Main image for Total Immersion Level 1 Week 1 Time to Read: ~3 min

Introductions &  Lecture

This class is held at my local gym, Island Health and Fitness in Ithaca, NY.  I learned about Shane from Ian at Finger Lakes Running and Triathlon Club. I was in the store buying goggles telling Ian that I really needed to learn to swim and he said "you should really see Shane!" He put me in touch and I took a private lesson. I enjoyed it and learned a lot in the session. However, my practice was derailed by my own sensitivity to comments from others, and a couple of years later I find myself ready for the next step; a group lesson.

This first class was two classes combined, so it is a large group. I learned during introductions that some are former swimmers, some triathletes, and others are total newbies to the sport. Introductions eased my fears and I found myself eager for the lecture. Shane opened the class with this quote from Abraham Lincoln.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

I lack patience, and the quote made me cringe. I remembered learning to ski when I fell for the first time. My friend Stephanie laid down in the snow next to me, carefully teaching me how to get up. I desperately wanted her to lift me, but she showed me how and waited patiently as I struggled and struggled but finally learned. As a 7th grader, I was mortified, lying there in the snow helpless. I realized at this moment that this swim class would be just like falling during skiing. No quick fixes. I would have to find patience.

Shane shared that novice swimmers are 1-3% efficient, and elite swimmers are 9-10% efficient while dolphins are 90% efficient. A an improvement of a mere 1-2% will dramatically improve a swim time, while improving aerobic output by the same percentage will have minimal effects on finish time. Shane is very Zen, and he stressed that we should be looking for the path of least resistance through the water and in life.

All this time, I've been muscling through the water thinking that the harder I work, the more breathless I am, the faster I'll be. Shane was telling me the exact opposite. I could continue to muscle through and get a great cardio workout, but it would be just that.

The Water

After some land practice, we made it to the warm pool at the gym. At 89 degrees, warm is relative. I was freezing within 10 minutes. This is the major reason I dislike swimming. I'm so cold! However, Shane started with our practicing right away. I knew from the videos and from my private class how we'd begin. We started with Superman Glide, moved into skate, and discussed the "hammock" position. We did a lot of partner practice, and some solo work as well.

During this hour in the pool, I relaxed a lot. Although, I was initially uncomfortable working with a partner, I slowly realized that I wasn't the only person struggling with what he was asking us to do. Each person added to our class discussion and learning. It was nice to hear others ask questions and see each class member try what he asked us to do. I left feeling really good and very positive about the future classes.


  • When asked to relax in the water, I struggled. My legs fell toward the bottom of the pool, while many other people's legs floated. Shane reminded us that if we are tense our muscles vibrate and we will sink. He also said to remember to take in air and keep the air. When I practiced next, I realized I was taking in air, but promptly letting it out as I got into the water.
  • During the land exercises, I looked around and understood that we were all struggling. This helped me relax. Later, I enjoyed the fact that many of us were asking questions and realized that whatever our background is we all have something to learn.
  • He asked us to "swim wide" like a gorilla. We should take up the entire swim lane. When we need to swim by someone, we should pull in and resume our wide swim promptly.
  • He told us we'd be resting in the "hammock" position almost 90% of the time we're swimming. Shane joked that we'd get extra points if we fell asleep while swimming.
  • He asked us to have the mind set of a child thinking "this is the first time I'm doing this" or the mind of a fatalist and think "this is the last time I'll get to do this." Either will work toward helping us approach the water in a positive and playful way.