Total Immersion Swimming (What it is and how it works)


total immersion swimming a woman dives into deep water

Total immersion swimming has been revolutionary to my swimming progression. In fact, I can say with confidence that if it was not for the amazing total immersion method, I may not have become the enthusiastic swimmer that I am today.

Total Immersion Swimming is a unique swim technique that allows any level of swimmer from beginner to advanced, to improve their swimming by moving efficiently through the water. As a result, you will move more gracefully and conserve energy, allowing you to swim better and for longer.

I would describe total immersion swimming as a “mindful” way to swim. You contemplate your body position in the water, optimising your head, shoulder and torso position, which helps you slip through the water, making swimming effortless.

In this article I will cover:

  • A Total Immersion Swimming Demo Example
  • Can I Teach Myself The Total Immersion Swim Method?
  • Is Total Immersion Swimming Fast?
  • Is Total Immersion Swimming Worth It? The Pros & Cons
  • Is Total Immersion Swimming Good For Beginners?
  • Is Total Immersion Swimming Good For Triathlon Or Long-Distance Swimming?
  • Top Tips From The Total Immersion Swim Method

Total Immersion Swimming Example

Below is a demonstration video of the total immersion swim technique in practice.

This video shows how graceful and effortless swimming can be with this method. I find this swim technique very beautiful to watch!

You can see in this video that the swimmer is exerting very little energy. There is no frantic kicking!

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced swimmer, we all know that swimming is a great cardio workout, and it is very easy to become quickly exhausted.

With the Total Immersion Method, you can conserve your energy and glide through the water. As a result, you are still getting a fantastic workout, but without all the splashing and exhaustion.

By learning to swim using the Total Immersion Method, you will swim better for longer.

Can I Self-Teach the Total Immersion Swim Method?

It is possible to teach yourself the total immersion swim method. I took this route and within the first week; I saw amazing results. If you want to learn more about the journey, take a look at my article: How Do I Learn To Swim By Myself? A tested guide for adults

Personally, I would really recommend this method if you are an adult beginner as the fastest way to learn to swim as an adult.

I was swimming lengths (badly) and going nowhere, looking over the pool to the advanced swimmers in awe, zipping up and down the fast lane.

For me, it started when I read a total immersion swim blog that told me to “press my head” down into the water. This is a tip taken from the Total Immersion Method.

As someone who had a fear of water, pressing my head into the water did not seem logical, but I did what they recommended and here is what happened.

By actively pressing my head into the water, my legs popped up, making me flatter in the water. This removed all the drag my legs were creating, effectively dragging me down in the water.

I even found that I didn’t really need to kick at all; just a few flutter kicks to keep moving.

From this one improvement, I could double my pool lengths, as I was less exhausted. From this point, I became hooked and bought the Total Immersion Swimming Book.

Can You Really Learn To Swim From A Book?

To be honest, I was dubious about learning to swim from a book, but it worked!

This teaching book on the Total Immersion Method has excellent exercises with pictures and explanations. I found it was best to take an exercise as described in the book and then focus on that one exercise in the pool.

The book is excellent at explaining what you should feel as you swim. For example, I recall the term from the book “Swimming Downhill” [source: page 90].

If you can press your head down into the water and lift your butt, it really feels like swimming downhill, as you have removed so much drag created by your legs.

In addition to the Total Immersion Swim Book, there is also a Total Immersion DVD which covers 10 lessons to get you swimming very well, quickly.

For those who are not fond of books or who need video demonstrations, then getting the DVD will be a better option.

Is Total Immersion Swimming Fast?

From novice swimmers to experts, so many of us seem to be obsessed with swimming fast, myself included.

The total immersion swimming method will help you swim faster as it optimises your efficiency in the water. Even if you are a swim sprinter and have learned to swim from traditional swim methods, you can optimise your stroke and movement from the total immersion swim method.

Firstly, total immersion is all about swimming efficiently and when starting out, I advise you to go slow in order to perfect the movements and strokes.

Ironically, going slow in swimming can make you faster.

Here is a great analogy that can help you understand how to swim faster and how the total immersion method can help do this:

As humans, we are land animals and walk on two feet. If we are asked to walk faster, we naturally lengthen our stride. This is natural intuition, which even toddlers do instinctively.

However, when asked to swim faster, so many of us will just move our arms faster.

As water is not our natural environment, we do not lengthen our swim stroke instinctively, which is what you need to do to swim fast.

So when most people are asked to swim fast, we see splashing and arms spinning!

In reality, to swim faster, you should also lengthen your swim stroke, not just move your arms quickly.

Total immersion swimming encourages long-reaching swim strokes, becoming like an arrow in the water. As a result, by extending your body to become long, you will “slip” through the water and naturally become faster just by this one optimisation.

This is the magic of the total immersion swim method in helping you swim faster, as it will introduce these subtle but very effective optimisations.

Is Total Immersion Swimming Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Total immersion is worth the time and investment to learn if you are eager to improve your swimming. It is suitable for everyone, from a novice just learning to swim to an advanced triathlete optimising long-distance swim technique.

