Total Immersion

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This article is about the swimming instruction technique. For the religious ritual, see Immersion baptism. For the language teaching technique, see language immersion.

Total Immersion (TI) is a method of swimming instruction, developed by Terry Laughlin, an American swimming coach. Its primary focus is to teach swimmers to move through the water efficiently. By conserving energy and focusing on balance and streamlining in the water, any energy used for propulsion becomes much more effective. Basic principles of teaching include sustainability of effort, drag reduction, vessel shaping and full body swimming.


Total Immersion is distinct as a swimming method due to the combination of principles including the body's physical movement through the water, teaching methods focused on how the brain acquires new information about motor skills, and an approach to the practice of movement which many find similar to the practice of yoga or Tai Chi.[citation needed]


Total Immersion focuses on a handful of core principles that apply to any body moving through a fluid medium whether it be a boat, a submarine, an aquatic mammal or a fish. It emphasizes greater efficiency and lowered resistance by teaching drills and focal points that keep the swimmer's hips near the surface, reducing the drag profile of the body. Balance in the water refers to having hips, shoulders, and head all level with the surface of the water. The body acts like a see–saw with the lungs as the fulcrum. Because the legs typically weigh more than the head and upper body, swimmers must focus on getting weight forward of the lungs in order to bring the hips to the surface. Adjusting head position, usually by lowering it, and having the arms in front of the lungs by almost overlapping the timing of the stroke helps to balance the body in the same way a see–saw balances by adding weight to one side. This stroke timing is frequently called "front quadrant swimming".{Total Immersion T. Laughlin & J. Delves pp. 37–41 & 90-91}


After learning how to balance in the water, the next main focus in total immersion is streamlining the body. Streamlining is another element of drag reduction that allows the swimmer to be more efficient. Static streamlining refers to positions such as "skating" in which one arm is extended forward creating a leading point and a tapered body following the arm, much like a torpedo or bullet is shaped. Active streamlining refers to maintaining the streamlined body position while the body rotates from right-side streamline to left-side streamline. Several drills in the method allow the swimmer to practice shifting from streamline to streamline until these movements feel natural. An additional benefit of the streamlined body position is to help maintain a long bodyline in the water, which may help to reduce wave drag and allow the swimmer to slip forward through the water more easily.[citation needed]


Propulsion allows the swimmer to move forward through the water by overcoming drag. Total Immersion teaches propulsive methods after balance and streamlining. A swimmer's forward speed is the difference between the force produced in propelling actions and the force generated by drag. Movements and body positions that minimize drag require coordination and practice but very little strength and thus improve efficiency. Creating propulsive force requires the use of muscular strength, which uses far more energy.[citation needed]

Rather than dividing the propulsive techniques into a front half that "pulls" the body forward and a back half that "pushes" via kicking, Total Immersion drills & swimming always emphasize full body integration, dividing the body into a streamlined left side alternating with a streamlined right side. Rather than increasing the power of the swimmer's leg kick or arm pull, Total Immersion emphasizes coordinated spearing movements with a well-timed two-beat kick.[citation needed]

Target audience[edit]

Total Immersion is a popular swimming technique with adult learners and triathletes because of its systematic progression of skills. This approach can be beneficial to entry-level adult swimmers, triathletes, distance swimmers, and those who swim for exercise and health.[citation needed]

The focus on efficiency and stroke length can be applied to swimming in competition as well. Terry Laughlin, founder of Total Immersion, coached the West Point Sprinters from 1996 to 1999. Joe Novak, one of his athletes, remains one of West Point's most notable sprinters, under Terry's coaching. Joe won nine gold medals in Patriot League Championships, having won the 50m Freestyle, 100m Freestyle and 100m Butterfly in 1996, 1997, and 1998.[1]

Learning approach[edit]

TI treats swimming with a similar approach to many martial arts, with an emphasis on mindful practice in the spirit of yoga or t'ai chi. Whether the swimmer's primary goal is exercise, relaxation, endurance, or competition, the aim is to develop awareness of your body's movements within and interactions with the water. For both swimmers who have learned a different style of swimming as well as novice learners, the drill sequence builds the stroke up from small movements and balance drills towards a whole stroke. Progression is built on successful previous movements in a system that the founder describes as "Trial and Success".[citation needed]

Short repetitions of proper movement allow the body to incorporate new motor sequences as the learner develops an efficient stroke. As the new motor skill is learned, it can be executed with increased speed and less conscious control over the movement.[2] When the movements become automated, the swimmer can then focus on increasing stroke rate while maintaining efficiency. In this way speed as well as efficiency can be developed.


Front crawl[edit]

The most common stroke is the front crawl/freestyle stroke. Its TI technique includes five focal points:[3][better source needed]

  • Release your head's weight to the water, so your head and spine align.
  • Focus more on using your hand to lengthen your bodyline, less on pushing water back.
  • Relax your legs until the kick blends easily with your stroke.
  • Swim more quietly - minimize waves and splash.
  • Count strokes.
  • Imagine your hands to be like anchors, instead of paddles. Don't push water. But rather pull yourself along on each stroke.

Laughlin also encourages a technique called front quadrant swimming. This method creates an imaginary quadrant along the swimmer's body with the head and shoulders at the center of the 4 quadrants. The front quadrant consists of an arc formed by the extended stroke arm. The technique requires at least one arm within that front lower quadrant at all times, either in glide position or initiating a downward stroke.

He also encourages an active rotation of the hips and shoulders to help create leverage in the strokes.

Emphasis is placed on developing balance and awareness of the dynamics of swimming, over and above the development of simple strength and power.


For the breaststroke, the technique includes:[citation needed]

  • Streamlining during the glide phase is emphasized; the body must stay as long and sleek in the water as possible.
  • Arm movement is minimized, and does not contribute to forward motion.
    • When not moving, arms are streamlined in front of the swimmer.
    • When moving, the arms are only used to bring the head above water for the breathing phase.
  • The movement of the head above the water starts a full-body movement that ends with the kick.
  • The force of the kick should come as the final step of a full body movement.
  • Eyes are looking down, and never looking directly forward at any point in the stroke.


Similar to the breaststroke, the body undulates up and down for the butterfly, using the movement of the torso to contribute to the power of the kick.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Portal icon Swimming portal


Further reading[edit]

  • Kassinger, Ruth (Jun 2005). "Strokes of a Genius". Health 19 (5). pp. 78–84. .
  • Laughlin, Terry; John Delves (2004). Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier. Fireside. ISBN 0-7432-5343-4. 
  • Laughlin, Terry (2004). Triathlon Swimming Made Easy: The Total Immersion Way for Anyone to Master Open-Water Swimming. Total Immersion Inc. ISBN 1-931009-07-4. 
  • Laughlin, Terry (2001). Swimming Made Easy: The Total Immersion Way for Any Swimmer to Achieve Fluency, Ease, and Speed in Any Stroke. Total Immersion Inc. ISBN 1-931009-01-5. 
  • Sanders, Prof. Ross. "Total Immersion Strategies - A Closer Look". coaches' infoservice: sports science information for coaches. Retrieved 2006-11-12. 

External links[edit]