Saturday, February 25, 2012

Total Immersion Swim Clinic Recap

I have stated this a hundred times before but just in case you haven't been paying attention or are new to my blog, the swim in not my strong suit.  Before 2009 I couldn't swim 4 strokes but the summer of 2009 our local TNT Tri & Masters coach taught me how to swim proper in preparation for my first triathlon.  I swam that 800 meters in just over 24 minutes, slow & steady.  Over the following 2 years I have not improved much at all. What I did improve is the length of time that I could consistently swim mediocrely.  

Last December I picked up the Total Immersion book & the Freestyle DVD.   I spent the next 9 weeks doing the TI drills.  I did improve some but still had a long way to go.  You can do drills all day long but if you are doing them wrong they don't do you a lick of good.  That is when I decided to give one of their workshops a try.

The company running the workshop is called Liquid Lifestyles.  I decided to take the one in Cincinnati.   I took the 2 day Weekend Transformation workshop.

Day 1 - Freestyle Part 1 Maximize Efficiency

Including myself, there were 6 participants.  We were all relatively new triathletes looking to improve our swimming.  Leah was our instructor and is also the company founder.  She has years of experience as a swim instructor & it showed.

After giving an overview of the weekend she had us all get in the pool.  We spent 2 hours in the pool Saturday morning.  We started with a warmup & then she video taped us doing our initial swim.  She taped us from above & below water.

Next  we started doing drills.  The first set of drills we did were Head Lead Balance, Head Lead Rotation, Superman, Target Practice & Skate.   I was familiar with all these drills except Target Practice from the DVD.  It was really nice to have someone watch me perform the drills & correct me so that I would actually do them right.

In additional to the drills she had us work on our treading water skills which in my case were pretty poor.  Before lunch she taped us doing the skate drill.

After our morning pool session & a lunch break we reviewed the videos as a group.  A couple of the things I learned - I was pretty close to crossing the midline when I swim which put my arms in a position that created extra drag.  Also, I was swimming in the rear quadrant meaning when one arm was coming to catch my other arm was already through the pull.  I learned that you want both arms in Front Quadrant.  My initial stroke count was 30.

After reviewing all the videos we were back in the pool for the next set of drills & the next round of videotaping.  The afternoon drills consisted of Shark Fin & Shark Fin Switch.  These 2 drills help you get the feel of swimming in front quadrant.  Leah also taped us doing the Shark Fin Switch drill. 

Day 2 - Freestyle Part 2 Training for Speed

Sunday started out reviewing focal points for us to concentrate on while doing the drills.    My top 3 to focus on are 1) arms slightly wider than shoulder width apart, 2) arms at 30 degree target & 3) front quandrant swim.

She discussed a few more things like dry land drills, practice frequency, etc before hitting the pool for the AM session. 

The AM session was spent learning the last 2 drills, Double Arm Pull & Single Arm Pull.  This is when I learned that I have a super weak pull.  She also had a bunch of pool toys to try out.  After cycling through all the pool toys we broke out the tempo trainers.  Basically, you can set the stroke rate to be what you want & tuck it into your swim cap.  It will beep at the set frequency to indicate when you stroke.   It can also be used to help you with run & bike cadences as well.  It is a pretty cool training tool.

We practiced full stroke using tempos of 2.0, 1.9, 1.8 & 1.7.   During this time we also counted our strokes at the different tempos.  My average stroke rate came out to about 19 - a full 11 strokes lower than when I started the clinic!  After practicing for a bit she taped us all doing full stroke at 1.7 sps.

After lunch she reviewed the tapes.  When asked how we felt doing full stroke I said it felt chaotic!  It felt so different than how I was swimming before that I honestly felt like I was doing it wrong.  Surprising when reviewing the video it looked good & not at all chaotic.  It amazed me how I could feel one way & look the complete opposite. 

After reviewing all the videos Leah went through an example workout for us.  She impressed upon us that we should never jump into the pool without a plan.  We should always have a planned workout & focus for each workout.  After reviewing her example workout we hit the pool for the last time.  At this point of the workshop I think we were all really tired & pretty much had to drag ourselves to the pool.  We didn't do tons of laps so we weren't physically exhausted but we were definately mentally exhausted.  Leah did warn us up front on that we would feel this way by the end of the weekend.

After spending another 1 1/2 in the pool we were back in the classroom for the final session.  She talked to us what our plans should be going forward.  The reality is, if we just go back to the pool on Monday doing what we always do we just wasted a bunch of money!  She outlined what we should do over the next few months to reinforce our new swim techniques.

