Total Immersion: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days and You Can Too

Is it possible to get good at swimming late in life? Yes. (Photo: Shutterhack)

Swimming has always scared the hell out of me.

Despite national titles in other sports, I’ve always fought to keep afloat. This inability to swim well has always been one of my greatest insecurities and embarrassments.

I’ve tried to learn to swim almost a dozen times, and each time, my heart jumps to 180+ beats-per-minute after one or two pool lengths. It’s indescribably exhausting and unpleasant.

No more.

In the span of less than 10 days, I’ve gone from a 2-length (2 x 20 yards/18.39 meters) maximum to swimming more than 40 lengths per workout in sets of 2 and 4. Here’s how I did it after everything else failed, and how you can do the same…

At the end of January, a kiwi friend issued a New Year’s resolution challenge: he would go all of 2008 without coffee or stimulants if I trained and finished an open-water 1-kilometer race in 2008. I agreed.

He had grown up a competitive swimmer and convinced me that — unlike my other self-destructive habits masquerading as exercise (no-gi BJJ, etc.) — it was a life skill and a pleasure I needed to share with my future children. In other words: of all the potential skills you could learn, swimming was one of the most fundamental.

So why is this post only coming out now, eight months later? Because I tried everything, read the “best” books, and still failed.

Kick boards? Tried them. I barely moved at all and — as someone who is usually good at most sports — felt humiliated and left.

Hand paddles? Tried them. My shoulders will never forgive me. Isn’t swimming supposed to be low-impact? Strike two.

It continued for months until I was prepared to concede defeat. Then I met Chris Sacca, formerly of Google fame and now an investor and triathlete in training, at a BBQ and told him of my plight. Before I had a chance to finish, he cut me off:

“I have the answer to your prayers. It revolutionized how I swim.”

That got my attention.

The Method

He introduced me to Total Immersion (TI), a method usually associated with coach Terry Laughlin, and I immediately ordered the book and freestyle DVD.

In the first workout — I’ve never had a coach or supervision — I cut my drag and water resistance at least 50%, swimming more laps than ever before in my life. By the fourth workout, I had gone from 25+ strokes per 20-yard length to an average of 11 strokes per 20-yard length. Unbelievable.

In other words, I was covering more than twice the distance with the same number of strokes, with less than 1/2 the effort, and with no panic or stress. In fact, I felt better after leaving the pool than before getting in. I couldn’t — and still can’t — believe it.

Here are my notes from the Total Immersion book, which I would recommend reading after watching the Freestyle Made Easy DVD, as the drills are near-impossible to understand otherwise. I was actually unable to do the exercises from pages 110 – 150 (I cannot float horizontally and have a weak kick) and became frustrated until the DVD enabled me to attempt technique with propulsion. The theories and explanation after the DVD, however, will change how you view all of it:

Total Immersion Freestyle notes
Total Immersion freestyle notes (click to enlarge)

My Top 8 Tips for Novices

Here are the principles that made the biggest difference for me:

1) To propel yourself forward with the least effort, focus on shoulder roll and keeping your body horizontal (least resistance), not pulling with your arms or kicking with your legs. This is counter-intuitive but important, as kicking harder is the most universal suggestion for fixing swimming issues.

2) Keep yourself horizontal by keeping your head in line with your spine — you should be looking straight down. Use the same head position as while walking and drive your arm underwater vs. swimming on the surface. See Shinji Takeuchi’s underwater shots at :49 seconds at and Natalie Coughlin’s explanation at :26 seconds. Notice how little Shinji uses his legs; the small flick serves only to help him turn his hips and drive his next arm forward. This is the technique that allows me to conserve so much energy.

A good demonstration of a TI crawl.

3. In line with the above video of Shinji, think of swimming freestyle as swimming on alternating sides, not on your stomach. From the TI Wikipedia page:

“Actively streamline” the body throughout the stroke cycle through a focus on rhythmically alternating “streamlined right side” and “streamlined left side” positions and consciously keeping the bodyline longer and sleeker than is typical for human swimmers.

For those who have rock climbed or done bouldering, it’s just like moving your hip closer to a wall to get more extension. To test this: stand chest to a wall and reach as high as you can with your right arm. Then turn your right hip so it’s touching the wall and reach again with your right arm: you’ll gain 3-6″. Lengthen your vessel and you travel further on each stroke. It adds up fast.

4. Penetrate the water with your fingers angled down and fully extend your arm well beneath your head. Extend it lower and further than you think you should. This downward water pressure on the arms will bring your legs up and decrease drag. It will almost feel like you’re swimming downhill. I highly recommend watching the “Hand Position and Your Balance” video at the top of this page here.

5. Focus on increasing stroke length (SL) instead of stroke rate (SR). Attempt to glide further on each downstroke and decrease the number of strokes per lap.

6. Forget about workouts and focus on “practice.” You are training your nervous system to perform counter-intuitive movements well, not training your aerobic system. If you feel strained, you’re not using the proper technique. Stop and review rather than persist through the pain and develop bad habits.

7. Stretch your extended arm and turn your body (not just head) to breathe. Some triathletes will even turn almost to their backs and face skyward to avoid short gasps and oxygen debt (tip from Dave Scott, 6-time Ironman world champion).

8. Experiment with hand swapping as a drill:

It’s difficult to remember all of the mechanical details while swimming. I short-circuited trying to follow half a dozen rules at once. The single drill that forced me to do most other things correctly is described on pg. 91-92 of the TI book: hand swapping. Coach Laughlin’s observations of the Russian Olympic team practice were a revelation to me.

This is the visualization I found most useful: focus on keeping your lead arm fully extended until your other arm comes over and penetrates the water around the extended arm’s forearm. This encourages you to swim on your sides, extends your stroke length, and forces you to engage in what is referred to as “front quadrant” swimming. All good things. This one exercise cut an additional 3-4 strokes off each lap of freestyle.

Gear and Getting Started

Ready to give it a shot? If you have a phobia of swimming or just want to feel the difference a few counter-intuitive techniques make, here are some starter tips:

1. Gents, don’t swim in board shorts. I tried this in Brazil and didn’t realize it’s like swimming with a parachute behind you. Terrible. Get some Euro-style Speedos and streamline. Be cool on the beach and opt for efficiency in the water.

2. Get good goggles. I am now using Speedo Vanquisher goggles, which I find effective if you use a latex swim cap to keep the straps in place. I need to tighten the nose bridge straps every 100-125 meters or so to prevent chlorinated water from blinding me, and leakage with all three goggles I tested seem to be due to eye pieces spread too far apart. I’ll be experimenting with the much-acclaimed Aqua Sphere Kaiman swim goggles, which are simple to adjust and tighten without removing them from your head.

3. Start practicing in a pool that is short and shallow. Use a lane in the shallow end (4 ft. or less) and opt for a pool that is no longer than 20 yards. I’ve since progressed to 25 yards but found focusing on technique easier with shorter pools. Since I’ve adapted to 25 yards, I plan to move to an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool once I can do 10 x 100 yards with 30-45 seconds of rest between sets.

To Finish Up…

I never ever thought I’d say this but: I love swimming.

This is RIDICULOUS, as I have always HATED swimming and avoided it. Now — after one book and DVD — I make time whenever possible to do laps like moving meditation.

I’ll swim for two hours and sneak out to get in an extra session a few hours later. I still can’t believe it.

I encourage all of you — whether you want to overcome your fears or win the Ironman — to give TI training a test drive. It’s the first instruction that’s made sense to me and is 100% responsible for the fastest transformative experience I’ve ever had in the world of sports. Just incredible.

Now, if I can just get from 100-yard sets to 1 kilometer 🙂

[Postscript: The creator of TI himself, Terry Laughlin, has left additional tips and observations in the comments.]

