A nice thing our school does is include an activity fee with our tuition. I’m not speaking in a facetious manner, I actually mean it. For $55 per semester, we get a membership at a gym located a couple blocks from the school. Normal membership costs more than $55 per month so it’s a bargain. It is also one of the nicest fitness center I’ve seen.
Last semester, Kevan (my carpool buddy) and I began going in early to use the gym. They have a wading pool with six lanes and a full length swim pool with eight lanes. After spending a few mornings running on one of the dozens of machines, my knees reminded me how much they detest it so I began spending more time in the pool.
I can swim but it’s anything but graceful. In fact, it’s much like my skiing. I’m wild enough to jump off any double black diamond slope, and I’ll ski it but I do not look pretty in the process. In fact, some people derive a fair bit of entertainment from it. My swimming is similar. I can thrash my way across the pool very quickly, but because my stroke is so inefficient, I cannot sustain it for long.
One morning last October I’m thrashing across the pool, pausing at each end to catch my breath and this little lady in her mid-fifties slips into the lane next to me and begins swimming laps. For an entire hour she swam up and down her lane in graceful fluid motion before sliding out of the pool. That morning Mr. Obvious smacked me along side the head. I really did not know how to swim and it was time to learn.
When I got home I did some research on swimming to find the best swimming manual available. What I found was Total Immersion.
On October 11, 2005 I purchased the book. It arrived a week later and I read the first dozen chapters and then started the drills. From that moment since, I had swum nothing but TI drills. One hour, twice a week since October.
The Total Immersion drills have been teaching me balance and form. The TI instruction breaks down the process into three basic swim positions in which you must achieve balance; face down, right side, and left side. You do drills swimming in each position until you have achieved balance in all three positions. You also do drills that help you maintain your balance as you shift from one position to the next. I have done these drills so many times now that they are almost second nature.
In addition to balance, other drills teach how to coordinate the appropriate muscle groups together to get the maximum amount of distance from each stroke. I practiced each drill until I could achieve it consistently and then moved on to the next. After five months, I’ve just made it to the tenth drill. The tenth drill is where all the previous drills start coming together and I feel like I am actually swimming.
When I first began learning to swim the Total Immersion way, I counted the number of strokes it took me to swim the length of the pool as a reference point. The following example is four strokes: left, right, left, right. Basically every time an arm strokes from the extended position it is counted. My thrashing down the lane technique required 26 strokes to get from one end of the pool to the other.
On Thursday of last week, I was practicing Drill #10 and found myself at the other end of the pool in what seemed like only a few strokes. So I counted to see just how many strokes it was requiring. The first lap required only 12 strokes. I couldn’t believe it so I did another lap that also required 12 strokes. And then another. I had reduced the number of strokes required to swim the pool from 26 to just 12.
Because my technique is so much more efficient now, I have achieved another milestone that I have not been able to do since I was in grade school. I can swim the length of the pool without taking a breath. I have two more goals to achieve. I used to swim the length of the pool and back. I want that ability back and I need to get my speed back up to my old thrashing speed. Both are coming, and it won’t be long.
There is a bunch of folks training for a triathlon in the pool with me each morning. I watch the drills they are being taught with. Yuck. They do give the athletes a good workout but they sure don’t teach a person how to become a better swimmer. If you know how to swim, Total Immersion will make you a better swimmer. If you don’t know how, it will teach you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.