tension as during yoga breathing.
Dangle your legs. Sit on the steps or the edge with your legs dangling in the water. Notice your breathing
and how wetness feels on your legs. Simply aim to enjoy the feeling of the water lapping on your legs and
how they feel lighter while submerged. Sit here for 20 to 30 yoga breaths, relaxing more with each exhale.
AFTER ENTERING THE WATER:
Wash Your Face (Right) Sit on the steps, where you feel safe and comfortable.
Wash your face or pour water over your head until you feel no
urge to wipe or spit, until you’re comfortable letting the water run off
and your breathing feels normal – almost bored.
Blow bubbles Hold the side, then take a breath and put your face in,
leaving your feet securely on the bottom. Blow small, quiet bubbles.
When you come up to breathe, let the water run off without spitting or
wiping. Do this until you’re comfortable. If you feel as if your legs want to float up as you put your face in, let
them. The more you relax, the “lighter” your legs will become. On the video, you’ll see Alice help Rosa to experience
by supporting her legs at the shins.
Combo Breathing (Right) This exercise will teach an advanced waterbreathing
skill: Even with water in your mouth, you can breathe through
either your mouth or nose – without swallowing water. Crouch so the
water wets your chin. Take five or six slow, easy breaths with your chin
in the water. Continue until your breathing feels normal – almost bored.
Next, let some water into your open mouth. Breathe in through your
nose and out through your mouth five or six times. Continue until your
breathing feels normal – almost bored. Then breathe in through your
mouth over the water on your tongue and out through mouth and nose. Advanced swimmers are comfortable
having water in their mouth while breathing. This exercise will help you develop the same comfort.
Bubble Longer Slow your breathing rhythm by making smaller, quieter bubbles. How quiet can you make your
bubbling? This will help prepare you for exercises to come in which you’ll want to have your face in the water
for longer periods with no tension or sense of breathlessness. Inhale for two counts and bubble out for four
to six counts. When you begin rhythmic breathing, you’ll exhale more slowly than you inhale. On the video, as
Rosa moves just off the steps, Alice keeps a comforting hand on her shoulder
Breathe Rhythmically Unlike land-breathing, water-breathing is always linked with body rhythms. The better
you connect body rhythms and breathing rhythms, the more effortless your breathing becomes. This exercise
introduces that connection. Dip just your mouth at first, then goggles and finally your entire head, as
you gain confidence. Work toward a rhythm of a brief inhale and a longer exhale. The skill you developed
under the shower – letting water run off your face without wiping or spitting – will be helpful here. Matching
a partner’s rhythms, as you see Alice and Rosa doing, is a good exercise.
Explore Underwater You might call this exercise “the incredible lightness of swimming.” The key skill is learning
to breathe and bubble in a horizontal position, just a bit closer to how you’ll do it while swimming. Most
students will start by maintaining strong support with their hands – as Rosa does initially – then gradually
allow the water to support their body weight more and more as we see Rosa do as she gains confidence.
Alice’s reassuring touch helps keep Rosa stable, while also giving her the confidence to move toward a position
more like Dianne’s. Dianne shows what happens when you relax fully. The more she relaxes, the lighter
she feels, until finally her hands float free. This initial experience in enjoying the full support of the water can
be a wonderful confidence builder. The smaller and quieter your bubbles, the longer you’ll be able to enjoy
“floating” this way.
Discover Weightlessness (Right) This exercise illustrates how different
TI swimming is from conventional approaches; it also represents
an incredibly liberating moment for Rosa, after decades of fear of the
water. The previous exercises in bubbling and “floating” at the stairs
have helped Rosa learn to trust herself, and Alice, enough to move
away from the wall and let Alice tow her a short distance. Being
towed by Alice, for a few brief seconds shows Rosa that swimming the
TI way will be completely different from the churning, frantic experience
most people have in their first attempts at swimming. For
someone who felt threatened by the water to start with, this is essential to building confidence. Near the
stairs, as Alice releases her to glide the last few feet on her own, Rosa has a truly magic moment of knowing
the freedom that weightless swimming can bring. Even a glide that brief can help overcome years of fear
and inhibition. If it helps you feel more secure, let your partner tow you toward the wall or stairs, before
releasing you to glide on your own the last few feet. Gradually extend the glide. When you’ve become truly
comfortable – again, almost bored – with tow-and-release, let your partner launch you from your feet, as Vik
does for Dianne. Dianne doesn’t have to travel very far in these solo glides to deepen the imprint of ease
and flow. This kind of relaxed, effortless travel is the essence of Total Immersion-style swimming. Doing it six
or eight times, over gradually increasing distances, will give you your first invaluable lesson in balance.
Experience Calm Some students have described achieving an almost spiritual sense of being “one with the
water” while doing this exercise. After Dianne learned it herself, she taught it to her mother, who had never
learned to swim in 60-plus years. The first time Dianne helped her mother to relax on the bottom, then float
up, it was such a powerful experience, she began to cry tears of joy and release. As your partner presses
you down, bubble just enough to keep water out of your nose. (In the final sequence on the video, Vik maintains
gentle downward pressure as Dianne releases air slowly, until Vik can push her down with less resistance.)
On the bottom, wrap your arms around your head and tune into the sense of peace and serenity.
When you want to return to the surface, signal your partner. Notice how Dianne rises in balance, while Vik’s
legs come up more slowly. This difference is common between men and women – and more pronounced in
lean or heavily muscled students. Both Vik and Dianne learn that you fall up, not down, in water.
When you trade places and help your partner submerge, you’ll feel just how much the water pushes back as
you try to press them down. When your partner achieves a high level of confidence, you can stabilize them
on the bottom with a foot on the back.
WEIGHTLESS IN THE WATER
Lesson Two exercises show you how to position your body and distribute your weight to get the water to
support you completely and effortlessly. Once it does, you’ll be able to move through the water with an ease
you never dreamed possible. Your partner will become even more valuable in aiding your comfort, control and
learning here too.
The first four exercises are purely about learning to float. If you’re an adult and haven’t yet learned to swim
comfortably, it’s not likely you can persuade your rational mind after all these years that you can get the
water to support you. Instead you simply need to do floating exercises over and over until you know “in your
bones” that the water will support you every time. So do these exercises repeatedly until you feel completely
secure in that knowledge.
Instant Flotation (Right) The most buoyant part of your body is your lungs. This
exercise teaches you how to use the air in your lungs – in TI we call that your
“buoy” – to create instant flotation. It will work best if you start with a deep
breath and bubble out only enough air to keep water from invading your nose.
Just reach down for your toes and – presto – feel yourself suspended in the
water. Once that happens, just enjoy the sense of rocking back and forth gently.
Regain Your Feet The safest feeling for any new swimming student is when
they have their hips over their feet and their feet solidly on the bottom. When their feet come off the bottom
and their hips float out behind, they will often feel vulnerable. This exercise teaches you how to stand
securely and introduces your first bilateral coordination skill.
When you’re ready to stand from the Jellyfish float, keep your head down and reach forward with one leg,
then draw both arms back. Keep your head down until your foot is solidly on the bottom and your hips under
you. Then draw your arms into your sides and stand. You chose to do it with that leg because your brain is
“wired” to favor that leg. But swimming is a bilateral skill, so repeat this process, reaching the other leg forward.
As you do, tune in to how it feels different to reach with the other leg instead. To become a true TI
swimmer, you’ll need to use both sides of your body (and brain) with equal facility. Movements that don’t
come naturally require mindful practice to learn.
Egg Float (Right) In the Jellyfish, your limbs serve as “outriggers” or stabilizers.
In the Egg, you take away the outriggers and allow your body to bob
around in response to water movement. Just enjoy the experience of giving
yourself over to the water without resistance or reservation.
Basketball Dribble (Right) Our final flotation exercise should be fun for both partners.
The partner who is more comfortable in the water should be the “basketball”
first, so the less experienced partner can observe before being pressed under. It’s
also a good idea to plan in advance how many times you’ll dribble – no surprises.
Being dribbled will reveal each person’s buoyancy characteristics. A swimmer who
bobs up quickly will also achieve balance fairly easily. One who bobs up more slowly
will need more manual assistance in coming exercises.
