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Total Immersion Swimming: Lessons by Coach Terry Laughlin

Total Immersion Swimming Lessons Terry Laughlin

If you’re familiar with legendary swim coach Terry Laughlin and his groundbreaking system Total Immersion Swimming, then you’re probably well aware of the profound methodology inherent in Terry’s teachings. If you haven’t experimented with lessons and practices of Total Immersion Swimming, then you’re in for a real treat. 

When you experience Total Immersion Swimming, you’ll quickly find that it is a thing of grace. This short video of Terry Laughlin demonstrating the TI swimming technique captures just that:

Total Immersion Swimming has gone from humble beginnings to one of the world’s most effective and widely embraced protocols for better and faster swimming. The TI swimming techniques have been proven among professional athletes as well as complete newcomers, such as Tim Ferriss. In turn, Terry Laughlin’s work has evolved to become more than just a program of swimming lessons, and has ultimately cultivated a community among swimmers, triathletes, and coaches alike. 


A Quick Background on Terry Laughlin and Total Immersion Swimming

Some of the best video content on Total Immersion Swimming is a series of lectures in which you can not only get to know Terry, but also better understand the ideas behind his approach.

The series is called “Total Immersion: Perpetual Motion Freestyle,” and in Part 1, Terry shares background about himself and what spawned the innovative methods behind TI swimming.

With roots spanning back to the late 1980’s, Terry Laughlin branded Total Immersion Swimming as an innovative way to break through conventional swim technique norms that involved muscling the water with stronger strokes and more powerful kicks. Instead, Total Immersion embraced a ‘fishlike’ style of swimming that emphasized the idea of creating slippery and streamline bodylines rooted in dragless efficiency.

In 1996, Terry’s pioneering technique was translated into the book Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier. In less than a year from the book’s initial publishing, the timeless work quickly became a best selling book on swimming, and it continues to outsell other swimming books decades later.


Why Total Immersion Swimming is a Win for Triathletes

There’s no secret behind why Total Immersion swimming as been adopted by swimmers and triathletes alike. In a highly-complex movement like the freestyle swim stroke, Terry Laughlin does a terrific job of simplifying critical stroke techniques so they don’t feel overwhelming or over-complicated. 

In Part 2 of the Perpetual Motion Freestyle series, Terry discusses an important point between velocity (which is encouraged for short-distance sprint swimmers) versus sustainability and efficiency (which is far more important when swimming for long distances such as that of triathlon. 

Although triathletes are often type-A individuals who find themselves getting into the minutiae of every aspect of the sport, Total Immersion’s simplified approach helps diminish any over-thinking by reinforcing easy-to-adapt habits that help cultivate an efficient swim technique. In short, TI swimming encourages athletes to slow down and focus on improving their technique. 

Among other benefits of TI swimming are based on the following principles.

  • Harder swimming doesn’t always result in faster swimming. In most cases, this will result in slower swim times. Terry’s approach underscores a crucial paradigm shift in athlete’s thinking, especially beginner swimmers who have a tendency to push harder to go faster.
  • Dovetailing on the latter principle, Terry encourages more emphasis on body position and less emphasis on generating power from the catch and kick. This efficiency-focused methodology allows triathletes to swim fast enough while reserving energy for the rest of the race.
  • TI swimming emphasizes long and economic strokes, spearing into the water much like how a fish navigates the water. The techniques also promote greater body roll by rotating the hips from side to side versus the more conventional approach of keeping them still or straight. 
  • Terry makes learning to swim better fun. Rooted to his simple lessons and learning modalities, TI swimming helps produce a solid foundation for whatever your swimming goals may be. The byproduct is faster, more efficient swimming and developing a swimmer’s physique.

Part 3 of Perpetual Motion Freestyle underlines the importance of “shaping the vessel,” and how body positioning and mental awareness is more important for swim sustainability over “building the engine,” which is more common in running and cycling. As such, Terry Laughlin encourages athletes to think about how to work less in the water to produce greater outcomes.


The Global Mechanics of TI Swimming Technique

Part 4 of the Terry’s lecture demystifies the freestyle technique by underscore the importance of having the arms and legs work together through the core – not independently like how buoys and kickboards reinforce. He emphasizing firing through one’s entire body in the stroke movement, and how this global activation can help maximize efficiency while minimizing lactate production and fatigue.

Dovetailing on the mechanical concepts in the latter video, this next lesson in the series focuses on hand and arm positioning with Total Immersion swimming. Terry introduces a couple new drills in the mix, one of which is called the “Spearswitch,” which enables swimmers to imprint the essential spearing habits and where to direct their hand in the freestyle motion. 

In this final video of Perpetual Motion Freestyle, Terry wraps-up his lecture with Q&A from the audience. Many of the questions asked help reinforce the Total Immersion Swimming lessons shared throughout the lecture.

Sadly, Terry Laughlin died young on October 20th, 2017. Although he is no longer with us, this legacy lives on through his children, family, and his work: Total Immersion Swimming. To learn more about TI swimming and find resources like Terry’s book, DVD program, or how to find a TI swim coach near you, visit

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Tyler Tafelsky Gravel Cyclist
Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler