I’m feeling a little ripped off.

My swimming classes aren’t being as beneficial as I had hoped, and instead I’m improving very much on my own. Whenever I go to the pool alone, I can see definite changes. I always come out a better swimmer. But it’s not that way at all when I have class.

The classes move slowly and my instructor is usually stuck on a couple of people who should probably be in a beginner’s class. A few people are scared of the deep end so that holds everything up too. We have to wait forever for them to all get over their nerves.

On the positive side, I’ve made a couple friends that I can talk to, but it hardly seems worth what I paid to get these classes.

On top of that, I picked up an amazing book about swimming called Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin, which is easily teaching me 10x faster than my classes. This book is basically the ChiRunning of swimming. It goes against the mainstream belief that swimming is supposed to be hard. It focuses on gliding through the water effortlessly. Going longer and faster without getting tired by learning to balance your body weight in the water and propel forward with a minimum amount of effort. You’re basically learning to become more fish-like.

The day after I picked up this book I was able to swim the entire length of the pool (50m) for the first time (and several times immediately afterwards) without feeling tired. My speed also improved. I had to move from the Slow lane to the Medium lane, and now I’m starting to pass people there too. I’m hoping to be in the Fast lane within a week or so.

The tips in this book are amazing, and very much based on the physics of the human body in water. It teaches you how to tweak the positioning of your hips, arms, chest, and legs so that you’re instantly a faster swimmer. I was definitely impressed.

Another interesting thing was that this book talks about swimming as a skill, as opposed to a power or endurance sport like running or cycling. It claims that swimming is a sport closer to golf. The argument is that this skill can be taught to anyone, and doesn’t depend as much on physical fitness and muscle strength as we have been led to believe.

It examines statistics that claim that the fastest swimmers take the fewest strokes. They are not working harder, but rather more efficiently. It also encourages an inner focus. A calm mind and spirit. Something similar to what you would expect from a practice like yoga or tai chi.

This flies in the face of the common belief that to swim faster you must kick harder and move your arms more quickly, exhausting your muscles. With these techniques you are moving your arms less, barely kicking, and yet moving faster. The book claims that it will feel like you’re swimming “downhill,” and it truly does feel that way.

I still have some ways to go to perfect the techniques in this book, but I am very encouraged by my progress so far. In swimming class on Monday, I caught my instructor telling us to do something that was the opposite of what the book taught. So I did it the instructor’s way and I was slower. Right after that I did it the book’s way, and I was faster. My instructor was watching me, but the movements are so subtle that I don’t think he noticed I had changed my form against his instructions. All he said was, “Great job!”