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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454 Replies to “Total Immersion: How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days and You Can Too”

  1. Definitely some interesting ideas I’ll have to check out. I’m quite a water rat when it comes to the ocean, but I never put much consideration to improving the efficiency of my swimming. Thanks for the great info!

  2. That’s great news Tim! When I was younger, I swam all of the time. But it’s been over a decade since I’ve really swam seriously, due to unfortunate circumstances. Every time I jump in the water, I feel like I’ve forgotten the basics. Thanks for the tips, I’ll definitely be picking up a book and the DVD. I’m going through a big lifestyle change right now, so swimming could be the next tool that aids me in getting shape and ultimately helping me achieve some personal goals.

  3. Hi Tim,

    I noticed that you mentioned wanting to increase your distance with swimming. I used to have a similar problem and don’t anymore; now I can crawl about half a mile nonstop, and it was not something I had to train for or work up to. I just realized that in the water you can push as hard or as easy as you want to, and you’ll still stay afloat and keep the same form. Of course, you’ll slow down. But if you’re interested in swimming a certain distance or time without stopping (which is where the serious meditation comes in) losing some speed shouldn’t matter.

    Anyway, that’s my advice. Try relaxing the amount of strength you apply to your stroke more. The water doesn’t care how hard you push on it 🙂 I’m not sure how this jives with TI but I’d assume it would be the same…

    1. I really agree with this. It’s what got me up to doing a 10k swim within my first 7 months of swimming. It was a slow 10k (4.5 hours) but what’s interesting is that I can get a lot more breathless and tired doing shorter distances. On a bad day I can struggle to do 100m! A friend of mine who’s just learnt the basics was having the same problem. He found 400 meters almost impossible. I suggested he did 2k and go as slow as he needed to in order to feel comfortable. He did it and felt completely fine afterwards. I think when you know you’ve got to keep going for a long time, you unconsciously decide to relax, as your body knows it’s the only way you’re going to do it. Tension uses up a huge amount of energy.

  4. @Neesh,

    Partly, for sure. I never thought swimming fast was possible for me, and now I find myself imagining my times in the 200-meter medley. It makes the Olympic swimming much more fun to watch, not to mention Phelps and his insane freestyle.

    I am enjoying the Games, even though I’ve had trouble finding the judo broadcasts.


    1. (I’m sending this because I just heard your swiming Ted talk and you asked for ideas for schools and education)

      The current Education system is chaos.

      Reading W. Edwards Deming you can tell that the system is in chaos when you rely on heros to get anything done and nothing is repeatable. This is clearly true of the current US education system and probably most of the worlds education systems. We rely on the “Super Teacher” and great parents to get anything done. The model works in some neighborhoods but not others.

      The real question that needs to be asked is not “How do we create more Super Teachers?” because we have all the Super Teachers we are going to get. Deming shows that rewards and punishments do not create heros. The question we should be asking is “How do we create an education system that allows mediocre teachers to teach students at a high level?” Clearly not by doing what we are doing today.

      The other heros we rely on are parents. Is it fair that some kids are born with incompetent parents? We need to teach kids parenting and life skills in high risk neighborhoods in order to break the cycle of poverty. Collage and higher education does not break the cycle of poverty but good parenting could.

      I could go on for another 2000 – 3000 words but I’ll wait to see if your interested in more.

      1. Deming (a relative, BTW) was writing about manufacturing, not education. Our system is experiencing chaos only because of education “reforms” thrown at us by people trying to make money off the backs of teachers and students. Our system is actually doing a lot of things well but you’re probably not going to listen to me because I’m a parent and a teacher therefore ignorant of your truth.

  5. Hi Tim,

    I used to be a competitive swimmer turned semi-pro triathlete. Injuries have sidelined me, but TI helped me transition from an inefficient sprinter into an efficient distance swimmer.

    To correct your goggle eye cup problem, I recommend using Swedish Original Monterbara Goggles by Malmsten (they’re $4, I buy them at a local shop, but also found them here You tie the nose strap to the size you want, and it stays in place.

    I’ve used these for countless 20 hour swim weeks in pool and in massive group starts for triathlons and have found them to be the most functional goggle around.

    Best of luck in the pool,


    1. Totally agree with Evan

      The Swedish are by far the most reliable comfortable

      goggles you can get, I use the TYR’s and never had a

      problem with them.

      Keep up the good work


    2. for googles I suggest that you look at the Sable googles, absolutely the best and clearest vision, comfortable with various nose bridge sizes provided and they dont leak or fog up!



  6. Tim – great suggestions! I think you’re reading my mind tonight. I’m sitting here watching the swimming events and thinking about how to get more swimming into my life and – blam – you drop some fantastic references.

    I’ve experimented with a few other lifestyle-change suggestions on your site with good results, so I’ll be sure to pick up the Total Immersion stuff too.



  7. Tim, I love your one page notes all the time, it’s a time saver, gonna these stuff, try today. I didn’t use goggles, not sure why, but try to get one for myself. Thanks!


  8. I was 10 years old and had a secret crush on a boy at a summer camp. We would often go to the pool and I was one of the kids, who didn’t know how to swim and always had my kick board with me. One day we were all going into the water, he saw me with the kick board and said: “what? you can’t swim?”

    I couldn’t but I said “of course I can, look” and went into the pool, without my kick board, put all the energy and will power and YES, magically started swimming…

    I find swimming as one of the most fun work-outs (next to dancing) and my tip to swim long distance would be: try to relax every single muscle of your body and make consistent movements, avoid jerk movements.

    Oh Tim, did you really recommend Speedos? Ay… I find board short extremely sexy on guys, I know it may be hard to swim in them though…

  9. Hey Tim,

    This is the same method (in principle) used in ChiRunning. The ChiRunning folks and Total Immersion folks are good friends and occasionally partner up on workshops too. So for those of you with the same fear of running that want a solution similar to Tim’s swimming, check out ChiRunning.

    I can’t imagine you afraid of swimming, but I’ll go with it … 🙂

    -Don Makoviney

  10. Hey Tim,

    Great to see you overcame your aversion to swimming, it is one of life’s great joys.

    I was a competitive swimmer in my early teens, my career ended by illness.

    I had the pleasure of being coached by a former Olympic gold medalist and the right instruction makes all the difference. Although I don’t swim anywhere near the 6 times a week I once did (I’m now 22 and ended competition aged 13), when i do jump in the I get right back into a great stroke and swim 1500meters to 3kilometers no trouble.

    Are you mastering the other strokes? Freestyle is great, but the incridble workout of Butterfly for your shoulders is hard to beat, or the satisfaction of mastering BreastStroke – arguably the most difficult and of course the different sensation of backstroke. And then there is the dive and tumble turns to master – then your on track to take on Phelps.

    Finding the right goggles is difficult. What suits one person will not suit you, buy a bunch and find what works. It depends on the shape of your face basically. Also some goggles are designed specifically for sprinting competition – you want a training goggle that will keep its seal. An anti-fog solution can be helpful too.

    Have a great day and happy swimming,


  11. So happy to see these tips … my foot or calves always seem to start cramping at about 1600yds … so i stop swimming 🙁 can’t wait to try these techniques and hopefully break that 1600 cramp!! thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!

  12. Tim,

    what a weird coincidence. I’ve been trying to get into shape for a few months now and have been having pretty good success with weights and running (though a foot injury have put me off for the last week or so), but recently I decided to set a bigger goal for myself and attempt a triathlon. Of course, I’m not putting some silly time limit on myself and planning to do it in X months or anything, but it’s something I really want to do for myself.

    The one big issue is that I’m a horrible swimmer — I never learned properly. Earlier tonight my wife and I were at the bookstore and I started looking through books on triathlons to get a sense of what I’m in for. On the way home I was describing the whole thing to my wife and we began talking about my biggest weakness — the swimming part. Imagine my surprise to discover your post on exactly this issue. Thanks for the pointers. I’ve already requested Terry’s book from our local library and, if it’s helpful, will buy a copy of it and the DVD.

