Today on the podcast I sit down with Terry Laughlin to talk swimming. Terry is the founder of Total Immersion (TI), which is the swim technique that he has developed over his 40-year coaching career. The goal of TI is to teach swimmers to move through the water efficiently and this is accomplished by focusing on balance, streamlining and propulsion. In addition to being a swim coach, Terry is also an accomplished swimmer in his own right. He has held records in the 55-59 age group in 1 and 2 mile open water cable swims and he has also completed several marathon-distance swims, including the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in 2002 and 2006.
I came across Terry and Total Immersion about four years ago when I was toying with the idea of completing a short sprint triathlon. At the time, when I first jumped back in the pool, I couldn’t swim more than two or three laps without stopping to catch my breath and give my arms and shoulders a rest. I realized at that point that I wasn’t going to become a better swimmer by just pushing myself to swim more and harder laps every time I got in the pool, so I did some research online as I assumed I was not alone in this struggle and I came across the Total Immersion technique. I read that triathletes and swimmers of all ages and levels had a lot of success in essentially relearning (or learning for the first time) to swim with TI. First, I read Terry’s book to gain a solid understanding of what the technique is all about and then I ended up taking a TI workshop at Terry’s swim studio in New Paltz. After practicing the drills from the workshop and building that muscle memory, my stroke and experience in the pool had been transformed. Not only was I able to swim longer and faster than I could previously, but I was also really enjoying my time in the water. The sense of struggle that I used to feel was gone.
There is another thing about Terry’s personal journey as a swimmer and coach that I really thought would be interesting to discuss on this podcast. Even though he started swimming competitively as a young kid, Terry was not an elite high school or college level swimmer. He swam on his high school team and in college at St. John’s University, but as he describes it he was normally the guy in the slow lane on those teams (in fact, his best personal accomplishments as a swimmer occurred 40+ years after he started swimming at a competitive level). After college, when he started coaching, he began to observe and analyze the different swimmers on his team in order to determine what distinguished the fast swimmers from the slow ones. He began to experiment with his swimmers and in those early years he quickly learned to trust his intuition as a swim coach. He had great early success as a college swim coach even though he was still in his 20s. As the years passed, Terry also began to work with adult onset swimmers and triathletes of various skill levels, which gave him yet another important learning opportunity as a coach. At the age of 38, Terry released the first version of the Total Immersion swim program and he continues to modify and adapt that program to this day, focused on the principle of continuous improvement and maintaining a process oriented mindset.
In this episode we delve into Terry’s life in the water, focusing on the things that he learned over the years in order to continuously improve both as a swimmer and coach. Thanks for tuning in!