Total Immersion Swimming

It’s amazing to me that it took thousands of years before we humans really began to understand how best to swim, and how best to teach swimming. Terry Laughlin is perhaps the nation’s best swimming coach. Over his lifetime in pools he has figured out the best ways for teaching all kinds of people how to swim. His teaching is all about lowering your resistance in the water, rather than increasing your strength or force. He teaches every kind of swimmer, from beginners to Olympic athletes, how to be more like fish and less like the humans we are. The advent of underwater viewing and particularly video taping and slow motion helped Terry make breakthroughs in understanding the basis of efficient swimming. Terry’s methods still suffer the slings and arrows that any breakthrough idea that dares to challenge conventional thinking endures, but the truth and usefulness of his ideas are winning out.

I love when a book or DVD can teach me physical things. (I’ve also experienced this with kayaking, particularly learning to roll, but that’s another story.) I had a mortifying experience in my first triathlon. I can run and bike pretty well and thought I could swim. But out there in the ocean I exhibited the grace of a wounded wildebeest. I had to flop over on my back and gasp the whole way, arms flailing. I was close to panic from it all. I swore I’d either give up this nonsense or learn how to swim well. When I found Laughlin’s DVDs and books, I felt they had been created just for me. Through him I discovered for myself the benefit of lining up my head and using my core body to move. There’s no pulling at the water and hardly any kicking. I could try to describe it more fully but Terry does it so much better in his DVDs and books.

— Steve Leveen

I’d start by watching the DVD and then go on to the book for supporting details.

— KK

Easy Freestyle: 21st Century Techniques for Beginners to Advanced Swimmers
Available from Total Immersion

Total Immersion
Terry Laughlin, John Delves
2004, 320 pages
Available from Amazon


Sample Excerpts:

In 1988 I had the good fortune to meet Bill Boomer, who planted the intriguing idea that the “shape of the vessel” might have just as much influence as the “size of the engine” on a swimmer’s performance. I had been teaching balance in an instinctive way – and with exciting results – to butterfliers and breaststrokers since 1978. Also in 1978, while watching my swimmers from an underwater window, I had realized that swimmers moved fastest while just gliding in streamline after pushoff. Once they began kicking and stroking, far more of their energy seemed to go into making bubbles than into effective propulsion.

Throughout most of the animal kingdom, the really fast creatures – race horses, greyhounds, cheetahs – use about the same stride rate at all galloping speeds. So do most really fast humans, such as Marion Jones and Michael Johnson. They run faster by taking longer strides, not by taking them faster. It’s only when humans get into the water that we suffer a form of momentary biomechanical derangement, resorting to churning our arms madly when we want more speed.

The reason stroke length (SL) doesn’t have a lot to do with arm length, or with how far you reach forward and push back, is because SL is how far your body travels each time you take a stroke. So it’s mostly your body position – not your height or strength or the length of your arms – that affects the distance you will travel on each stroke. The best way to measure your SL is simply to make a habit of counting strokes – at all speeds, and on virtually every length you swim.


Stroke length can be improved in two ways. The easiest way is to minimize drag, and you do this by simply repositioning you body in the water to make yourself more slippery. The effect is that your body goes farther, with more ease and less deceleration, on a given amount of propulsion. The other way to improve SL is to maximize propulsion, and you do this by focusing on doing a better job of moving your body forward.

Kick For Efficiency, Not for Speed

Kicking can add only a modest amount of propulsion to an efficient stroke, while it can add a significant amount of drag and enormously increase the energy cost of whole-stroke swimming, if overemphasized. Therefore swimmers should do all they can to maximize the benefit of their kicking while minimizing the work they put into it.

“Fine,” you say. “If all kicking does is burn energy and cause drag, why bother to kick at all?” Well, because that’s not all kicking does. An efficient kick will improve your stroke and, in fact, is essential for the kinetic chain to produce anything like the power it’s capable of producing for you.


This is a Playstation 2 “game” (but available on other platforms such as the XBox and PC) that is actually an interactive fitness program. It starts by conducting a physical assessment (measuring your heart rate before and after aerobic activity, seeing how many crunches, push ups, & squats you can do and gauging your flexibility.) Next a personal trainer named Maya appears and suggests your goals (building strength, losing weight, whatever) and coaches you through setting a workout calendar and setting a weight loss goal, if appropriate.

Then the fun begins. You show up for your workouts and are given choices of music, locale and optional equipment if you own it. You set the time and go. The workouts are fun – Maya is animated and picks routines based on your fitness level. You never know what she’ll throw out! It’s different every day.

I’m 50. I’ve been using Y!F for a month and have lost 8 pounds. I feel like I’m addicted to exercise now. I loved Body for Life but hated dragging my tired overweight body to the gym. I’m able to do Y!F in the privacy of my home and am now feeling like maybe I could face the gym again.

There are some glitches in the program. Occasionally Maya stutters, chooses a piece of equipment you don’t own and gets her beat mixed up for a few seconds. I’m not sure every move she shows is safe but there is no problem adapting her routines to fit your own space and situation. In the end, I’m responsible for my own health and I apply common sense. I guess I have the most problems with high impact moves (I modify to low impact) and some of her jumping over a step (I just do the basic step move when jumps and hops on the step.)

