You may have begun your training in a structured, methodical program like TI and made dramatic improvements in your ease and in your speed in those first few months of devoted practice. But then progress seemed to slow down. What happened?

There are some big, relatively easy, early gains you make in your fundamental training. And, then your awareness grows and you see there are numerous smaller details which will take a lot more time to work on.

If it were not already obvious, it takes time because, even with a wonderful learning method, swimming is irreducibly complicated, and it all cannot be mastered at once. Some big things must done first, before you get to all the smaller things that are dependent on those first things.


Levels Of Training Complexity

To see how skills are developed, let’s look at the training path we may follow, according to how I generally organize it: 

Level 1 – Stroke Mastery

At this level you are developing control over body shape and movement patterns, and attention in mild, simple conditions. This is where you learn the foundation for your relationship with your body, with your mind and with the water and natural forces around you.

Level 2 – Pace Control

At this level you are developing control over pace and intentionally working outside your comfort zone.

In other words, Level 2 is about learning to control how you spend energy, both when it is abundant and when it gets scarce and when conditions are more difficult.

Level 3 – Expedition

At this level you are preparing for your more complex ‘expedition’ – which may be an event that is much bigger or more involved than anything you have done before. It is something that would take more complex preparation in order to do it masterful and enjoyable way.

This would involve zooming out to look at a full season of training and to look at the bigger picture of your life to make improvements in your lifestyle to better support the accomplishment you desire.


This path is arranged in order of complexity, moving into deeper levels of control inside your body and mind, and broader areas of responsibility within your environment and performance lifestyle.

Training on these levels is by no means linear, as if you can move on to Level 2 only after you’ve mastered Level 1. Really, changes and growth can be happening on each level for when you devote yourself to the training program. The skills of Level 1 are the roots for the skills above, and those higher capabilities may show growth at any time. But it does help to organize the challenges and skills so that we can see them in context of their relationships in the big picture. It is certainly easier to make progress when you emphasize first-things-first and build upon a good foundation of skills. So, Level 1 is the place to focus first.


Beyond Easy Speed

Training in Level 1 – for new swimmers and even for those who are accomplished swimmers by some traditional approach – brings surprising increases in ease. This is called ‘Easy Speed’ in Total Immersion (or perhaps, my interpretation of that phrase). This happens because the swimmer discovers a whole new way of relating to her body and to the natural forces, reducing resistance both inside and outside the body, and that discovery unlocks potential she didn’t know she had. Without having to exert more power, great energy savings are made and that energy is channeled back into forward motion.

Of course, the vast majority of people seeking a coach’s help are in this level of need – people who are slow, and people who are fast-but-wasteful in their efforts. It makes sense that so much of Total Immersion’s emphasis is on this level. And, swimmers coming through Level 1 are thrilled to experience the ‘easy speed’ that comes, not from initially adding more power, but from simply learning how to quit wasting the power they already have through poor shape and poor motor control.

I’ve worked on a description of this paradigm before in the series The Swimmer Speed Curve.

However, at some point, the easy speed gains of Level 1 training will taper off, and the discontented swimmer will wonder what happened to their ‘easy speed’? There does seem to be a number of people who become content to swim with new-found freedom in that easy speed mode and have little ambition to develop further. That is their choice. But many are not content, and for those there are a whole realm of skill yet to be explored in Level 2 and beyond.

If you’ve been working hard in the water, but feel you should be entitled to more speed and can’t find it yet, physics points to three main causes of your problem:

  1. Excessive drag from poor shape
  2. Power leaks from poor movement patterns
  3. Inadequate power supply

If you’ve been doing Level 1 training you’ve addressing big, easy targets in #1 and #2. But it doesn’t address the multitude of smaller, but still critical details in the stroke which add up into a lot of your wasted energy.

In Level 1 you can make big, dramatic improvements in a relatively small amount of time and effort.


But, in Level 2, you’ve got to dig deeper and take more time to gain new ground.

By going into Level 2 training, you will subject your stroke to more challenging conditions which expose weaknesses that were not so easily seen when conditions were light and energy was abundant.

I wrote more in detail about this in the series Improve Swimming Speed, and in particular about addressing smaller details in Part 3.


You may read this entire series on Speed:

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