I’ve been training in swimming, and in other activities, for so many years that I take it for granted what a practice may look like. I also realize our insider swimming jargon can confuse a new initiate.

I was reminded of this recently: my wife does not have a trained swimming background. She has been working on her TI swimming, and has also recently starting up some self-coaching in Chi Running. The other day she asked me how to organize her practice time. I rattled off what I thought would be a simple plan for her time but she just looked at me with glazed eyes, and then insisted I help her write it down. So, I was reminded that a Simple Practice pattern is not necessarily so simple to someone has not been involved in the culture of the sport very long.

So, for her benefit, possibly for yours, and definitely for my own in helping other swimmers, I wrote out some notes for how to begin organizing the practice time.

Here are some steps you can take to set up your own Simple Practice pattern.

1. Divide your time into 3 sections:

1) Tune-Up (aka ‘Warm-Up’) – to bring your mind into the pool and into your body, scan everything and decide or confirm what you need to work on today. Swim gentle and in a variety of ways to relax and loosen up the body and your sensitivity to it. Only gradually increase intensity as your body pulls you into it. Read some of my previous posts on Tune-Up, and also consider downloading the Effortless Exercise ebook.

2) Main Task (aka Main Set) – to work on your chosen skill objectives, and to take measurements.

3) Review (aka Cool Down) – to slow back down, review the skills you’ve worked on today, assess your performance and make some preliminary decisions about what you should work on in the next practice based on what you experienced today.

2. Assign some minutes to each section.

For example: If you have 60 minutes I may give 10 minutes to the Tune-Up, 40 minutes to the Main Tasks, and 10 minutes to the Review.

3. Decide what specific Skill or Skill Set you want to work on today.

Pick 3 individual Focal Points that correspond to that Skill.

For example, let’s say you want to work on Breathing. So you pick three Focal Points that address weak spots:

  • A = Breathe Early
  • B = Split The Face
  • C = Small Bubbles From Nose

If you want to work on one Skill Set, then you would pick three Focal Points from that Skill Set. If you have different Skill Sets to work on (like Head Position, Recovery, Kick), then I may consider picking one from each.

4. Set up a pattern for the Main Task.

You will design what is called a ‘Round’. In this Round you will do some ‘Work’ and some ‘Active Rest’.

During the Active Rest you will allow your heart rate to come down but you will keep your attention focused, and will keep active in a drill or slow-motion swimming to work on some single skill.

During the Work part you will swim with Whole Stroke with Focal Points, Stroke Counting, Tempo, and/or Time measurements. You can use whatever complexity multipliers you have decided to challenge yourself with today.

You need to decide on what distance or duration you will give to each. Then guess how many of these Rounds you can complete in the time you have assigned to the Main Set.

For example: You have 40 minutes for my Main Set, so you will design a Round with 100 meters (or 4x 25) of Active Rest, and 200 meters (or 4x 50) of Work. You may fit 5 Rounds of this pattern into those 40 minutes. Guessing whether you can do 4, 5, or 6 of them is a matter of experience. Just do as many Rounds as you can within the 40 minutes you have assigned to this task.

Note: Just to make sure you understand, you can pick any distances and variety of distances you want for those Active Rest and Work portions. I just provided an example. You can use that or modify it to suit yourself.

Assign a Focal Point to each Round.

  • Round #1 use Focal Point A.
  • Round #2 use Focal Point B.
  • Round #3 use Focal Point C.

After that you can repeat the Focal Points, or combine two of them together.

  • Round #4 use Focal Points AB.
  • Round #5 use Focal Points BC.

And, if you are ready for examining more feedback on your swimming, choose at least one form of measurement to use also – counting strokes, using a Tempo Trainer, and/or recording your time splits (the number of seconds it takes to complete a length of the pool). Choose two forms of measurement if you are feeling eager for more challenge.

My whole thinking process and memory is graphic – so I made a diagram of what a practice looks like to help any of you out there who are like me:

Simple Practice

5. Record your practice plan.

Record your practice plan before you begin the practice, then afterward record your actual practice (you may have decided to adjust the practice based on your observations during the Tune-Up) and record your results.

I strongly suggest that you keep a journal of practice plans and results. It is a great reference point from day to day, week to week and year to year.

I recommend that you use a practice pattern several times so you can learn from it and customize it to your needs. By repeating it with small thoughtful variations you can have a stronger way to compare and assess your improvement from practice to practice.


Why Active Rest? Why not just sit there for a little while at the wall and chat with your buddies?

Because you have precious time to spend. How can you use each moment to its greatest personal benefit?

With Active Rest you are allowing one system in the body to rest, while another continues to be trained. There are several systems that are working to support the development of your swimming skill. Heart Rate/Respiration is measuring just one of those. Your Ability To Focus is another. Your Nervous System (and specifically, your Proprioception) is another. Shutting down every system at the wall is not necessarily in the best interest of your improvement. It takes an understanding of the role these systems play and some experience to starting giving each the kind of training and challenge they need – and they all need to be developed in coordination to reach your highest potential. A personalized TI Practice plan is intended to train and coordinate all the systems of your body, not just one of them.

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