I love it and look forward to future releases as I’m sure it will only get better.

-- Mary Mcavanaugh  

Manufactured by Yourelf Fitness

Available from Amazon

Body for Life


Okay, you are sold on the basic sanity of Fit or Fat, (reviewed here) but what do you actually do today? I mean where do you start? The best answer to that question is Body for Life, which pound for pound has more motivating specifics than anywhere else. The catalyst is a simple bargain: you can change the shape and fit of your body in twelve weeks if you are willing to work reasonably hard with a reasonably flexible plan manageable by most busy people. I figured I could stand almost anything for twelve weeks, if it produced results. Well, it worked for me at least, much better than I expected, and it has apparently worked for many others, judging from the photos and the constant friend-of-a-friend referrals this book produces. Most importantly, once your body reshapes itself (this is not about losing weight), the logic of Body for Life (the same as Fit or Fat) becomes habit.

-- KK  

Body for Life
12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength
Bill Phillips
1999, 201 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

“Before” and “after” snapshots of participants in a contest to see how much they could change their bodies in twelve weeks.

Myth: aerobics is better for shaping up than weight training.
Fact: To transform your physique, you must train with weights.

Myth: Muscles grow while you’re working out.
Fact: Muscles grow while you are resting and recuperating.

Myth: Lifting a weight is what stimulates muscle growth.
Fact: Lifting and lowering a weight stimulates muscle growth.

Enough evidence now exists to concretely state that lowering the weight is just as important as lifting it. It’s true. It turns out that weight lowering causes much of the muscle-cell damage that stimulates an adaptation. You see, when you lengthen the muscle, which occurs during that eccentric portion of an exercise, you literally tear portions of the muscle fibers, signaling a stage of remodeling, or muscle growth. (You’ll know when you’ve experienced this phenomenon because a day or two after your workout, your muscles will be sore. That’s a sign that the “earth has moved.”)

When you apply the Intensity Index properly to both your resistance training and aerobic workouts, you’ll never hit the ceiling. You’ll always move up to higher and higher high points. And that means you’ll continually be stimulating your muscles while losing fat. You’ll become more metabolically efficient. Your body will burn fat at a significantly elevated rate, even while you’re sitting at your desk or driving your car or reading a book…even while you’re sleeping.

This graph demonstrates the pattern of strength-building aerobics. To maximize a twenty-minute workout, you must press toward your maximum effort and “break through” your intensity level.

Body Fat Meter


Fitness isn’t just about your weight. Crash diets can deplete healthy muscle. A good fitness program will help you reduce your body fat while retaining, or even increasing, your muscle mass. The key is knowing how much of your weight is lean and how much is fat. A body fat meter can help you track your progress. Some electronic scales include this feature, but I prefer a stand-alone model. My Omron HBF-301 is no longer made, but the Omron HBF-306, widely available online ($50-70) is very similar. (I’d like it even better if it gave me lower readings.) Technophobes can get a mechanical fat caliper, which measures the fat in a pinch of abdominal skin, for about $20.

-- Tom Ferguson, M.D.  

Omron HBF-306 BL
Manufactured by Omron

Available from Amazon


With proper guidance, any person in reasonable health can run a marathon. Jeff Galloway, a well-known running trainer, is that sane and wise guidance. Galloway introduces an amazing discovery: both novices and veterans can better their overall time and enjoyment during a marathon by walking at prescribed times. This counterintuitive technique is laid out nicely here with lots of expert encouragement, backed by Galloway’s experience in helping hundreds of marathoners at sundry levels try the unthinkable: race faster by resting your legs.

-- KK  

Marathon: You Can Do It!
Jeff Galloway
2001, 209 pages
Shelter Publications, Inc.

Available from Amazon

This tool has been UNRECOMMENDED and is now in the DEAD TOOLS category. See the FAQ for more info.

Thera Cane

Arthritis has taken its toll on my body. My extremities have few muscles and most of my spinal column is fused. Oddly though, this morphed architecture has created Schwarzeneggerian neck muscles. Recently I’ve gotten very serious about maintaining my health and exercising. Daily lifting of hand weights has helped me build some decent arm muscles, but it’s also made my shoulder/neck muscles EVEN tighter. Brave humanitarian souls have broken parts of themselves trying to massage my shoulders. A typical scene is someone messaging me and they’re the one making all of the ugh-ing and uh-ing noises. They usually give up before my knotted muscles do. So, imagine my relief (literally!) when I discovered this gizmo. The Thera-Cane is a curved fiberglass “self-messager.” This thing really has balls when it comes to deep tissue message — 6 of them, in fact– on various parts of the cane for getting at those hard to reach places. A little amount of pressure applied to the “body” of the cane translates to significant pressure on the balls. I can now pressurize (and release) those gnarly neck muscles to my heart’s content, and nobody else has to lose finger joints, knuckles, elbows, etc. No one gets hurt, and my neck (and everything else I can reach) feels SO much better!

-- Gareth Branwyn  

[Please see the more recently-reviewed Body Back Buddy.]

Thera Cane
Manufactured by Thera Cane

Available from Amazon