Thursday, August 4, 2011

Total Immersion Has Come to Malaysia!

Summary of Post
My experience with the Total Immersion (TI) Freestyle Mastery Level 1 three day course at the National Aquatic Center, Bukit Jalil. Day-by-day brief of what we did, and how my swimming has been totally transformed. Links to the detailed daily stuff, including video analysis of my swimming. Tips on how to improve your own swim and links to free TI resources. And... a $25 discount when you sign up for TI Level 1 in Malaysia! (Just say Grace sent you). TI is for swimmers at any level. The only requirement is that you can swim 25 m freestyle (i.e., forward crawl / front crawl). It is especially helpful for triathletes because it improves stroke efficiency by at least 20 %, thus conserving energy for the bike and run legs.

Dead Man’s Float Cannot Die One
I learnt to survive water and even enjoy it at an early age. My dad brought us kids to the public pool every week and early taught us the “dead man’s float” and drown-proofing (but I’m still afraid of drowning!). I always thought of swimming as tiring and thought if I increased my fitness through swimming lots of laps, I would tire less easily. I learnt to relax more in the water and recently completed Sprint and Olympic distance swims without feeling too tired at the end (read race reports for PD Triathlon Sprint Distance and Olympic Distance, and about an EPIC swim). However, my mindset was that swimming is a ‘good workout’ for my arms, legs and whole body – I need to reach and pull with my arms, kick to propel myself forward, etc. TI has totally changed the way I approach swimming.

What is Total Immersion?
Definition from Total Immersion Asia: “Although swimming is an essential life skill, traditional teaching and coaching methods have made it difficult to master because they teach an awkward, exhausting style of swimming. Total Immersion is a foolproof approach to teaching can help any student master a fluent, efficient and beautiful style and brings results faster than conventional methods. Traditional instruction focuses on pulling, kicking and endless laps. TI teaches you to swim with the effortless grace of fish by becoming one with the water. You’ll feel the difference from your very first lap of intelligent, purposeful TI practice and get more satisfaction from every lap that follows.”  (Nice advert, just makes you wanna sign up for the TI course right? :p)

Grace’s Definition: “Total Immersion = ‘Lazy Man’s’ Swimming!”. Well, it looks ‘lazy’ because there’s no splashing, water-churning kicking or any of that impressive muscle-action. It also feels ‘lazy’ because
there’s no arm pulling, hand-cupping or tension in any part of the body. Instead, gravity does all the work for me, together with well timed side-to-side ‘skating’. The whole body is R-E-L-A-X-E-D. Nothing lazy about my mind and senses though – they are constantly at work assessing my body rotation and body-line, and sending feedback to my body to make the little corrections to glide more efficiently in the water. Good thing my brain’s working because my body is so relaxed that if I relaxed any more, I would probably doze off! So, instead of pushing against the water (difficult), I streamline my body to cut through the water (easy).

Yay, TI is here!
I was privileged to be part of the inaugural batch of 10 students for the Total Immersion (TI) Freestyle Mastery Level 1 Course in Malaysia. TI is huge in the US where the concept was first birthed in 1988 by Terry Laughlin, who has coached Olympic and world-ranked swimmers. In Asia, one of the few TI-certified instructors is Tang Siew Kwan founder of Fishlike Aquatic School based in the progressive island-nation of Singapore :p . Tang is now in the final stages of setting up TI in Kuala Lumpur, partnering with Advanced Aquatics, the largest and most successful swim company in Malaysia. Advanced Aquatics is headed by Peh Gin Hai, a former national coach, so we couldn't be in better hands. 

Day One
We had a 90 minute FREE talk on TI swimming where I learnt the principles of swimming effortlessly, and the six point checklist for stroke efficiency. These included down-facing head (relaxed shoulders and neck), shoulders at 45 degree rotation, hips and legs in line with shoulders, arms at ‘pocket position’ and ‘high elbow B’ position (triangle). We viewed videos of four swimmers before and after TI and discussed what the swimmers were doing wrong (before) and right (after). What struck me in all the ‘after’ vids was how little splashing and kicking there was and how streamlined the bodies looked as they glid apparently effortlessly through the water. Tang also demonstrated how to let gravity help propel his body forward by letting the elbow/arm drop into the water like a spear. I wanted to look relaxed like that too! The talk was participative and I learnt a lot from it. Plus it was free! I wish I had known to invite more people to it. Tang plans to have these free talks every month starting September (Update 25 July 2012: Nowadays no more free talks, just sign up :)).

At the end of the talk, we signed up and paid RM450 for Level 1 TI course, which started off with the Underwater Video Analysis Workshop. All of us took turns to swim 25 m in our usual style while being filmed above and below water. This was to be our ‘before’ video (so shy la). We also had to swim 50 m and count the number of strokes we took to get there (for me it was 62 strokes, Tang usually under 40). Then we got to watch each other swimming in slow-mo on the ‘big screen’ while Tang gave a no-holds barred analysis of our stroke. He has very sharp eyes! To read his eye-opening critique on some lady's 'before' video click HERE (It's not me in that video ok!). After the video analysis, Tang mapped out for each of us what we needed to do to improve our stroke. Incredibly helpful. 