The Pros of Total Immersion Swimming:

1 – Fast Learning Pace

With the total immersion method, you can see results instantly regardless of your swimming ability. I saw big results in my first week.

2 – Effortless Swimming

For many of us, swimming takes a massive amount of energy. With this method, you can learn to do long distant pool lengths and not be out of breath.

3 – Fast Swimming Technique

I have found that by implementing the total immersion swimming method; I have improved my swim times significantly. I am faster yet more comfortable in the water.

4 – Long Distance Swimming Achievable

Traditionally, to swim long distances you have to have excellent cardio fitness.

However, with the total immersion swim method, as it is very efficient and maximises energy use, you will find you can swim long distances easily. It is really amazing.

5 – Mindful Swimming

Total immersion swimming is as much a benefit to my mental health as my physical health.

As you must be slow and deliberate in the early stages of learning this method, you learn to swim “in the moment”, concentrating on creating fluid movements in the water.

This helps focus the mind and, personally, I find it very relaxing.

6 – A True Way to Self-Teach Swimming

There are no kickboards or boring lengths when learning to swim with this method.

The Total Immersion Method teaches the basics of fluid mechanics and learning to optimise your position in the water, which is fundamental to learning how to swim as an adult.

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From some of the basic tips, you will move in the water like you never thought was possible if you are a beginner adult swimmer.

The Cons of Total Immersion Swimming:

I feel like I should add something here just to give balance to the pros, but I have nothing bad to say about the total immersion swim method. Honestly.

Is Total Immersion Swimming Good For Beginners?

Total immersion is one of the best methods to learn to swim for beginners, especially as an adult.

I would recommend the total immersion swimming book for a start to read about the method and gain some basic tips.

Once you learn some basics from the book or even the total immersion DVD, if you want to go deeper, it is possible to hire a Total Immersion swimming coach or join a swim teaching school dedicated to teaching the Total Immersion method.

But from experience, I would recommend having a go first in your local pool by implementing some of the basic advice and drills from the book or on YouTube.

Then, if you decide to join a swim school, you won’t be completely new to the technique.

Here is a very nice example from YouTube to try out:

Is Total Immersion Swimming Good For Triathlon or Long Distance?

If you are serious about doing a triathlon and a bit terrified of the swim part, then the Total Immersion Swimming method could be the answer.

Total Immersion Swimming is excellent for training for a triathlon or for long-distance swimming as it maximises efficiency and how you move in the water, resulting in more energy for the swimmer and being able to swim for longer.

My Top Tips For Novices From the Total Immersion Method

The following are some gems of information that I learnt from the Total Immersion Book by Terry Laughlin, which really helped me improve my swimming

1 – Press Your Upper Body / Head Down Into The Water

The idea behind this is balance. By pushing your upper body and head down into the water, your hips will pop up, creating less drag.

By doing this, you will not need to kick your legs frantically to stay afloat. This is something that you can try straight away and feel the benefit.

2 – Make Yourself Long

The idea of making yourself long or “swimming tall” is to extend your body as much as you can. Longer bodies are faster, just like longboats.

If you keep your arms extended as much as possible in front of you, you will achieve this. Always ensure at least one arm is in front of you. So when you switch arms on the stroke, always ensure you have one arm in front of you.

“Reach” for the end of the pool and stretch your arms out in front of you to extend your stroke length as much as possible.

3 – Swim With Your Hips

One of the biggest mistakes and holdups to my swimming progression before discovering the Total Immersion method was swimming flat when I should have been swimming on my side.

By rotating your whole body from side to side as you do a front crawl stroke, you will “corkscrew” through the water effortlessly.

Hips are an incredibly powerful area of the body and by rotating your hips and full body, you can roll from side to side through the water, creating fluid motion.

4 – Think Of Your Hands As Anchors

When I first learnt this tip, it confused me as anchors are something that holds you in the water and does not propel you forward, right?

But the idea is to place your hand out in front of you in the water and leave it there until the next stroke.

First, by leaving it there, you are keeping your body “top-heavy”, helping to press your upper body into the water. This helps to keep your legs up.

Second, by leaving it there in front of you, you can focus on extending it, helping to lengthen your stroke.

5 – Roll Your Body

Roll your body, from your hips, to propel yourself forward, without pulling your arms or kicking your legs.

It is amazing how much distance you can get without really using your legs or arms.

There are many drills and practice sessions in the book to help you adapt to this, as it can feel strange at first!

Key Take-Aways

  • Total Immersion Swimming is fantastic for beginners and experts to improve their swimming.
  • It is a great technique to use if you are learning to swim as an adult.
  • The Total Immersion Book has a fantastic explanation and practice drills you can do to self-teach and try out on your own.
  • If you self-teach, it can be a very inexpensive way to learn to swim. However, you can hire coaches that are dedicated to teaching the total immersion swimming method.

To learn more about Total Immersion Swimming directly from the creator Terry Laughlin, you can grab his book here. Or head over to this YouTube channel for some free tutorials.

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

Total Immersion Swimming