Weeks 1-4 Post Workshop - 80% drills, 20% swim. 

Months 1-5 Post Workshop - 50% drills, 50% swim.

Months 6+ Post Workshop - 20% drills, 80% swim

So there you have it.  I will try to summarize the Pros/Cons from my perspective.

  • The workshop was info packed.  Leah was extremely efficient & covered so many things in the time we had together. 
  • The student to teacher ratio was great.  She was able to give everyone the feedback they needed.
  • The videos were awesome!  She takes you through them in slow motion so you can see what exactly is going on in your stroke.
  • Based on your specific defiencies she suggests drills & pool toys to help you improve.
  • I think this is a great option for relatively new swimmers like myself. 
  • Going through this workshop I finally was able to understand the feedback that our local swim coach was giving me.  It finally clicked.
  • The really cool swim cap you wear the entire time you are in the pool  :-)

  • It is expensive.  It took me a while thinking about it before actually signing up.  Now that I went, I think it was worth the money.
  • Time committment.  To do this right you are going to have to invest in the time.  I think a lot of people are not going to want to spend hours & hours doing drills only especially if you are in the middle of a training block for a specific race.
  • Brief period of lost fitness level. I have read some other posts/reviews that said they actually lost fitness levels trying to learn this technique .  For me there really wasn't much fitness to be lost.  Personally, I believe it will improve my fitness & allow me to go greater distances much more efficiently. 
  • If you are already a fast swimmer this may not be for you.  I say this not because I don't think it would benefit a fast swimmer - I just know how some of these folks have reacted to me telling them about TI.  A couple have even poo-poo'd this technique. 
Basically, it boils down to you being willing to stop & basically start over in the swimming department.  Some people (including myself 6 months ago) don't want to do this.  Heck, I just learned to swim 2 1/2 years ago.  I wanted to swim.  Even if it meant going slow.  I wanted to go faster but I just couldn't figure out how to do it.  I had to throw everything out the window & start over.  Once I came to the conclusion that I had to go back to the basics I realized how much this was going to help in the long run.  In 48 hours I cut 11 strokes off my average stroke count!!!
    I made it to the pool Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday mornings this week.  Tuesday I spent the entire time practicing the drills.  Wednesday & Friday I added about 10 minutes of swimming to the end of the end of the workout.  I was super thrilled to find that my stroke count was still averaging 19!  The highest was 21 & the lowest was 17.

    Hope this helps those of you that are considering doing a Total Immersion clinic.  Liquid Lifestyles holds a lot of the clinics in the midwest.  I would highly recommend them.  In fact, I plan to take their Underwater Videotaping & Stroke Anaylsis clinic at the end of March in Lexington.  That will give me 6 weeks to practice what I learned & then go back to get some feedback on what has stuck & what I need to work on next. 

    For fun, here are my before & after videos.  To the untrained eye the changes are subtle but they really made a big difference. 

    A couple things of note - Notice my head position in the initial & final videos.   In the final video my head is almost completely submerged.  You can also see how my arm position is much better in the final videos - not so close to the midline & definitely in front quandrant. 

    In the final videos my stroke rate is 1.7 sps which is why you see the pause.  The slower rate helps reinforce the front quadrant swim technique.  Over  the next few weeks I will gradually increase the tempo until I find my optimal stoke rate.

    Initial Swim Video - Above Water

    Final Swim Video - Above Water

    Initial Swim Video - Underwater

    Final Swim Video - Underwater


    1. Swimming can be so frustrating because it is so technique driven. I started as a swimmer and always considered the pool the place where I redeemed myself when I trained with a group. The very same people that would destroy me at the track would always be so shocked when I dropped them i the pool. Fact was, I wasn't fitter or stronger (quite the opposite), just more efficient. Still, when I went back to basics and started getting help with my stroke, I dropped 15 sec off my avg 100 in a single lesson!! Keep up the good work!! This seems like time very well spent for you (and everyone 'cept maybe Mr. Phelps.)

      1. You are so right. The pool has been a big source of frustration but I am hoping that will now change. That is awesome that you were still able to knock 15 sec off your time!

        Thanks for reading!

    2. I have thought about doing some sort of stroke clinic - I swam as a kid and through high school, but that was more than 20 yrs ago. When I started back to the pool w/ masters, my coach helped me to start dropping either bad habits I picked up plus I think swimming technique has changed over the years too. I learned to swim with my arm going sort of across my body, but that is not the preferred technique now - but hard to unlearn....



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