In the Kaizen value system of TI we are devoted to continual personal improvement. In each practice we are inspired to pursue some piece of improvement in our swimming, and in our self.

Drew carefully working on the timing of his switch point - at our open-water camp in Kaş Turkey.

Drew is carefully working on the shape and timing of his switch point at our open-water camp in Kaş, Turkey, June 2014.

But, you and I live a real life in a real world. So often circumstances come up that seem to hinder our progress from day to day – illness, urgent appointments, change of season, lack of sleep or energy, unexpected change in pool schedule or conditions, distraction toward other problems in life, etc. These things can really make it hard on a swimmer to make consistent progress toward a specific performance goal.

In our traditional mindset we had only one way to measure improvement: did I go faster today than yesterday? But absolute speed ability is dependent on so many thing outside the control of our body and mind, not just inside, that it is an inappropriately narrow-minded way to measure progress, if it is the only one.

So then the traditional mindset tacks on one more measurement to cover that short-coming: Did I go harder today than yesterday? Did I show grit? Grit is noble when it actually converts into perseverance through hardships-that-matter. But it is stupid to grit my way through a hardship that doesn’t get me anywhere important. That is how I (at one time, long ago) and so many countless others got seriously injured or burned-out on swimming.

[I have a good friend who defended his position against me once: “Mat, some of us actually want to spend that hour to feel totally wasted at the end of the workout!” OK, I conceded room for that preference. But, as dedicated of an athlete as he is (a runner and multi-sport enthusiast for 25 years), he never gets faster in the water, and he doesn’t feel any value from swimming unless it produces that exhausted result. Each to his own- I accept this. But how many more years will that approach work for him?]

It is not hard to prove that swimming better comes from higher quality practice, not from higher quantity or higher intensity practice (though quality will enlist quantity or intensity to its cause).

But this is already well understood in our community of TI practitioners – that is why you and I and many others are a part of it.

We recognize these measurements of objective skill improvement:

  1. Improved ability to control Stroke Length (or SPL).
  2. Improved ability to control Tempo in relation to SPL.
  3. Improved ability to control Pace (which is the ability to control energy expenditure).
  4. Improved ability to handlelonger Distance/Durations of un-interrupted swimming.
  5. Lower need for Rest, or better integration of ‘active rest’ into the continuous swim

Then there are ‘subjective’ skill measurements (measurement using my own senses) that are just as important – I might argue (not today) that these are even more important than the objective measurements because they reveal the quality of the foundation inside of us, upon which speed is built.

I could break it down into these three categories:

  1.  Improving my neuro-muscular control over the physical factors that create speed.
  2.  Improving my understanding and awareness of finer details (problems and solutions) in each of those factors.
  3.  Improving my positive motivation for continuing deep practice on that awareness and control.

Here are some ways I can measure improvement today in the pool, even if I can’t swim faster or swim harder than I did yesterday. (I am sure we could add many more to this list, but it will get you started thinking of your own):

Improvement in the body control:

  • My body was more relaxed, free of unnecessary tension.
  • I made a correction in my body position or movement pattern – increased precision, timing.
  • It felt easier to hold a certain position.
  • It felt easier to create a certain movement pattern.

Improvement in the mind:

  • I made a new discovery about one of my problems.
  • I found a better solution to one of my problems.
  • I am aware of even finer details in some part of the stroke.
  • My attention was stronger – longer, sharper.
  • My attention was more intelligent – I chose a more effective focal point.
  • I feel more confident about relying on a certain skill.
  • I feel more skilled and comfortable under certain challenging conditions.

Improvement in motivation:

  • I feel more eager to work on a certain problem the next chance I get.
  • I feel more patient in the process of correction and deeply imprinting a skill.
  • I lose track of time in my concentration.
  • It feels even better to move through the water. I want to keep going.
  • I can’t wait to come back to practice again.
  • I feel even more refreshed and energized after practice.

And, we should not overlook one very satisfying sign of improvement – someone noticed how nicely I swim and made a comment. This should remind me of the progress I’ve already made – others notice the difference, why not me?

And one more point: even if I encounter a disappointing result in my practice today, I should not lose awareness and appreciation for the many other positive and progressive results of this practice. If I make a more careful, balanced assessment, I will see more to be pleased with.


All this focus on forms of subjective skill improvement is an investment in the deepening the roots of your speed ability. Breakthroughs in Endurance and Speed come as a result of deliberate practice on the roots – the skills that actually produce speed.  The fruit of that investment = pleasurable endurance and efficient speed (versus energy-expensive speed). That fruit emerges in season after sufficient care and time was spent on the roots.  There is more on this in a previous post Accumulation Of Advantages.


This is the essential approach of Kaizen swimming, as I understand it. To paraphrase Coach Terry’s words:

Today, and everyday, my goal is to leave the water a better swimmer than when I entered.

Therefore, the goals I set today, and what and how I measure them matters a lot.

There may be circumstances that come up between yesterday’s practice and today’s that will keep me from performing as high as I did before. I may not be able to remove or avoid that obstacle. So I should think carefully about whether to push-through that circumstantial obstacle or not. To act as if it should not affect my performance can lead to physical or mental injury. Grit is important and it is good – only when partnered with wisdom.

So when I show up at the pool today, I can take a reading of my capabilities at the beginning and set a goal to improve some feature of it from there, accepting what I have to work with right here and now. In this way, I can always, without interruption, work on some sort of improvement in body and/or mind every day of my swimming practice, for the rest of my life, in all its ups and downs.

Of course, I could replace the word ‘pool’ and ‘swimming’ and with ‘home’ and ‘relationships’, or ‘work’ and ‘creativity/productivity’ to see how this approach can apply to every area of life. Some people come to the pool to escape real life for a while – others come to the pool to better prepare for it.

Set goals with depth, make happy measurements and swim on, my friend!

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