    Now, I’ve got to go up to the nearby rec center tomorrow and see if I can get in to use their pool! ;~)

    Thanks again for all the wonderfully useful info!

  13. Hey Tim,

    Congrats — that’s a really impressive turnaround! (wouldn’t expect any less from you). Now that you’ve conquered swimming, I’ll have to get you out kiteboarding!


  14. Wow, just in time. I was struggling to understand what I was doing wrong and why I get so frustrated trying to stay afloat and eventually move forward. I’ll try these tips tomorrow 🙂

  15. My mom says I could swim before I could walk. I didn’t have an opportunity to swim competitively since my school didn’t have a pool, but I did lifeguard for a few summers during high school. It’s strictly recreational for me, and I actually have more fun with diving boards than just swimming. Have you learned to dive, Tim? I’m sure you’d like it – you might find similarities to some of the martial arts and b-boy stuff you do since it’s largely a matter of understanding how your own body moves through space.

    I just tried to teach a friend how to swim a few weeks back. Since I don’t know what it’s like to not be able to swim, it was pretty difficult. I’ll definitely point her in this direction.

  16. Hey Tim.

    Another thing to look forward to: If you keep this up, as the swimming becomes easier you’ll find you get into The Zone after about 500 m. You’ll forget everything around you. It’s mobile meditation. Brilliant.

    Have fun,


  17. Hi,

    Thanks for your article. I was especially hitted by your last paragraph when you said that you hated swimming and now likes it. Those are the words that convince me to give your method a try. Nevertheless, is the DVD suitable for someone who does not know how to swim crawl but only breaststroke ? If so, I’m gonna order them and follow your advices. Otherwise I may consider a few lessons with a teacher before.

    By the way, this is my first comment here since I discovered your work and your blog a few weeks ago. It’s a pleasure to read it and it already began to influences some part of my life.

    If you ever come to Switzerland, I would be pleased to help you,



  18. When I was a boy, I nearly drowned twice. Swimming lessons didn’t help me learn to swim either. So, in my mid-teens I decided I had to learn to swim and would teach myself how to do it and I did it by watching people swim, reading about swimming technique, and practicing in the shallow end of the local Y.M.C.A. pool. Once I understood that the key for me to learn to swim-I’m speaking of the crawl stroke here-was learning how to breathe and coordinate the breath, well, I was good to go. Later, I became a life guard and then a water safety instructor. Saved five lives in the water.

    One other thing, when I taught swimming to both children and adults, I asked all of my students to draw me a picture of themselves swimming and to bring it back to me for the second lesson. I wanted to fix in their minds and emotions the idea that they could swim and could picture themselves doing so. Just a tip for those who teach swimming.

    1. Hi Tim. I’ve found the hints amazing.

      I’m an almost short distance triathlete (hobby for a while) and i’m planning to complete the Iron Man in 2017. I can swim for 3kilometers without stopping but I fell i’m wasting energy with wrong techniques(because of this I hate swim sometimes like you haha). I fell tired and I fell i’m not slicing properly. I’ll try to do this drills at the open sea.

      Thank u a lot

  19. Tim,

    I’m going to share with you the MOST efficient swimming training program ever.

    When I was four years old, my father tossed me off of his shrimp boat and said “sink or swim boy”. It may sound inhumane and cruel but I finished first in my Marine Corps swim qualification training on Parris Island 15 years later. Try swimming a few laps with boots, blouse, trousers, 80-lb pack, Kevlar (helmet), and a rifle. Not to mention 80 other guys that don’t know how to swim flapping around like drowning gorillas pushing you under ever stroke of the way.

    So remember, when it’s time to teach your children how to swim… rent a shrimp boat and throw them overboard at a very young age. 🙂

    ps- Will be in SF labor day weekend, would love to interview you for our upcoming podcast “Losing The Shackles”. It’s about Modern Day American Slavery and the struggle to escape. I’ll shoot an email to your publicist.

  20. I registered for my first Ironman when I had the same ability to swim like you had before – one length and I was out of breath. But with some practice and a lot of willpower (standing up and going to the pool at 6am two times a week in winter) I managed to swim 1:14h for the 3.8k.

    A couple of months ago I discoverd TI for myself and found it really interesting. There’s not much more to add to what you said, here’s what I found was the most important for me:

    – swimming length after length just to increase your weeks mileage is a waste of time. My 2nd IM swim was 1:10h with about 130k training, my 3rd IM swim was 1:07h with about 20k training. If you swim you should have a trainer with you or practice drills. Only swim longer distances once in a while to check your time or a couple of weeks before the event.

    – practice front quadrant swimming. In Shinj Takeuchi’s video you can see that when he pushes back his front arm, the other arm is already in the water. This makes your body longer and faster in the water.

    – if you’re out of breath, your technique is flawed. It’s never a question of physical strength.

  21. Tim,

    I attended one of Terry’s seminars a few years back and he was able to fill in the gaps that are missing from the book and DVD. It was amazing how much of a difference just a few suggestions from an expert had on my form and strategy. I was basically a dog paddle swimmer trying to prepare for a triathalon and it made a huge difference. In BJJ it would be like having Royce Gracie walk you through an arm bar. You think you know how to do one until an expert shows you all the little details you never knew existed.

    thanks for the the blog

  22. Tim, now would be a good time to add a few items to the gear page. You could split it into chunks; books (pull from the end of the 4hwwk), DVDs (TI), stuff (goggles), etc.

    Doing the Iron Man has been on my list for quite a while. I’m several years out, but maybe it’s time to pick up another book.

  23. Congrats Tim! Seems like the TI program fits right in line with 4-Hour Work Week principals…just the pool version.

    -Designate you want to swim and what you need to do to get there

    -Eliminate unnecessary expense of energy, drag in the water, etc.

    -Automate yourself by training muscle memory

    -Liberate yourself from your fears!

    Maybe not exactly the way you might do it in lifestyle design, but close!

    Congrats again. Will Michael Phelps have a challenger in 2012?!?

  24. Wow Tim,

    I’d never thought of the theories in your book, but was inspired to apply them in my work and side project ever since.

    I’m possibly more inspired by this simple post, though! I too have always been embarrassed about my inability to swim.

    My ass sinks and I just feel like I’m struggling for life the whole time. Then I look in the next lane and see some 80 year old guy leisurely banging out 50 laps.

    Can’t wait to try this out. Thanks!

  25. Tim,

    I have been training for a triathlon for most of this year. While my experience at the pool was not painful, I always knew that I could be more efficient. Your post here will pay dividends for me…I am heading over to the pool tonight just to try a couple of these techniques.

    By the way, one thing I did early on was to ask a couple of the teenagers at the pool (lifeguards who are involved in competitive swimming) to watch my form and give me pointers. They were honored to be asked for their expertise and gladly helped me to hone my skills. It’s a great way to get free coaching!

  26. When I saw your tweet I was just about to dive in and recommend TI to you. I’ve been using their system for 4 years now and the difference was astounding. I grew up swimming (my mum was an international rower) but never was ‘taught’ to swim. I went from someone who could swim without thinking to someone who really thought about it. When I started doing long distance triathlons, the swimming was the one piece I wasn’t worried about, I knew I could go the distance. Welcome to the club.

  27. Rather than @reply to your tweet, I’m posting here:

    * As with any skill and muscle memory sport you’ll improve light years faster training 3x week with a coach, such as through US Masters –

    * Propulsion really does come from rotation around the hips and core. Rotation, rotation, rotation. I use Total Immersion drills to retrain my body if I haven’t been swimming in a while.

