Total Immersion Swimming Practice

Today Tom and I went to the pool for our fourth practice session since I took the Total Immersion class last month. My drills went much better today than last Saturday. I’m more comfortable in the leading-arm Sweet Spot, which is important because it’s where you go to breathe while practicing all of the drills. Or if you get flustered or need to collect your thoughts before the next face-down drill, that’s the default “comfort” position.
Last week I had trouble relaxing enough to breathe comfortably in Sweet Spot. All I wanted to do was hold my breath. I would breathe shallowly, go on to the next drill, and be really breathless when I completed the length. Today I didn’t have that problem at all, and I never even put my noseplug on. This means I’m getting the hang of balancing well enough to breathe better, and of expelling a little air while rolling up to Sweet Spot without letting water run up my nose. And today when that did happen I calmly exhaled and didn’t let it bother me. I’m sure I’m still too uptight in the water, but I’m improving.
I practiced only the early drills: Sweet Spot, Skate, Under-Skate, Under-Switch, and lots of Double-Under-Switch. With Double-Under-Switch, I know I was getting better hip rotation and arm-reach on one side than the other. I don’t know if it was always one side, though, or if it was whichever side I did the second switch from. Other problems I was aware of: turning my head between switches; kicking too hard (a bit of a panic kick, although I wasn’t feeling panicked) on the roll to Sweet Spot; pausing between switches with my hand in the pocket; not actively reaching ahead with my lead hand. I didn’t have all these problems all the time. I tried to focus on eliminating one at a time, and I have a sense that it will all come together. I won’t move on until it does. In fact, next time I’ll spend more time on the single under-switch, focusing on neutral head, hip rotation, and reach, before I try the double switches again.
After I feel that the double-under-switches are really good, I’ll start on the set of drills that involve lifting the elbow from the water in preparation for the whole stroke. I know I’ll need tons of practice on those. And the whole stroke–I can’t even think about that now. I have faith that it also will, in spite of all the problems I expect, come together eventually just like the double-under-switch will in the next few sessions.
I’m very satisfied with just developing an ability to go the length of the pool with some sense of knowing what I’m doing and why, instead of the flail I used to use. Being as relaxed as I was today in the water, kicking more gently, and having a default position for breathing–those three things together make me feel like I’m really swimming. If I had to swim to save my life I’d probably be better off using today’s drills than using my old, exhausting, flailing crawl.

Team Survivor Fitness Class, part 8

Last Tuesday was the final class of this session of the women’s fitness class. Dave showed them three new exercises: knee-to-chest sit-ups, high-pulls, and thrusters. Then they had a circuit workout using those. I wondered if next time, high-pulls and thrusters might be taught in an earlier class next session. They seem a little more technical and it might have been nice to have a chance to revisit them. Also I’d make the comparison and distinction between push-presses and thrusters, which are different only in how deep you go before jumping the weight up and locking it overhead. In push-presses you just dip enough to involve the legs, but in thrusters you go down into a squat.
This means in general you could do heavier thrusters than push-presses–if you can control the weight overhead, anyway. I’m guessing that for very strong people that’s true. For me or for the Team Survivor women, I’m not sure the thruster could be too much heavier than the push-press, because it would be limited by upper-body strength. If there’s a lot of upper-body strength, the deeper dip in the thrusters should allow a lot more weight to be thrusted overhead than in the push-press.
So, the exercises the women learned during these eight weeks are:
Squat, sit-up, deadlift, kettlebell swing, push-up, hamstrings stretches, lunge stretches, press, push-press, wall-ball, assisted pull-ups and pre-kip swing with feet on bench; “goblet squats,” hollow-rock style leg lifts, rowing on the C2; high-pulls, knee to chest, and thrusters. For the class workouts, Dave used circuits and modified Tabata intervals (30 seconds on, 15 seconds off if I remember right).
We gave them a handout. It contained tips for some of the exercises, some workouts recommended by Dave that they can try on their own, an article about a study saying intense exercise is more effective than “moderate” exercise like walking; and Dave’s list of Fitness Level 1 benchmarks. The four levels of benchmarks he came up with are great for helping people choose goals when they’re new to fitness. I want to follow up with an email to the women to get their feedback on the class and the handout, and whether they’re doing the workouts on their own or have questions about them.
I wish I’d written down every class in detail–I have almost no notes on classes 2 and 7. It would be helpful in planning the next session, which Dave said he wants to do in advance.

Team Survivor Fitness Class, part 6

Last week (the 7th) Dave wanted to have the women warm up with unweighted squats in order to fine-tune their technique. I mentioned I’ve been working with “goblet squats,” where you hold a light-ish dumbbell or kettlebell up around your collarbones/under your chin as a counterbalance, enabling you to keep the weight back on the heels and reach back with the rear without toppling over backwards. So Dave let me show them that. It really makes a difference—I hope over time it will improve my squat posture without holding the “goblet”—that’s the idea.
Then Dave gave them a short talk on intensity, the favorite CrossFit concept. “You often read that you should do moderate exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day to get in shape—well I don’t believe that. Greater intensity is the key to making progress. Of course, more intensity means you can’t do something for as long. You may have noticed most of our workouts take 10 to 15 minutes, and that’s because of high intensity.” He explained the Tabata concept of doing something as hard as you can for 20 seconds several times with a rest of 10 seconds between sets, with the idea being that the rest is just long enough to enable you to do the 20 seconds of intensity again.
Their first workout was modified Tabata squats, with the intervals being (I think) 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Then they had a similar workout of sit-ups. Next they did some rowing-style pullups underneath some racked barbells, then presses/push-presses, and finally finished with some more squats to work on technique one more time.
I’m working on a handout for the women to help them remember the coaching cues for each of the exercises.