Spinning (Right) This particularly playful exercise will be your first opportunity
to explore how the water’s “thickness” can make it harder to move if you take
up too much space, or easier to move when you work with that resistance
Try some experiments: Tuck your body tightly to see how easy it us to spin. Open
your tuck to experience more resistance. Use smooth arm movements to experience
effective propulsion, then hurried, choppy movements to experience how
they waste energy. The lesson: a streamlined body and smooth propelling movements will use the least energy.
After that, try the following:
• Spin in one direction…then in the other.
• Spin with your left arm only. Then with your right arm only.
• Spin both left and right with your left arm only, then go each way with your right arm.
These will teach you about bilateral skill and coordination.
• Find the fewest arm sculls to complete a full circle with each arm in each direction.
• How many complete circles can you make in each direction before stopping to breathe?
• With your eyes closed, spin exactly one circle to the right, then exactly one to the left.
These exercises will teach you about movement efficiency.
TEACH YOURSELF FISHLIKE POSITIONS
These exercises depart completely from traditional swimming instruction. I’ve watched many classes where
beginning swimmers were urged to kick the water into a froth or tear awkwardly at it with their arms. They
wear themselves out yet hardly move; no wonder so many never learn to swim. In TI instruction, we want you
to start by learning to do hardly anything and glide seemingly forever.
Like the floating exercises, Prone Glides, with assistance from a partner, are worth doing again and again to
deeply imprint habits of ease and grace. The first two exercises will teach you how to distribute yourself so
the water holds you up without effort. The next two will teach you the unmatched joy of balanced, slippery,
effortlessly supported gliding through the water.
Find Your Balance This will be your most valuable exercise in self-awareness, to this point, as it applies
directly and practically to swimming. Repeat it many times, as each attempt can give you a better understanding
of how to reach the most horizontal position with the least effort.
Start in the Egg float, and slowly extend your arms and legs. As you see on the video, Linda reaches a perfectly
horizontal position with ease, while Som is angled upward about 30 degrees to the surface. Women
generally find it easier than men to achieve a horizontal position.
If, like Linda, you can do this easily, then focus on extending your bodyline another inch or two and on making
sure your head is right in line with your spine. If your balance is more like Som’s, try extending a bit more
slowly and carefully, as follows:
(1) Extend your arms with hands an inch or two below the surface.
(2) Slowly, gingerly, extend just one leg, then the other. You may find it easier to stay horizontal with just
one leg extended, then use that leg as a stabilizer as the other goes out to meet it.
(3) After extending your bodyline – in whatever position you’re in – lower your arms by degrees, then raise
them again to see which arm position helps you most.
(4) Lean into the water on your breastbone to see if that helps make your hips and legs lighter.
(5) After you’ve done all you can to become more horizontal on your own, let your partner lift your legs to a
horizontal position. If you’re the partner, do it with the lightest touch possible.
As “coach” you can also make sure your swimmer’s head is right on the head-spine line. When alignment is
right you’ll only see a small sliver of the back of the head above the water. Then launch your partner into a
glide – if they balanced on their own, do it with a light push. If you needed to help lift the legs, give a stronger
thrust. While gliding, how does it feel to be perfectly balanced? Tune into and enjoy the relaxing feeling of
being supported by the water.
IYX (Right) These exercises will be an experiment in gaining more control
over your body position by exploring how you can affect your equilibrium
with your arms and legs. If you can improve your balance in a Y or X
position, then try to maintain that sense of better balance when you
extend yourself into the I position again. You and your partner should
help each other as needed as you work toward awareness of how to
stay balanced with the least effort. When assisting your partner, provide
the lightest possible support, staying alert to allow your partner
to achieve the best possible position they can without your help.
Prone Glide Our final series of Lesson Two exercises will foreshadow
how effortless and enjoyable swimming will be when you become
Fishlike. Take your cue on how to assist your partner, from the first clip,
where Som launches Linda with a feather-light push.
If your partner needs help in getting horizontal, reach under his knees
and lift until he’s balanced from head to toe. Maintain contact and
support as you move down to the feet. Then, hold your partner lightly
by the toes and walk him around a bit, allowing him to sense how it
feels to part the waters, moving forward without doing a thing.
