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Travails of a Non-Swimmer

Switch Drills and a Eureka

Remote control switch

If I were Janice in the Friends TV series I’d be going “Oh. My. God.”

Previously I talked about not being able to do the Unco drill without fins. Today I watched the entire ten lessons of the Total Immersion Swimming: Perpetual Motion Freestyle in Ten Lessons DVD for the first time, instead of just watching where I am at the moment (Lessons 3, 4, 5).

Now I realize that Terry Laughlin is doing the same drill in Lesson 9, sans fins! Oh. My. Goodness. I would never be able to do that without some kind of aid. Or maybe I could. But definitely not now.

Something’s the Matter

First, what I have to solve right now is the dropping lead arm, the aching upper arms, the clenched shoulders.

I am not stroking right.

So I watched the above-mentioned DVD again and realized that from Lesson 3 (Breathing Skills) I jumped right into whole stroke, and the results are next to disastrous.

This, I felt, I did out of desperation. Since my group swimming lessons demand that I be able to swim whole stroke right from the get-go, I started stroking and propelling myself through the water with my arms, without even learning to switch and hold my lead arm relaxed and in place.

After watching Lesson 4 (Active Streamlining) of the DVD, I realized that before raising my arm to stroke I should be able to switch and breathe first.

Spear-Switch Drill Sequence

TI says: “This helps you convert an inborn instinct to pull and kick into a learned instinct to pierce the water by:

  1. Using your extending arm to spear a human-sized sleeve through the water in front of you;
  2. Using weight shifts to propel a streamlined torso and legs through that hole.”

The focus is on using weight shifts, not arm and leg movement, for propulsion. A hip drive should spear the lead arm forward. I needed to be able to hold my place with the lead arm and move past it with a weight shift. Whole Body Movement is the only way I could solve the aching arms and clenched shoulders.

So tonight I practiced the Spear-Switch drills in Lesson 4 and some of the switch with continuous breathing drills in Lesson 5.

I tried to focus as much as I could on keeping the lead arm relaxed and in place. And then before getting out of the pool (I only had an hour and a half today) I tried to do whole stroke and see if my lead arm was still dropping.

Eureka Moment

While I could not keep the lead arm in place as much as I wanted to, by the end of my practice period I was able to cover the 18m pool several times, without hyperventilating. I definitely did a lot better than yesterday.

One thing that made me go “Aha!” was the hip drive. I tried to incorporate it during whole stroke and oh-me-oh-my! I had much better propulsion. I covered the 18m pool faster than I ever have. And when I concentrated on relaxing my arms I was moving even better.

I had no idea the hip drive could make such a difference. I could literally feel myself moving forward, without pulling hard and straining my arms.

What a new discovery for me! Now I can see more light at the end of the tunnel: as long as I keep my arms relaxed (think marionette arms) and use hip drive on every stroke, I won’t tire too much. And if I concentrate on keeping my lead arm in place during breathing, I’d have a lot more support and be able to breathe better. No more huffing and puffing at the end of the lane. What bliss that would be!

More Practice

When I was doing the switch drills the children (middle and high school kids, members of their school’s swim teams) taking swimming classes on the other lanes were staring at me.

“What kind of a crazy drill is that?” they were probably wondering.

It’s a drill for middle-aged beginners, kiddos. And it works!

In a month you’ll see me in the fast lane ;-)

Can’t wait for another practice session at the pool :-)

Notes to Self: Do

  • Make sure switches are smooth and controlled after breathing. Do short, properly-done intervals.
  • Spear-Switch along wide tracks.
  • Take care not to crossover or rotate on your side. Avoid stacked shoulders. You tend to over-rotate on your left side, while under-rotating on the right.
  • Use weight shifts to propel yourself forward. Right hip drive should move the right hand forward, and vice-versa. Relying only on shoulder/arm movement to propel you is what is making your arms hurt afterward.
  • Always hold your place with the lead hand. Mindfully keep lead hand on its track. Focus on a patient lead arm.

Notes to Self: Don’t

  • Scoot hand up as you switch. Aim for fingers-down finish.
  • Go to end of pool just to get there.


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  • http://Machineembroiderybyaquilter Mariie

    I- also struggle with the rotation. I rotate more easily to the left but figured it is by stretching my right arm better from the armpit. So I will focus to stretch better forward with my left arm to get a better rotation to the right.

    • beverlyclaire

      Thanks for sharing, Marie! How’d your practice go? I think I need to practice more on the body rotation breathing drills on my right side. I’m fine when breathing on the left but I feel I need to do double practice on the right since it is my weak side. I’ll be updating on this in a new post soon. Please let me know how your experiment goes!

  • Ted

    It has been fun reading your odyssey of trial and error so far. Congratulations on your progress. You made the most progress after watching the DVD in its entirety so you could see how Terry assembles the stroke from start to finish. Now, you have to be patient and do the drills until you imbed the various elements. I have taken a couple lessons from Terry. He sends me home with “homework”. Like you, my inclination is to jump ahead of myself. However, I make the most progress when doing exactly what Terry has told me to do. It is a discipline that results in a disciplined yet relaxed stroke. In one of your earlier posts you commented on keep the core tense. I don’t think of it that way. I think of it as keeping the core and body aligned and connected. Not tense. Being tense will drain your energy. Keep up the good work!

    • beverlyclaire

      Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Ted. Your words are so encouraging! Yes, indeed, watching the entire DVD made a huge difference. Lessons with Terry–wow! I hope to be able to take a class with Shinji Takeuchi in Japan someday. Right now I’m still trying to get a feel for the water, and enjoy doing the drills on my own. It would be great to get the video analysis and advice from TI Japan, though. I’m quite sure it would help heaps :)

      You are absolutely right about the word “tense”. Not a good reminder at all. I like the idea of maintaining a “torpedo” shape, which would require head-spine alignment. I like the word torpedo, though I wish the image of Ian Thorpe would stop popping in my mind when I try to remind myself to keep a torpedo shape! :) I think I’ll just go with “laser beam”, a word Terry uses a lot in the DVD, to remind me to keep core alignment.

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  • slf

    So it’s like looking at the forest helps you see the trees better. I’m sure there’s a more apt analogy but I cant think of one.

    • beverlyclaire

      Yes! I like to think of it simply as “seeing the big picture”. Though perhaps a swimming-related analogy like “seeing the entire lake helps you see the water in front of you better”? Hehehe :)