    * Relax. Concentrate on distance per stroke, not speed, initially.

    * To train for open water you’ve got to occasionally train IN open water – get used to no bottom, the taste, the chop splashing your face, the sun in your eyes… try Aquatic Park or China Beach in the SF area.

    Do you have an event picked out? Let us know.

  28. The running Pose Technique, developed in 1977, was published for the first time in Russia in 1981 and available to general public worldwide from 1997, the Pose Method of Running was the first official and complete running technique on the market. With a number of running styles available today, the Pose Method of Running is currently the only method for teaching running technique and the only running technique in the world scientifically proven to reduce impact on knees by 50%.

    Dr. Nicholas S. Romanov, a 2-time Olympic athlete has developed this method into several areas such as jumping, biking and swimming to name a few. A lot of triathletes use his methods and he is the coach to the members of Triathlon National Teams of the USA, Great Britain and Mexico.

    I can vouch for the decrease in knee pain while running. You may want to take a look at the swimming information that he has available.

    Great job Tim on overcoming a fear. When I was in bootcamp and officer candidate school for the Navy, it amazed me that there were people who didn’t know how to swim.

  29. Wow Tim, I’m so glad I caught this in my feed list. In reading that article, you could have been writing about me. I’ve excelled at athletics all my life but being a decent swimmer has always eluded me. I’ve had probably 10 or 12 people take me through the “now fill your lungs up with air, relax and ease back into the water” dance. I sink every time. For some reason, I can backstroke but my apparent lack of buoyancy makes ANYTHING else a chore. . . . you’ve given me some hope.

  30. I have a more troublesome issue. Because I love dance, I think I would love swimming — in both, form is key. But I can’t get past the breathing… I think I inhaled too much water when I was a kid. I’m not too fond of getting it in my ears either. If there’s a book and DVD set for that, I hope someone will let me know.

    1. I had an epiphany many years ago, when teaching one of my daughters to swim. Swimming Lesson number 1 must be to sit in a shallow pool wearing a mask, take a breath, then put your face in the water, repeatedly. After a few minutes, I tell the learner : “When you swim, you WILL get water on your face”.

      If you take the time to truly observe children who have just started swimming, you will see that they immediately have TWO swimming styles: 1. they use doggy-paddle with a near vertical body which produces very little forward motion; 2. they swim horizontally very effectively underwater, then stop and stand up every 3-5 metres. If you look closer, you will see that when using doggy paddle, they also hold their breath, stop and stand up every 1-2 metres!

      Once you have lost the fear of having water on your face, you can move on to Lesson 2: Lose the fear of having water in your mouth; and Lesson 3: Learn to breath gently, naturally and calmly in rhythm with your swimming. The more natural your breathing, the more endurance your swimming will have.

      It may help to realise, that the very first breath that you took when you were born, was a reaction to your skin no longer being bathed in amniotic fluid – you were programmed in the womb to not breathe whilst immersed in liquid. Learning to breath when your cheek is in contact with water is a sophisticated new skill, which qualifies (rather than replaces) the natural and correct programming of don’t try to breathe when you are completely underwater.

  31. Hi Tim!

    It’s books and DVDs like that, that makes me kick myself in rage… I have been a swimmer since I was able to put my head under water without breathing, at about 4yo probably; and since then, swimming has been the sport that I enjoy the most! But lord, I was slow… very slow… and I couldn’t do more than one length in front crawl! But about 2 years ago, I decided it was enough, and I worked on my moves: conserving energy, extending reach, reducing draft and deploying strength more efficiently. I basically crafted the same technique explained in this book and DVD and that you used with much success. An I have been coaching friends and family for nothing since the beginning of this year… I could have written this book and I should have produced this DVD! I want to kick myself for not using this as a muse… now I am moving on to running, where I have always been so bad, maybe I can make good use of it! :))

  32. Tim, excellent post!

    You story is very similar to mine. I have felt swimming to be a weakness of mine, and after swimming not very far I am exhausted, but I can happily run 10miles or cycle 50+. Looking at tri-athlete resources a lot suggest Total Immersion. I’ve got notes about it in my “someday maybe” files.

    Thanks for sharing all these notes and bits of information. I previously borrowed a tri. training book from the library and it was far too daunting to attempt the techniques – it assumed you were already a relatively strong swimmer 🙁

    I never realised how much goggles made a difference until I started scuba diving – the mask made a big difference. As a glasses wearer, I didn’t realise how cheap prescription goggles were. Going to get me a pair when I get around to swimming properly.

    Great post, it’s renewed my enthusiasm for getting this sorted.

  33. Tim, again thanks for another very helpful post. I’ve been re-discovering swimming this past year, and have struggled with technique. I’ve been contemplating trying my first triathlon next season–this is definitely going to help.

    Appreciate how you consistently add value for your readers. Grace to you!

  34. Thanks for the tips, Tim. In your conversation with Derek Sivers the other day you said you can’t use about 3/4 of your left lung. It seems like you would feel the effects of this more in a sport like swimming than, say, weightlifting or judo. Has a decreased lung capacity affected your swimming at all and are there any more specific breathing techniques you’ve had to employ in addition to tip #7 above?

    I had asthma growing up and steered clear of endurance sports, even though they looked fun to me (soccer, swimming, etc). I’ve outgrown the asthma (finally) and really want to get into swimming but I want to make sure I have a sound plan of attack for the breathing demands.

    Thanks again for the post!

  35. wow Tim…thanks for this. I’ve been struggling for months in the water, trying to build the endurance to make it at least 400m at a time, while trying to maintain form…with little success.

    The guy in the example…wow is all i can say, looks completely effortless but yet he’s gliding at a great pace!

    Thanks again, definitely picking this up, in hopes it can help me out before the Malibu and Orange County International Triathlons hit in the next month or two.

  36. Hi Tim,

    I recently was speaking to a friend who trains for open water 10k and hopes to represent Canada in 2012. She mentioned her greatest learning when starting out was to double cap: cap1/goggles/cap2 (once you find the right pair that is).

    On another note, I’d like to send you an email; may I please have your address?

    Swim Strong.

  37. Was a below average swimmer for years when I got interested in triathlons. All my friends were swimming laps and doing sprints while I was practicing Total Immersion. Just doing the drills. Everyone laughed. (even some swimmers on the high school swim team, though I was long out of high school) Said I was swimming incorrectly. The first race I did was a 1 mile bay swim. Pretty choppy weather, too. Needless to say, I beat them all, badly. I felt great after the swim and they were puking their guts up. Go, Tim!

  38. Hi All!

    Thanks so much for the great comments! Here are a few further suggestions for a 1k swim, from Twitter at :

    @MichaelHiggs check out hypoxic training to build endurance. At first it’s like being in the 3rd round down on points and taking a beating… about 2 hours ago

    @tshults @tferriss re:1k free. take your time, long slow strokes, and keep your breathing relaxed. don’t switch to another stroke. stay in the free. about 4 hours ago

    @rsskga @tferriss I’m all about sidestroke. Scissor kicking gets me where I’m going w/ minimal effort & keeps my head above water. Non-competition. about 9 hours ago

    @Lifestyle_Proj @tferriss Final one! Practice looking up every few strokes in so you maintain a straight course o/w! Pick a reference point in the distance. about 9 hours ago

    Lifestyle_Proj @tferriss Also, concentrate on your kick to arm stroke power distribution. Too much kicking power and you will tire early. about 9 hours ago

    Lifestyle_Proj @tferriss If it’s wetsuit temperature make sure you have tested flexibility in water for sizing. Know your preference, i.e. shortie or not

    @mathewbutler @tferriss You don’t need to kick ALL the time. Stops you needing breath. about 10 hours ago

    @titanas @tferriss 3-4 strokes / 1 breath. Leg sync with strokes. Good iron / ferritin levels. about 10 hours ago

    @jraines @tferriss — breathing to both sides is (slightly) overrated. If your stroke is already decent, a little gallop can help you get in the zone about 11 hours ago

    @Malach @tferriss Start slow, slow enough that you feel you could swim forever. Use your legs more than your arms. Breathe deeply and slowly. about 11 hours ago [Tim: Note that I have found the flick-like method of minimal kicking to conserve the most energy]

    @AlmostaGeek @tferriss take it easy and breath every other stroke. about 11 hours ago

    @nohypeActivist @tferriss also: as your legs are your biggest muscles, try to not use them like you would in the 100m or 200m. less legs, more arms about 11 hours ago

    @nohypeActivist @tferriss always check your stroke frequency. you gotta feel like your increasing it. that way, you will stay within it. helps tremendously about 11 hours ago

    @LorenCastillo @ tferriss if the water is cold use a wet suit, remember to warm up by running and pace yourself

    1. hi tim..i don how it happened,but im experiencing the same…while i listen to all the instructions given to me by my husband..but when i really start doing them in water…..all the problems pop up…i panic..n..tat stupid water ll be gone into my nose n mouth n wat not…n i end up standing at the edge of the pool coughing..its horrible u c…everyone in the pool nicely enjoying n myself standing at the edge coughing n suffocating..really fed up!…but now after seeing ur blog…i think i still can have hopes…i shall c da book n dvd…hope tat might help me..thanks yaar.

  39. Tim,

    Daley here, the triathlete and winner of your weekend challenge a few months ago. Huge congrats on the swimming man! Like golf, swimming is a technique sport that requires very precise form. And also like golf, swimming is a sport in which strength and power are not essential for excellence. When I first started swimming with a masters program I was astonished that 50-year old women were beating me up and down the pool despite my superior athletic ability and muscularity. Once I improved my form and stroke mechanics I finally felt like I was ‘gliding’ through the water like a canoe not pushing it like a barge on its way out to sea. Sadly, these older women still beat me up and down the pool, but I no longer huff and puff after 1500 meters. I could not agree more about learning stroke mechanics first before getting into volume training.

    A great Olympic event to watch that is coming up is the Marathon swim. Women’s event is 8/20 at 9:00 AM, and the men’s is 8/21 at 9:00 AM as well. These athletes epitomize streamline swimming and energy conservation. Check it out.


  40. Thanks for posting this Tim! I’ve always been a mediocre swimmer and wished I knew how to swim laps without gagging and gasping. I’ve also stayed away from getting into triathlons because I’m such a poor distance swimmer. I’ll definitely add learning to swim as my next new thing to master because of this info!!

  41. Isn’t it amazing how the thing you are most afraid of turns into the greatest joy and pleasure of your life? I’ve found that to be the case in most areas of my life. It’s why I’ve learned to love stepping outside of my comfort zone and doing things I’m particularly fearful of, like leaving the big law firm after only three years and starting my own law business.

    Next up for me? A week on the play with my kids at Burning Man! I’ll be video blogging the experience on my personal blog. Should be a hoot!


  42. Tim,

    Congrats! That’s awesome that you are learning to swim the proper way.

    I actually created my “muse” that is my living now from a swimming idea- swimming for triathletes (I’m a former collegiate swimmer who turned to the open water after college). Here’s a few tips for ya from a triathlon/distance perspective:

    1. Hand Entry. Slice your hand into the water right about at your goggle line, and drive it forward. Many swimmers attempt to get as much “air time” as possible by reaching the hand out before entering into the water, but it is actually more efficient to go through the water with your hand as you rotate from one side to the other.

    2. Head Position. Keep looking straight down when swimming freestyle. It’s important to keep your head down with only a small part of the back of your head out of the water. Also, as you rotate through the water, try not to move your head with the rest of your body rotation.

    3. Pull. In freestyle, your hands should pull all the way back past your hips. The last part of the stroke before recovery (arms coming out of the water) should be an acceleration behind you, and not up out of the water.

    4. Kick. Try minimizing your kick as you train for swimming. Most people will kick extra hard to make up for lack of balance in the water. Minimizing your kick will allow you to improve your balance, as well as conserve energy.

    5. Training Intensity. The best way to measure your training intensity is to count your heart rate immediately after each swim. You can estimate your heart rate by counting your pulse rate for six seconds immediately after each swim. Add a zero to this count, and you will have your approximate exercise heart rate per minute.

    Good luck and keep the posts coming! Would love to hear how your swimming comes along.


  43. Tim,

    If you could swim two lengths when you started, you didn’t “learn to swim,” you learned to swim further. This makes your headline a bit of an oversell, don’t you think?

  44. Hey Tim,

    I’ve been a competive swimmer for about ten years and I have competed in over 30 triathlons. There’s definetely some technique adjustments. In open water, every 3 or 4 strokes, you need to raise your head straight up to take your breath. That way you’re able to stay on course. Your goggles can also change as well. Don’t go for tinted, obviously the water will be darker in a lake than in a pool. Also, go for wider goggles, you use your peripheral alot more in open water. In your wetsuit choice, I would go for sleeveless. Long sleeves can restict range of shoulder motion. Generally, focus on rotation and distance per stroke.

    Good Luck!

  45. Hi Tim,

    The reason that most folks subscribe to your blog is to hear how to make money. Please don’t write about swimming and how people escape the Amish – the economy is melting down and we need to hear how to survive it from folks like you who seem to have a good grasp on how to run a business. Thanks.

  46. Hi Tim!

    I know you have written about Arthur Jones’ work in regards to strength training and I wanted to take this opportunity to suggest you look at SuperSlow Training. SuperSlow began as a particular strength training protocol back in the Nautilus days that was originally designed for elderly osteoporotic women. Long story short – it turned out to be the most effective, efficient, & safest protocol they had ever developed.

    In essence it is a slow motion movement (20 second reps) that is done in a circuit style in approximately 20 – 30 minutes about every fourth day. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but it beats all other strength training styles in terms of results.

    Check it out sometime.


  47. I’m glad I found this. I’m 40 and about to retire from BJJ (after 3 years). My knees and elbows can’t take it anymore. I’ve been contemplating swimming for fitness, but have no skills.


  48. Tim,

    Congratulations on finding your inner swimmer. Though I never swam competitively, I rediscovered my love of swimming about 8 years ago myself. I too started with Total Immersion training and have since moved on to other strokes. A 1K warm-up is not unusual now! There are a couple of sites you should add to your swimming favorites.

    The first is GoSwim.TV, Glenn Mills has developed the site and it is filled with lots of great swimming information, instructional videos and drills. My profile there has a bit more about my journey that started with swimming.

    Consider joining a Masters swim team. You don’t have to be a great swimmer; there are all levels at every club. Being a Masters swimmer will provide a great group of people to swim with all over the world.

    If you can’t find a Masters team to practice with while traveling, visit They list pools all over the world.

    See you at the pool,


  49. Tim,

    That is awesome!!! I have been swimming since I was a baby, and I always try to tell non-swimmers how important of a life skill it is, but it often falls on deaf ears. I am a coach for an Iron man training group, a swim instructor, lifeguard instructor and played water polo in college, but I still learn more about swimming all the time. I am going to purchase the book to use some of the analogies when I’m teaching.


  50. I too have come to love swimming the past few months. I have found it effective to breathe every third stroke and to alternate left to right. Swimming is so refreshing and invigorating!

  51. But note how Natalie is kicking and how all the Olympic swimmers kick which lays waste to the silly notion that kicking costs more in energy than it returns in speed. There are some valid suggestions here, but nothing revolutionary. There are plenty of good swim coaches out there. Find the one that works for you as an individual and be weary of any “gurus” pushing a one-size-fits-all technique.

  52. Nice work Tim. Swimming is definitely something worth conquering for the survival aspect and the fitness of it. I bet it’s good for your lungs as well.

    Since you’ve now mastered your fear of swimming and you don’t seem to shy away from trying new things, I dare you to try learning one of these sports next: Water polo, Dragonboating or Synchronized Swimming. I’ve done them all. You choose.

    Synchronized swimming is by far THE most challenging sport there is. (I realize I may get some flack for saying that. Whatever.) Take away the music, the outfits, the make-up and you have an absolutely insane sport that combines strength, coordination, endurance, breath control, timing, flexibility, focus, and more than an ounce of insanity. And yes, I’ve seen the SNL skit…

    1. Dead on about synchronized swimming. My ladyfriend is an ex-synchro swimmer and she has incredible endurance in the pool. Can outrace me easily and iron lungs underwater.

      Only a few men do it and I think because women are better suited for it from the standpoint of endurance.

  53. As several other have pointed out the “Swedes” are a cheap yet phenomenal pair of goggles. I used them swimming competitively for almost ten years. For open water I would suggest the darkest pair you can find. Even the slightly more expensive metallic pairs would be a good investment to help with the sun.

    As for the tips, they seem to be great for novices who wish to add swimming to thier training regimen. However, if you are really planning to participate in an open water 1 km race, you may want to adjust your training.

    Open water events are an exhausting endeavor. I would recommend swimming longer sets or taking far less rest during your sets. By doing sets of 300s, 400s, or better yet 500s you will build up the necessary endurance for a longer race. Especially if you are not concerned with how fast you complete your race, doing 4×500 with :30 to 1:00 rest each work out will help immensly with endurance. I only mention time since swimming is a sport where to swim fast in a race you have to train far longer than the actual race for months and then taper your training down in order to swim at your very best.

    I do not know if you know how to do flip turns or not. If not then I would recommend learning if at all possible. This goes for anyone who wants to swim for exercise. Not doing flip turns will wear out a swimmer faster than anything else once you start doing longer sets. Even doing sets of 100s you will save tons of energy by doing flip turns. Which will in turn allow you to do longer sets.

    Great read.

  54. Hi Tim,

    The meditation part of swimming is the best, isn’t it? When you hit the groove, it feels like you’re dancing with the water. The techniques you describe indicate that you’ve intuited that hull speed is a function of waterline length — the longer you stretch, the faster you’ll be able to go.

    Now that you’ve learned the rhythm of water, try actually dancing. You get to practice the rhythm, but with great music and an attractive partner to boot :-).

  55. Tim,

    Oh my god, this is awesome. I’m not a pro-athlete by any means, but I have the same exact problem. I’ve tried to swim, but the main problem is that I just can’t float horizontally at all. Everyone says – oh, you’re just panicking or something like that. Nope, I’m cool as a cucumber, and even though I’m calm, after about 1 minute, I found myself at the bottom of the pool (I can easily hold my breathe for 2 minutes, and it’s a 5 foot pool, so I have no reason to panic).

    I’ve run half marathons, I can bench over 200lbs, leg press 700lbs – I’m no slouch. I’ve been skinny when I tried it (11% body fat), and not so skinny (21% body fat), and neither way worked.

    When I was a kid, I went through numerous lessons, and I sucked big time. It’s good to know that there is someone else in the world who has had the exact same problem.

    I am going to try this stuff out this weekend.

  56. I’ve been swimming in open water since I was very young. While training for my first tri, I was surprised at how nervous people were about swimming in open water and how difficult it was for them.

    A few things that make it easy and comfortable for me:

    – I love cold water. Learn to love cold water if that is going to be part of the race. Train in it, learn to think clearly in it.

    – I meditate when I swim. My body checks out once I get in a rhythm and have a pace, breathing is much more important in long-distance swimming than anything else. I once swam two miles across a glacier-fed lake in the Rockies without getting cold or even struggling by just concentrating on breath.

    – I never train in a pool. If you associate swimming with a controlled, safe, and sanitized environment like a pool that puts you at a huge disadvantage when facing the unpredictability of swimming long distances outdoors. Take the training outside.

    Good luck.

  57. great to see you talking about swimming, i swam all 4 years of high school and was captain of my team senior year. what are you times like just out of curiosity? obviously you are training for a 1k race, and a 50 meter or 100 meter is a faster race. also, as others have suggested, once you get down freestyle, you should really try the other 3 major strokes. i used hated butterfly my first year of swimming, but as i got better form and more in shape it became my favorite stroke. its a huge work out for your entire body.

    also, hows your flip turn doing? thats a huge part of any swimming race, if your turn is fast and efficient, you can lose ground on it, its also the basis for a good streamline coming off the wall (stream line is when you are under the water doing a dolphin kick with both hands extended above your hands and your head down, making your body like a bullet)

  58. As a long time swimmer I’m always happy to see anyone learn to enjoy the pool. Don’t let anyone who knocks this post as unhelpful get to you. In all reality there’s a non-cerebral yet still intelligent way to do a lot of things that makes the process WAY easier. As a long time reader of your posts I think it strengthens the point you try to make about being effective.

  59. Tim,

    Add me to the list of those who were going to recommend TI.

    Since you mentioned open water in you tweet, I’ll give you some of my triathlete/ocean lifeguard tips:

    * Learn to breath on both your right and left sides. If there is a chop, it really helps to be able to comfortably turn your head away from the waves to breath. If not, you are choking…not breathing.

    * Know the water. Open water swimming is fun, but it can be dangerous. Know if the area gets rocky, shallow, is known for high currents, know for debris (see below).

    * If there was a storm the day before, be very careful. Ocean floors can be loose and unstable, thus causing rip-currents. Oceans, rivers and lakes tend to have more debris after storms.

    * Get a good sense of landmark distances, then remember in your mind how many lengths of the pool it translates into. Crossing a river or lake might only be 1,000 meters, which on land does not look that far. But in a 25 meter pool, it is 40 lengths with no turns to leverage, to walls to grab, and no bottom to stand on.

    * If possible, swim with a friend.

    There is something cool and primal about open water swimming that you don’t experience in a nice pool with lane lines. I do it whenever I can. Enjoy!

  60. I’m delighted with Tim’s newfound interest in swimming and nothing could make me happier than knowing that our approach to swim-improvement played a role in changing his experience from harrowing-and-frustrated to hopeful-and-aspirational. I always tell TI coaches that teaching better stroke technique is their second responsibility. Sparking passion for swimming in their students is their first.

    Tim has been most generous in sharing tips on how to experiment with changing your own stroke. I’ll offer some distilled advice on how to take a “TI Test Drive” without buying anything or even doing a single drill. We have a free downloadable pdf that would help open the lid on the “black box” that swimming is for many people. I don’t have the url at my fingertips but will return and post here as soon as I get it.

    These are focal points for Freestyle:

    1) Release your head’s weight to the water, so your head and spine align.

    2) Focus more on using your hand to lengthen your bodyline, less on pushing water back.

    3) Relax your legs until the kick blends easily with your stroke.

    4) Swim more quietly – minimize waves and splash.

    5) Count strokes.

    I’ll also note that the Freestyle Made Easy DVD which Tim used has now been replaced by what I feel is a program that is easier to follow and answers many of the questions people most commonly ask. That’s called Easy Freestyle: 21st Century Techniques for Beginners to Advanced Swimmers. Info and sample tips at

  61. Greg

    The question isn’t precisely whether kicking costs more in energy than it returns in speed. It’s what’s the right kind of kicking for your goals.

    No one would argue that if your goal is to swim 100m as fast as possible, a strong steady “6-kick” is nearly essential. That’s Natalie’s goal and why she kicks as she does.

    My racing goals are more for 1 or 2 miles to 5k in open water. My health and well-being goals are to be able to swim for an hour or more and finish feeling better than when I started, and to look forward to my next swim. For those goals I use a relaxed 2-beat kick, which I have worked diligently to “tune” to my stroke. It takes minimal energy, relies on fatigue-resistant core muscle, rather than fatigue-prone leg muscle and added enough boost to my stroke to allow me to swim 28.5-miles around Manhattan in 2002 and 2006 with no fatigue or strain, and enough speed to break National Masters records for 1-Mile and 2-Mile open water swims.

    Would you agree that most followers of Tim’s blog are more interested in swimming for endurance, fitness and enjoyment than to race 100m all out?

    And if so, that a more relaxed kick would probably suit their goals quite well?

    Happy laps,


  62. I’ve heard great things about Total Immersion but I’m still skeptical about its effectiveness for new swimmers. I’m also a triathlete and self teaching yourself, esp with swimming where you cannot see your stroke, seems like a dangerous idea and quick way to learn bad form. I’ve also found that many TI swimmers just do laps in the pool and swear off drills, exhibiting shock when I recommend kick board or pull float exercises for a stroke issue they may have. This seems counter intuitive to me and over develops a sense of swimming self confidence and a distaste for any different form of swim practice. As a long time swimmer I think IT is a fantastic complement to swim training but the ultimate goal should always be a coach.

  63. Thanks for this – i know exactly how you felt

    I see people effotlessly swim 20-30 lengths whilst i get tired after one length despite being fairly sporty.

    Whenever i go on vacation, I regret it as i feel real uneasy doing water sports – and even wear a life jacket to snorkle!

    I keep meaning to get lessons – but wanted a short cut. Looks like you have found one!

    So whats the next challenge? What you planning to do with your new found swimming skills?


  64. Hi Tim, wrt number 8 and short circuiting with two many things to try to remember, one way to handle this is to “sequence your awareness” while you swim.

    While doing yoga poses I use my breath to sequence my awareness. Inhale notice my feet, then exhale, then inhale notice what my knees are doing, exhale, then next breath move my awareness to hips, spine, arms etc. I notice each part and adjust them where appropriate.

    With swimming, if there are lots of things to remember, especially when learning, can focus on one thing for two to three strokes (or one breath cycle if you are breathing every two or three strokes) then move your focus to the next item on the list. So might start with focusing on what the upper body is doing, then on what the arms should be doing and then the legs. Then back to the upper body again. If possible try sequencing so that the key element is taken care of first. (or whatever you think the key element is).

    As you improve you’ll find it easier to feel everything at once.

    For maximum body length you can break down you body into “parts.” The easiest parts of the body in which to gain length are the waist and neck and shoulders. (that’s assumiong the knees and elbows are already straight)

    To lengthen the waist you can focus on drawing the ribcage away from pelvis, for a long neck draw your head away from your ribcage.

    While standing or upright, pull head back and up and pull chin in so that cervical spine is maximally straight and then your neck will be as long as possible, while supine or swimming, push the back of your head back or up, almost out of the water so that neck is long.

    With your neck long then your shoulder muscles have maximum amount of room to operate. Then you can lengthen your arms by pulling your shoulder blade towards you ear.

    I’m finding that in whatever I do, especially yoga, the more I lengthen my body, the more I create space in it, the better it feels.

    Oh yes, this isn’t really lengthening, more like creating space, but I find breathing with my chest as well (using the intercostal muscles between the ribs) also gives a very good feeling, and the action of reaching with each arm can help to accentuate opening the chest.

    also, opening the chest as you breathe you can use the same muscles you breathe with to help roll the ribcage with respect to the pelvis. Twisting of the spine is an action not only of the obliques (side abs) but of the intercostals. So the more you breathe using your ribcage (and diaphragm) the better you’ll be able to twist.

  65. Tim, thanks for sharing this. I tried swim lessons in my middle age but still couldn’t get the rhythm right. The breathing is what freaks me. I do OK if I swim on my back. But I’m wondering if this book is helpful for mastering the breathing in freestyle. I see your tips on it in the post. But does the book/DVD go much into detail on the breathing? Thanks again!

  66. I’m a HUGE fan of TI… discovered it a few years ago after my first triathlon and was instantly hooked. I didn’t have the video and had to learn it from the book (as there are no TI instructors in my area)… took a good month to “relearn how to swim” but once it clicked there was no going back.

    I’ve always been surprised that so few people know about TI, imho this should be the standard for teaching people how to swim. The difference between trying to powerhouse through the water vs. effortlessly gliding through the water is simply night and day.

    You are inspiring me to get back in the pool Tim, was prego and had a baby as few months back so it’s been about a year since i’ve been for a swim. hmmmm

    Jessica – they do teach you how to breathe properly. One of the things about TI is that you turn your whole body to take a breath vs turning just your head which constricts your airway (and makes it tough to take a breath!). I used to get really winded when swimming, almost gasping at times, but after learning TI breathing is natural and easy.

  67. Great post. I have been trying to learn to (properly) swim for quite some time. Now i feel i have the tools. Now i just have to get to it! LOL

    BTW…Please, Please PLEASE!….Fire up the GEAR segment! Your adding all this great stuff! Please delegate someone to pull it together for us, the starving It says its coming soon…so lets see soon! Keep up the good work Tim…You inspire us more than you know.

  68. Tim,

    I went to the pool and applied these techniques in real-time after reading this post today.

    Guess what? I went from an average of 19 to 13 strokes!

    If you said, “Can I get a witness?” I’d say, “Amen!”

  69. Tim,

    Interestingly, I’ve been preaching to my friends about TI (at least those friends that are active) as much as I’ve been preaching to them about 4HWW. And here you are now posting about it! Awesome.

    Is there a triathlon in your line-up of things to do? Ironman is on my list, although I’ve got a ways to go (I still haven’t done a sprint triathlon yet or a full marathon, but I’m getting there!).

    Awesome stuff.


  70. Hey !… U R 100% right !

    Without even knowing I have practiced your method and now I see your blog…

    I do daily 40 laps of 50 metres now and go across with a single breath…

    I did it in just 40 days now… Ofcourse I added ABS training and 2 hours swimming, 1 hour cycling and weekly 5K jog.

    I lost 18 kilos in just 40 days… Ofcourse I was on soup diet…

    Ofcourse, my body aches to the extent my shoulder joints are sore…

    And… Hey I got an excellent V shape… all weight across waist gone with a flat ABS…

    Thanks for proving me right…


  71. Hi All,

    Thanks for the continued tips and feedback! Here are some more goodies from Twitter at

    @swanson_scott @tferriss get a good rhythm going. notice how phelps has a little ‘hop’ to his freestyle? leverage your breath to ‘hop’ w/ each stroke w …

    @danmonfre @tferriss instead of keeping your head down, you’ll recover after your breath by looking forward every 3-5 strokes to see where you’re going

    @superwomen @tferriss to avoid getting punched from ppl swim around crowd, sleeveless wetsuits are the best. Sports basement has a bunch for rent.

    @iSwim @tferriss Tim, If the water isn’t cold skip the wet suit. The biggest difference is visability, no lines! I posted to your blog as well.

    @biltonpw @tferriss Use a triathlon wetsuit – full legs and arm flexibility. Quality and price from Promotion in Hood River

    @squawkfox @tferriss 1K Swim Tip: Most important is to relax and breathe. A tense swimmer is a sinker.

    @squawkfox @tferriss 1K Pool Swims: Use minimal kick, keep stroke long, bend elbows. Rotate in the water, work the wall. Start slow, build, practice.

    @squawkfox @tferriss Open Water Tips pt3: Try on MANY wetsuits. You don’t want excess neoprene. It must fit tight. Excess material welcomes water.

  72. Using board shorts can be an effective training aid because as you say you are swimming with a parachute behind you and if you can get the distance and times you want in those then when you put on the speedos you’ll be even faster and can go further!

  73. hey tim, i allready posted in this thread about swimming, but now i have something differnt to talk about that i hope will catch your attention. Every since reading your book, i’ve been more interested in philanthropy, as it is something you talk about quite a bit. being in college though, means my money is tight, and its hard to give at times. but your book also got me thinking about alternative ways you can do things, and in ways that are more efficient, as well as exploiting niches.

    my idea is fairly simple, people donate thier old and working computers, and then the charity would give them to underprivileged schools and familys who can use them. now i know, similar programs allready exist, but heres where mine differs. my idea is to target gamers as the core donatory. why gamers? becuase they are a relativly unexploited nich, and with childsplay as an example, they are very willing to give back. further more, gamers tend to upgraded thier computers far more offtened than your average person, and thier old parts take longer to go out of date for general computer use. further more, they are more likely to upgread a few parts, but not the whole computer, which means they upgread more regularly. many gamers end up with old parts sitting around. what if we took those parts in as donations, built computers with them, and gave them to those who can use them?

    with that I have thought of an idea on how to give back to those who need it most. while i have thought out many of the benefits to my idea compared to other ideas, and how to go about getting the word out and get donators, im not sure where to look to make sure that those donations get to those who need it. is there any way you could help me? i know you have many connections and alot of experiance with this sort of thing.

    i know a little off topic, but i wanted to get the idea to you. any help you could give with this would be much appreciated.

  74. Great article, watching the DVD now and ordered the book!

    I got a problem with treading water in the vertical position. I tried to follow the DVD’s instruction of compact kicks but I still sink. I can tread only on my back with arms sculling. Any tips from any of you guys would be great!

  75. Ahhhhh… swimming, I’ve been doing it competitively since I was 8 years old.

    Great post!!!

    BTW… if you want to get really, really lean… really, really quick, swimming can do that for you. On average, I can lose between 5 and 6 pounds of fat per week just by increasing my swims… I don’t even have to change my diet (I know this is way more than experts recommend, but I’m not trying for this fat loss, it just happens!!). Swimming is HARD WORK, but the great thing is that since you’re in the water, you don’t get overheated like you can on a run (your legs can get a bit itchy though when you begin to sweat), and your circulation is increased from being in a horizontal position vs. a vertical position.

    Here is a link to some great workouts (you can choose your ability level and other variables):

    Have a great day!!

  76. Hi Tim, I have to say that you really inspired me. I wanted to try TI swimming for a long time but I didn’t have time (or will) to do it. After reading your article I enrolled for a TI course here in Prague, Czech republic. I really look forward to it (it’s next Sunday). All the best, Mike

  77. Tim,

    I forgot to mention, how about a ‘minus’ rating for comments so that we can detract from certain people’s comment ratings?

    Christine’s comment far up above just totally irks me haha. Do some people just NOT get your message at all that the end goal isn’t to make money, but rather to streamline one’s lifestyle design?

  78. I really appreciate all the comments here. I am new to this blog.

    There have been some really powerful athletes, swimmers, and dancers in both sides of my family. I can feel the connection between dance and swimming, and I have always experienced being exhausted while swimming.

    Now I understand what I have needed to do with my head, arms and legs, and that the way I was taught to swim as child in camp,etc has literally been a drag. Also I am recovering from a severe injury and have intuitively known that swimming would help restore me. I’m looking forward to getting back in the water again. It seems like this immersion method is more of a natural way to swim. I can be one of those 50+ women just gliding along.

  79. @Shutterhack:

    Thank YOU! The lede photo is beautiful.

    @Mike re: philanthropy

    I think your idea is excellent. How to ensure you implement the donation program correctly? I’d just reach out to a few successful donation programs — whether you see them in big box retailers like Best Buy or you learn of them in an Amazon box — and ask one or two executives 2-3 precise questions via e-mail.

    Another approach would be to work with one of these programs for a short period of time to get paid to learn how the system works.

    Best of luck!


  80. Hi Tim,

    The TI series is indeed a very good series. As a coach on the U.S. National Team, I can say that many of these techniques are used in coaching the top level athletes (although more time is spent putting in yardage!). TI gives you many techniques to think about, but I would tell you the main thing to think about is body position and body line in the water. In my experience, many people (particulary masters swimmers) get SO caught up in the little technical things that other areas are sacrificed (mainly racing!)

    Lastly, one suggestion for open water swimming: your head is going to ride much higher as you are constantly seeking your bearings, so the “flat line” body position will change a bit so to fight waves, people, etc…

    As a swim coach, I appreciate your post! Enjoy the Games!

    Ron Turner

    USA National Team Coach

    2007 US Pan-American Games Coach

  81. For Wilson S.

    The kind of treading water I’m familiar with is called the eggbeater. If you get a chance to watch any water polo in the Olympics pay attention to the underwaters cams – they get great shots of eggbeater.

    Eggbeater is really just an upright, modified breaststroke kick done with each leg individually. (You want to be careful of your knees when your practicing this at first.) You can try holding a kickboard at the surface with your arms draped over the flat portion. Then try doing a few breaststroke kicks upright. Then try doing a breaststroke kick with one leg at a time. (This might feel a little awkward.) Then shorten the kicks so you’re doing shorty, squatty breaststroke kicks with one leg than the other. Eventually you will end up with a fluid motion (kicking one leg after the other) that actually looks a bit like an hand-crank eggbeater used in baking.

    Caution: This is definitely something you’ll want to try AFTER you feel comfortable with a few strokes and with deep water. It’s a great skill though. You can tread water, have a conversation with folks and feel comfortable treading for long stretches of time. Safety first. : )

  82. This sounds very similar to modeling, and has been proven effective to learning new things. As long as you have an expert, who is willing to teach, teach you all they know, in a format that makes it easy to learn, you will quickly step up to a higher level. Unfortunately, modeling works best with a real expert, someone who has actually won championships, etc. This why reading a just an ordinary book on a topic may not as effective learning.

    Practice only makes perfect when you are able to first practice perfectly.

  83. In Italian I call this method AQUILIBRIUM… sensation and emotion before-after and during physical training.

    a smile for you Tim

    Best regards


  84. I started swimming about 4 years ago–prior, I was a terrible swimmer. Two lengths and I would be exhausted. Every time I got in the water I was afraid I was going to drown. The TI technique is great but it still took me about two years to feel like I can *swim.*

    Some other tips that I found helpful–getting a breathing rhythm down. When I breathe, I only inhale. I slowly exhale through my nose while my head is under water and over the course of three strokes. Then I inhale my next breath. That way, I don’t have to feel panicked like I used to when I was both exhaling and inhaling when taking breaths. This led to sometimes not getting enough air, leaving me gasping by the next gulp for air, increasing sense of desperation and creating a vicious cycle. By only doing one thing, I guarantee getting enough air until my next breath.

    I really rely on my hips when I swim. I point my hips to the bottom of the pool so I’m using core body movements instead of arms/legs to get myself into the horizontal position. Makes swimming almost effortless. In fact, I hurt my feet two years ago and swimming was my only form of exercise during that period. By using TI stroke technique (point of hand entry into water, hand/arm extension, gliding through an ‘S’ arm stroke, focusing on efficiency of motion rather than powering through water), rotating my hips, and changing my breathing, I can swim about 20-30 minutes (my average workout) without kicking at all. Now, I still do a small kick, but only as a balance check.

    Totally agree with you, once swimming became a beautiful thing that I wasn’t scared of, it absolutely increased my self confidence and belief that I can do things that I set your mind to.

  85. I learned how to swim with this method. It is absolutely the best! I often have people who have swam for years complementing me on my speed and style. I only wish that there were other methods like TI for other sports.