After launch, see how far you can travel without kicking. Don’t begin kicking until you’ve done five or six assisted
glides. Each time try to travel a bit farther by staying more balanced and extending your bodyline into the
longest sleekest position possible.
When you’re gliding motionless as far as possible, you can begin kicking – barely enough to keep your legs
from sinking and to maintain momentum. Kick quietly and gently, keeping your legs inside your body cylinder.
This light minimal kick is typical of TI swimming.
Next, practice self-starting glides without a partner. Push off the wall, balance and streamline and see how
far you can glide without kicking. Or push from the bottom into a long, lazy glide. Try to travel a bit farther
each time. The less effort or kick you need now to balance, the less you’ll need later to drill or swim.
Rolling Glide (Right) This will orient you to the rhythmic body roll of TI
freestyle. When acting as “coach,” support your partner’s ankles while she
extends into Prone Glide position. Turn her slightly to both sides, from the
ankles. Watch to see that she can maintain good head-spine alignment,
and stop rotating if she loses it. After rotating at least twice to each side,
give her a push, so she can try to continue rolling on her own. If you’re the
swimmer, focus on keeping yourself needle-like and learn how much you
can roll while maintaining your alignment. After launch, roll easily from side to side, imprinting the movement
you’ll use in swimming.
A Few Easy Strokes If you’re anxious for a taste of “swimming” by this point, feel free to try a few strokes.
After launch, glide a bit with your head in line and feeling like a streamlined vessel. Keep looking down as you
take 6 to 8 strokes. Don’t worry about “technique.” Just reach forward with one arm, then the other, hold the
water in your hand and move it straight back under you. Let your legs follow your body in whatever way feels
most natural. Your primary focus should be on maintaining the same supported-body-with-minimal-kick feeling
you have just gained. Stroke as gently and quietly as possible for a “preview” of how relaxing TI swimming
BECOMING BALANCED AND SLIPPERY
Now that you’ve experienced the freedom of weightless, effortless movement, Lesson Three will teach you to
swim as fish do. This process will be different from the conventional crawl stroke done so awkwardly by most
people, we’ll teach you a swimming style that will be easy to learn so you can quickly begin gaining all the benefits
and pleasures of swimming fluent laps. And the skills we’ll teach you will also serve as the perfect foundation
for going on to learn the traditional strokes – but with a difference. From the beginning, you’ll develop
habits of flow, efficiency and ease, rather than struggle.
BALANCE ON YOUR BACK (BB)
The prone balance positions in Lesson Two provide valuable insights about ease in the water, but are limited
by your need to breathe. In this exercise you can experience the support of the water, without having to do
anything special to get air.
As the “Swimmer” do the following:
• Begin kicking gently as your coach starts towing. Relax and allow your
coach to position your head. Pay particular attention to your head: feel the
water at the corners of your goggles and the bottom of your chin with
ears underwater. We’ll use this head position for all nose-up drills.
• Lean into the water with your upper back (but keep your shoulders
relaxed), then notice how that affects the position of your hips and legs.
As the “Coach” do the following:
• Begin towing from the shoulders to provide some momentum.
• Continue towing as you position the swimmer’s head with the face parallel to the surface, and with water
touching the corners of the goggles. Note: For some students, this head position may feel very deep in the
water. You may need to encourage the swimmer to trust you and release neck and shoulder muscles.
• Release the swimmer’s head and continue walking. Walking backward to provide “draft” is a great aid to
their maintaining a relaxed kick. Check and adjust head position as necessary and lightly press arms to sides.
Resume towing as needed.
Once you’ve both achieved ease and comfort, you’re ready to try some “solo” practice – which you can initiate
by launching your partner from their feet. Practice with these focal points:
• Feel just as you did while being towed, particularly head position and sense of effortless support.
• Kick with a compact, silent flutter - lightly flicking your toes toward the surface. Study the underwater
video sections to observe how shallow and gentle the kick is.
• Arms pressed lightly to your sides (no sculling or bracing)
• With practice aim to travel more quietly and with less effort. If you feel yourself losing balance, just stand
up, breathe deeply to relax and resume with a push from the bottom. Your momentum will aid as towing did.
Your main goal is to replicate the sensation you felt while being towed.
SWEET SPOT (SS)
This is the “rest and recovery” position for all drills that follow.
Sweet Spot is especially invaluable to understanding how to keep good head-spine alignment while rotating
and keeping your feet and legs tucked cleanly inside your body cylinder. Start in BB and rotate very little, following
the example of Jennifer and Tobey on the video. The goal isn’t to roll all the way to your side, but to
find the most comfortable position.
As the “Swimmer” do the following:
• After your coach assists you to SS, tune in to your head-spine alignment and slipping your entire body
through the smallest possible “hole” in the water.
• Keep your body rotation minimal. SS is more towards your back than the side.
• Maintain this position after release by leaning back on your shoulder and keeping the water at the corners of
• Kick only enough to maintain balance and momentum; after release continue to feel as if you’re being
As the “Coach” do the following:
• Use one hand to keep your swimmer’s head aligned and stable, as you
use the other hand to help them rotate to SS. Then tow with hands on
both shoulders, while adjusting head position as needed.
• Eyeball the line from head to toe and correct as needed. When the line
from head to toes looks aligned, release and continue leading.
• Resume towing your swimmer if they lose momentum. Tow and release
as often as needed.
After you have each traveled easily for 20 to 30 feet after release, try some solo practice. Just a short distance
at first, then longer as you feel able, giving your attention to these focal points:
• Try to feel as much as possible like you did while being towed.
• Start each repeat with head hidden in BB, then rotate just slightly to reach SS.
• As you rotate, keep your head still and stable. Water should touch the corners of both goggles at all times.
• Slip through the water as cleanly and quietly as possible. If you feel a bit less comfortable on one side, try
to tune into what you do on the other side and try to make both sides feel similar.
Active Balance (AB) This will help you improve your feel for SS by practicing it in a dynamic manner. As you
rotate to each side, your goal is to consistently find your most comfortable position. Employ the Buddy
System much as you did in SS, but with more attention to keeping the head “hidden” and perfectly still as
the body rotates back and forth. In “solo” practice, your main goal is to rotate with gentle weight shifts and
without help from your hands or extra effort on your kick. Stabilize on one side for three “yoga breaths”
before rolling to the other side.
LENGTHEN YOUR VESSEL (LV)
This drill teaches a lesson that will be most valuable when you begin
swimming – that you reduce drag and can move faster and more easily
when you extend an arm to lengthen your bodyline. In fact, you should
become so “slippery” in this position that you can tow very effectively by
just a single fingertip, as you see Mark do with Alice on the video.
As the “Swimmer,” do the following:
• Begin in BB and allow your coach to help you rotate slightly to your SS.
• Follow your Coach’s cue to sneak your lower arm to full extension, slightly below the surface and allow your
Coach to position it. Then tune into the sense the “traction” on your hand gives you of having a long, sleek
• Focus on slipping through the smallest possible hole in the water during towing and after release.
• Use the lightest possible kick to maintain balance and momentum after release – keep that kick inside your
As the “Coach,” do the following:
• Assist your swimmer as needed as they begin kicking in BB and rotate to SS. Check head position and
head-spine alignment, and assist in positioning.
• After your swimmer sneaks their arm forward, help position the arm and hand correctly. The hand should
be just below the surface, and the arm fully extended but relaxed. Particularly watch for a backward-bending
wrist; correct this so the hand is straight or slightly flexed.
• Tow gently to emphasize the long vessel feeling.
• If your swimmer is a sinker or weak kicker, tow for as long or as often as needed for them to learn to
maintain minimal momentum without over-kicking.
After you have each traveled easily, after release, for 30 to 40 feet on each side, we’ll again do solo practice,
for short distances. Give your attention to these focal points:
• Start in BB and rotate to SS before sneaking your arm overhead. Then try to feel as you did while being
towed – long, sleek and relaxed. Keep your head hidden – with water at the corners of your goggles – and lay
back until your hips and legs feel light.