Enthusiastic participants of Total Immersion demonstrating 'High Elbow B'
Day Two
Freestyle Balancing Workshop. We learnt how to totally relax, balance and align our bodies in the water with cool-sounding drills like the Superman Glide, Superman Flutter, Skating and Overswitch. We spent some time learning to kick properly (from the hips). I learnt to swim on my side (45 degree rotation) underwater (head facing down) while kicking so that I went in a straight line. Tang taught us to be aware of our body position because with self-awareness we can fix whatever needs fixed. It was a great session of just slowing down and letting my body feel the water. These short drills lasted only for as long as we could go in a single breath, but needed a lot of focus! (Update 18 Aug 2011: See how Bambi does the Superman)

We had a 20 minute break to snack on some kuih and ayam percik that I ta pow’d from the pasar ramadhan earlier. Then it was back into the water (brrrr!) for the Freestyle Balancing Workshop Tutorial. I had to buy a swim snorkel (RM100) for this part. It’s to free you up from worrying about breathing so that you can focus on doing the drills learnt earlier, thus locking those balancing and weight-shifting skills into muscle memory. I had never used this kinda swim snorkel before. It’s quite different from the dive snorkels that come with a mask that covers your nose so that breathing is only through the mouth. We were supposed to breathe in through the mouth, and blow out through the nose. I felt water entering my nose every time I tried to breathe through my mouth! I stuck determinedly to it and eventually got the hang of it. After that I could really pay attention to the drills and felt a progressive improvement in my stroke. 

Toward the end of this 2 hour session, we added a new component – above-water arm strokes with wide tracks. This was when I really started to appreciate all the drills prior, because when I put everything together, I truly felt like I was gliding powerfully through the water with hardly any effort. I could barely wait for Day Three of this course!

Day Three
On this final day of the course, we repeated the skating drill with snorkel to make sure we got our core balancing reinforced. Tang also herded us to the deep end of the pool and taught us basic open water survival skills – Dead Man’s Float (DMF) and floating on our backs. DMF is extremely energy-saving, and could also be life-saving if one needs to work out a leg cramp while swimming. Just take a deep breath and hold it, and be completely still in the water (or work out that leg cramp). You’ll sink till the back of your head barely breaks the surface of the water. When you need to take a breath, use your arms to pull down once (breast stroke style) while simultaneously exhaling, so when your head breaks the surface, you can take another breath before relaxing into DMF again. Then we did the Zen switch sequence, starting slowly at first (4 seconds per stroke) then going faster until we were at a 1 second per stroke rate – swimming!

Lastly, we ditched our snorkels and received a bit of instruction on breathing in freestyle. Normally breathing isn’t covered until Level 2, but Tang was aware that we needed something to help bridge the gap from what we had learnt to what we needed for upcoming races. This was my favorite part of the course. I learnt to turn my head and blow out through my nose just as my leading arm drop-speared into the water (the rotation driven not by the arm, but by my body and originating from my hips). Instead of raising my head to breathe, I learnt to raise my chin, while keeping my head down. First few tries, I hydrated generously (read: swallowed water), but it got better. I didn’t have to breathe so much since I wasn’t working my arms and legs (big muscles have big oxygen demands). I only need to breathe every four strokes and never felt out of breath. I then did a 100 m, and didn’t want to stop. It was the easiest and most effortless 100 m I have done in my life!

In the Works
Us 10 TI students are now part of a club that will meet every week with the Malaysian coaches to make sure we are progressing. Monthly open-water swims are also being planned. Tang has wanted to start TI in Malaysia for a while, and with the committed partnership of the established and long-running Advanced Aquatics here, it looks like TI in Malaysia is here to stay! Thanks Tang and the entire team: Ms Thye Geok Huay, Peh Gin Hai, Abdul Hafiz Salleh and Ooi Kee Tzuen for your patient and friendly instruction and my comrades: motivational guru Reza Ali, Cynthia, Michael, Surech, Shirllin, Siok Bee, KC, Vijay and David for the camraderie! Shirllin, thanks for the Durian!!

Useful Links for Self-Coaching
For some free resources on TI, check out:
To sign up or ask questions about Total Immersion in Malaysia, feel free to contact Advanced Aquatics: Phone 03-78735608, 012-6017946; Email or visit their website.

A click on any ad below this post will put a few cents in my pocket, from the advertisers. Thanks for supporting my blog!

xo Gracie


  1. hey hey awesome post! truly captured the participants' experience and would make others reading this to take up the course

  2. Thanks Surech! Not sure if I should do Part II of this post (the Video Analysis jeng jeng jeng!!!) Too shy la.

  3. Cool! If there are other courses do inform earlier, I'd very much love to join! :D

  4. Hey Bashtiah! I'll be sure to let you know! You can also 'like' Advanced Aquatics on Facebook and will be informed of the TI courses that way. Cheers!

  5. is there classes offered for kids ? to learn swimming in this way ...tks

  6. Hi Anonymous! Classes specially for kids are offered by Advanced Aquatics and I think those would be good for kids to learn how to swim 25 m first, before going for Total Immersion.

  7. Hi Gracie .. great posting. Where can I get the DVD on TI? Can the full 10 lessons be downloaded/mail to me? Are such classes be available in Kuching? Regards: Usop from Kuching (

  8. Hi Usop! Great to hear from you! At the moment classes are only available in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore - you can look up Advanced Aquatics on Facebook and enquire directly with them as to when the classes will be held. You can also buy the TI DVD's online, but I think attending the classes are of course better. Hope this helps!

  9. Thanks for sharing. I just like what you have written about TI, it certainly gives me some insight that propels me into joining TI level 1 at my first available opportunity.


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