I stumbled across a fourth option, a choice for do-it-yourselfers, offered by a company called Total Immersion.
Total Immersion, founded in 1989 by Terry Laughlin, who has been coaching swimming professionally for 32 years, is aimed primarily at adults who already swim but want to do it more easily. Rather than fine-tuning a swimmer's strokes, the method develops an entirely new swimming technique.
The program is taught in two ways: through two-day clinics, several of which are held most weekends across the country, or via a video/DVD. Laughlin reports that in 2003 about 2,000 people took Total Immersion clinics and more than 30,000 bought instructional books, videos and DVDs. I opted for the DVD and joined an indoor swim club.
According to Laughlin, the first step adult swimmers need to take is to forget everything they have learned about swimming. Swimming "is not about using your hands to push water toward your feet," but about slipping through the water with as little drag as possible.
To achieve streamlining, Total Immersion swimmers keep the head just below the surface of the water, which lifts the hips and legs and ensures that the swimmer stays parallel to the surface, offering as narrow a profile as possible to water in front of the swimmer.
Swimmers also reduce drag by performing most of the stroke cycle on their sides, switching quickly from one side to the other as the recovering hand enters the water. The switch, Laughlin asserts, also produces torque for additional propulsion.
In addition, Total Immersion-trained swimmers keep one arm extended in front of them all the time to lengthen the body's profile, which, like a sleek sailboat hull, encounters less water resistance. That constant arm extension leads to what is called front-quadrant swimming, in which the extended arm doesn't start to pull until the recovering arm is in front of the head and about to enter the water.
Laughlin's method relies on a series of 14 drills. Each one adds a small, incremental skill until all the elements of the stroke are in place. The emphasis is on balance, fluidity and careful perfection of motions rather than on building strength by powering through laps.
The method worked beautifully for me: I can now swim freestyle for 30 minutes, and with pleasure. The drills were easy to do, and I enjoyed mastering the progression. The sequential nature of the method motivated me to get back to the pool day after day. But it took me several weeks to get a complete stroke again. Total Immersion is not a quick tuneup.
Although I've become a fan of the method, I have no doubt I would have improved with a stroke clinic or by getting coaching at a Masters club.
Many of Total Immersion's techniques -- as opposed to its instruction method -- are similar to those of the YMCA and the Red Cross. Some of the differences are merely matters of degree: how far to roll the body or how deep to hold the head.
The feedback of an instructor has great value. In fact, at the end of the tutorial I found a Total Immersion-trained instructor to give me some one-on-one coaching.
One thing that all the experts agree on is that you need patience to make a new technique your own. Steve Jordan explained: "To create a new habit on a clean slate takes a few repetitions. To replace an old habit with a new one sometimes takes many hundreds of repetitions."
But if you'd like to do more than sit by the side of the pool this summer, it's worth it.•
Ruth Kassinger is a Washington area freelance writer.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Updating your swimming technique can make it not only easier, but, the writer attests, downright pleasant.
(Noel Hendrikson/ Veer)
In an article in the May 25 Health section, a statement about the rarity of muscle strains resulting from swimming was mistakenly attributed to Katie Moore with the American Physical Therapy Association. The statement was made by Karolyn Bauer, president-elect of that group's Aquatics Physical Therapy Section.
Learning How to Swim
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Transcript Allen Muchnick, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation was online to discuss bike safety.