• If you feel less comfortable after extending your arm, return it to your side, regain your balance, then
extend the arm weightlessly without changing your body position
• Keep your extended hand in the position in which you feel the least strain, but it might be useful to experiment
with a palm-out position, which can help prepare you for nose-down positions to come.
• The main benefit of this drill is in mastering the lack of effort or struggle that Jennifer shows in her solo
practice. That comes from a long slippery balanced bodyline. Aim to feel this way on both sides. If you have
any difficulty feel as effortless as Jennifer looks, try the drill with fins to experience the relaxation that’s so
important in balance drills.
In the Fish drill, you’ll learn to balance directly on your side in the nosedown
position (the only time you’ll be balanced on your side is when you
are nose down). Fish is also the easiest way to learn to keep your head
directly in line with your spine – as it will be in every skill to follow.
As the “Swimmer,” do the following:
• Starting from BB (possibly with an assist from your coach to initiate
momentum), rotate to SS on one side and remain there long enough to
check your balance.
• Rotate to nose down and kick gently while allowing your coach to guide your head and torso into the right
position. Memorize these positions – particularly the feel of your head position. Look directly down and use
the lightest possible kick.
• Return to SS for 3 “yoga” breaths and allow your Coach to help you refine that position. Rotate with gentle
weight shifts, trying not to disturb the water.
• Feel as if you are following a laser line as you rotate between nose up and nose down positions.
As the “Coach,” do the following:
• Gently (or firmly as needed) position your swimmer’s head after they
rotate to nose down and make sure shoulders are stacked. Take
Jennifer’s assist on the underwater view as your cue.
• You can help with propulsion by pressing forward – and slightly downward
– on the upper shoulder, to improve momentum and balance. If your
swimmer is still tilted “uphill” you can also press upward a bit on the
lower rib cage.
• Assist as needed in helping your swimmer return to SS with head
hidden. They should be in exactly the position they started from.
• Observe your swimmer on the second cycle as they continue independently, helping as needed.
• You can also help them rehearse with support from the feet as Tobey and Jennifer show on the video.
After you’ve each practiced Fish successfully on each side, we’ll again
do solo practice, traveling a short distance – just one to two breathing cycles – at first. Focus on these
• Try to feel just as you did while being assisted, particularly in finding the same head position – leading with
the top of your head and looking directly down.
• Lean just a bit on your lower shoulder to keep your hips and legs feeling light.
• Try to follow a “laser line” down the pool as you rotate back and forth between nose-up and nose-down
positions, with your head also remaining right on the spine-line as it rotates.
• Slip through the smallest possible “hole” in the water, with the least water disturbance.
In Skating, you’ll experience balance for the first time in a true swimming position and learn to position your
extended hand correctly below your head. Skating will also reinforce that you breathe by rolling a balanced,
sleek bodyline to the air, rather than by turning or lifting your head.
As the “Swimmer,” do the following:
• Start in the Fish position. Pause to check that you’re looking directly down with your shoulders stacked,
then extend your lower arm.
• Allow your coach to assist in positioning your arm below your head, then check that your nose is straight
down, shoulder straight up
• Continue kicking gently, slipping through the smallest possible “hole” in the water. When you need to
breathe, let your coach help you rotate back to the LV position as shown.
• Take 3 yoga breaths before you return to the Skating Position. Feel as if you’re following a laser line as you
rotate between nose up and nose down positions.
As the “Coach,” do the following:
• Check your Swimmer’s head position and alignment in the “Fish” position. Stack the shoulders if they’re not
• After your swimmer extends the lower arm, check that it’s palm down and below the head. Tow down and
forward on your swimmer’s hand and flex the wrist to point fingers down.
• Continue towing as much as needed to imprint true ease and balance. Keep checking head position as you
do. You can also assist by pressing forward on the upper shoulder (as in Fish).
When practicing on your own, feel just as you did when being towed and assisted. Start with just one or two
breathing cycles and increase your distance one breath cycle at a time. Avoid any sense of struggle. At first, start
each Skating practice segment from the Fish position; later you can begin from the nose-up LV position. If you feel
a loss of balance, angle your extended hand to a deeper position, until you feel your hips and legs become lighter.