I finally got to finish the four-night swimming course that started at the end of October. I missed the scheduled final night because my car broke down. The make-up session was last Thursday. We went over the Total Immersion drills we had learned, and eventually tried them without fins. I was mortified to find my feet sinking and my kick unable to propel me at all! Conventional wisdom says the kick is what propels the swim the most. But Total Immersion says the body is propelled by movement originating in the core, and the body then glides through the water using length and balance for efficiency. Kicking faster or harder just increases the energy expenditure geometrically. So go slow, feel the flow, and don’t tire yourself out with too much kicking and splashing.
The instructor told me explicitly that I shouldn’t kick so much—although I had slowed down my typical panicked kicking, I was still kicking too much. She said when I get the balance really in place, the kick will take care of itself. So I decided not to worry at the last class when I couldn’t move through the water without the fins. I would just practice the first three simple drills and focus on balance.
Today Tom and I went to the city pool near our house to practice these drills. (He took a Total Immersion class a few years ago.) It was our first time going there and we were nervous about getting the space to practice drills while others were swimming laps. It turned out to be a well-organized arrangement of lanes designated easy, medium, fast, and very fast. Half of the shallow end was cut off with a bulkhead and designated as a play pool. We had a lap lane to ourselves, but eventually I felt we should give it up to real lap swimmers. There were only two kids in each half of the play pool, so we went over there and did our drills going across the pool. It was fun! The drills went well for both of us, and with it being uncrowded, we were able to concentrate.
I practiced the first four drills—the back balance, sweet spot, fish, and skate. The best way was for me to do the skate was to always start on back balance, then sweet spot with leading arm, and only then rotate to the skate position. My balance was pretty good. It was just as well my kick propelled me so slowly, because then I could maximize my drills over the width of the pool.
During the swim classes, I had used a noseplug because I was so distracted and freaked out about water going in my sinuses. Today I didn’t use it. I was pleasantly surprised to find I had learned how to breathe out slowly and rotate up for a breath without getting much water up the nose and without freaking out about it if I did. After a while I did start to get distracted by it, so I put the noseplug on to make the most of my last few “lengths.” This worked out great.
I’m so happy about making progress past my various fears of being in a pool. Originally the basis for most of it was being unable to see. Only last year I learned that goggles would allow me to wear my contact lenses so I wouldn’t have to worry about awkward situations related to not seeing something or someone. And now using the noseplug to help with the breath-holding drills has helped me so much. All I have to do is keep practicing the drills and slowly progressing to the more advanced ones, and eventually I’ll swim. It is a little hard to believe—but CrossFit and guitar lessons have shown me that going through progressions always works if you follow them patiently. It seems to slow you down but saves time and setbacks in the long run.
Another fun thing about today’s swim practice was that we got to see the cool stuff they have at this pool—such as a sauna! And a workout area—right by the pool, set back from the edge and roped off. They have lots of dumbbells, a Smith rack, and two Universal machines, one of which has a pull-up bar on it, as well as a good-sized area of rubber mats where you could have space to use the dumbbells or do calisthenics. All while watching people swim. I love it. I have a fantasy of going over there to do a CrossFit workout some night when I don’t make it to the gym. We’ll see.

Team Survivor Fitness Class: Pull-ups with a Smile

Last night’s women’s class was especially fun even though turnout was a bit small. Maybe we had 15 to 18 people instead of 21 or so.
The exercises Dave had them work on were: jump rope to warm up; learn and practice wallball; pull-ups assisted with rubberbands and spotters; the kipping motion with hands on pull-up bar and feet on bench; and the hollow rock. He asked me to teach them wallball, and that was a fun opportunity. Hold the ball in front of your face and go down into a low squat with it; spring straight up with the legs/hips, and fling the ball up at the target, 8 to 10 feet up on the wall. (“Fling,” that’s a technical term.) Catch the ball in front of your face and carry it down into the squat, ideally without stopping, and extend the hips to jump up and fling it again. If you catch it wrong or drop it, pick it up and go back into the starting squat position.
The women did great with wallball, and it’s an easy exercise to coach because mistakes tend to be obvious and not dangerous: not using the legs for the throw but standing up with the ball and then throwing it, or tiring yourself out by catching the ball, dropping it down, then lifting it again for the next throw, instead of descending into a squat with the ball near the face.
For pull-ups, we attached the big rubberbands (made for this type of use) to the pull-up bar and lined up benches underneath. What you do is grasp the bar and put either or both feet into the rubberband, stretch it out by extending your legs, tighten the shoulders for stabilization, and start pulling; the rubberband helps you up. Dave explained this and then asked, “Who thinks this arrangement looks pretty sketchy?” With one or two spotters, everyone was able to get safely onto a bench, into the rubberband, and do pull-ups with smiling faces. A few women could do them without a spotter, including one lady who may be in her late 50s and is small and white haired. I loved seeing that.
Before putting away the benches, Dave had everyone practice a sort of precursor to the kipping move that we often use for pull-ups. Without the rubberbands, they stood on the bench and grasped the bar, tightened the shoulders and leaned forward, as if to swing, chest out, hips open, keeping the feet on the bench. Flexing the shoulders forward with straight arms, they arched back the other way for a concave front. I am not sure this felt very much like actual kipping, as it was slow and deliberate instead of explosive and whiplike, but it is very applicable because both versions emphasize shoulder engagement and hip extension.
I think the reason the assisted pull-ups and practice kips went so smoothly is Dave’s use of progressions. He has already had them grasp a bar at eye level, sink down, and learn to engage or tighten the shoulders by pulling the lats down. In that same class they also practiced doing a negative pull-up by letting themselves down slowly with shoulders engaged, and then standing up again.