Memorize the hand position that produces the greatest sense of balance and use it in the next two drills.
This may be the simplest drill in the entire sequence as you need only add
one simple movement to the Skating drill. Progress to UnderSkate after
you’ve become entirely comfortable with solo practice in Skating. The main
skill to imprint here is to be sure your head is still in line and your shoulders
are still stacked when you see your hand under your nose.
• Start in Skating position and check: Head position, shoulders stacked,
and arm angling DEEP with your palm and fingertips down.
• Sneak your other arm forward. Use this as your “mantra” as you do: Wipe your belly. See your hand. Check
• Check that you’re still on your side with shoulders stacked when you see your hand, then slide it back to
your side and roll all the way back to your nose-up LV position. Keep that laser-line feeling as you do.
• Practice on both sides until it’s second nature to stay balanced on your side when your hand is under your nose.
We’ve come to the final step in our Happy Laps progression. For the brand-new TI swimmer, this will be
“swimming” for you – an exercise that allows you to enjoy the satisfaction of doing lap after fluent lap.
UnderSwitch provides all the health and wellness benefits of swimming, while also giving you a foundation for
acquiring a whole range of advanced skills. Just watch Jennifer and Tobey on the video to see what a beautiful
way this is to move your body through water – balanced, sleek, graceful and comfortable. UnderSwitch is
designed to be done solo, but a partner can still be very helpful in giving you feedback on how your movements
resemble those on the video.
(1) Start as in UnderSkate. When you see your hand under your nose, switch
and roll to LV position on the other side. Take three yoga breaths and check
your balance. Then, swivel nose-down to Skating position…pause…and
repeat in the other direction.
(2) After you’ve mastered the basic movement, give attention to these
focal points one at a time. Focus on doing one thing really well each length:
• Don’t begin sneaking your hand until you check head and hand position and
that your shoulders are still stacked.
• Switch when you see your hand and switch all the way to your Sweet Spot.
Think of breathing this way: “Take your belly button to the air; your head just
goes along for the ride.”
• Switch through the smallest possible “hole” in the water and drill silently.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Mastery of US will give you a skill that will let you swim many laps with graceful, fluent, efficient movements.
You’ve taken an important step in making the water a welcoming place and learning to move through it with
flow and ease…but that’s just the first step. Total Immersion swimmers are lifelong learners and we have
many ways to help you get even more satisfaction and enjoyment from swimming.
America’s most popular swimming stroke is the “crawl” most popularly known as freestyle – largely because
it’s the fastest way to cover any distance from a sprint to a marathon. Freestyle is swum by all kinds of
swimmers from recreational to competitive. Unfortunately, most swimmers – even those with years of experience
– swim it inefficiently, never experiencing the bliss of swimming it with the kind of flow and grace
you’ve seen on this video.
TI Freestyle is always satisfying and so economical that you can learn to use it to swim almost any distance.
You’ve already begun the slightest exploration of it at the end of Lesson Two. To take the next step, you can
learn a TI Freestyle with the aid of our DVD Freestyle Made Easy which builds naturally and seamlessly upon
the foundation you started here and guides you through a series of sequential skills. You’ll learn:
• How to continue working with a practice partner
• How to further develop your balance skills
• How to create rhythmic propelling movement in advanced
• The most effective stroke timing with ZipperSwitch drills
• And how to transition seamlessly from drills to a beautiful stroke with. Overswitch drills. You can also get
instruction from expert Total Immersion Teachers
• in a workshop setting with other swimmers like you
• or in private 1-on-1 classes.
Find information about all the ways Total Immersion can help you become a complete swimmer at our website
at www.totalimmersion.net. Or call us at 800-609-7946.
New Paltz NY
Copyright © 2006 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.
We hope you've enjoyed using our simple and easy to follow program.
It's our goal that you learn to master freestyle so you too can swim effortlessly through the water. We know that if you follow our system step by step your
freestyle will change for the better.
We've helped hundreds of people learn to swim smoothly with these drills, and we know you're going to be one of them if you truly desire.
Stick with it and we hope to share our love of swimming with you for years and years.