Total Immersion teaches swimmers, both novice and experienced, to balance their bodies in the water and use controlled motions that integrate the entire body, not just the arms and legs. The aim is to conserve energy and enhance efficiency. With time and effort many swimmers learn to move more like a dolphin than a flailing Labrador.
“The best swimming is more art than science, as exemplified in the world’s best swimmers, who demonstrate a grace, economy and flow in their swimming that is incomprehensible to most of the rest of us mortals,” he told The Post.
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His techniques found favor with triathletes, who are often more comfortable on land than in water and want to conserve energy for later parts of a race. Marathon and open-water swimmers, who travel great distances in sometimes dangerous seas and lakes, also adopted the Laughlin method.
Credit Total Immersion Swimming
“I think many coaches are satisfied to give swimmers workouts that will condition them to swim faster, and it ends there,” David Barra, a marathon swimmer and founder of New York Open Water, which organizes open-water events, wrote in an email. “It was important to Terry that his practices also give swimmers an understanding of stroke mechanics, so they could quantify improvements in speed vs. energy conservation themselves.”
Mr. Laughlin collected his ideas in “Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier,” a book, published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster, that went on to sell more than 275,000 copies as an e-book and trade paperback. He held Total Immersion clinics for years and certified instructors to run their own clinics, spreading the discipline far and wide.
Mr. Laughlin’s wife, Alice, who founded Total Immersion with him and now owns the company, said in a telephone interview on Friday that there were more than 350 certified Total Immersion instructors operating in more than 30 countries.
The many people who have improved their swimming with Mr. Laughlin’s teachings might be surprised to learn that early on he was not an especially gifted swimmer himself.
Terrence James Laughlin was born in Brooklyn on March 25, 1951, to John Laughlin, an electrician, and the former Patricia O’Toole, who worked in a doctor’s office. The oldest of six children, he grew up on Long Island, in Williston Park, N.Y., and graduated from a Roman Catholic high school before attending St. John’s University in Queens, where he majored in political science and graduated in 1972.
According to a biographical page on the Total Immersion website, he “felt a keen sense of disappointment” because of his poor swimming performance.
He soon became a swimming coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, in Kings Point, where he began to develop Total Immersion.
Mr. Laughlin was a long-distance open-water swimmer himself, twice completing the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in his 50s and crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, approximately nine miles wide at its narrowest point, in his 60s.
He married Alice McHugh in 1974, and they lived in New Paltz, N.Y. In addition to her and his daughter Fiona, he is survived by two other daughters, Carrie Loveland and Elizabeth Laughlin; two brothers, Stephen and Sean; and three sisters, Moira, Pegeen and Tara Laughlin.
Mr. Laughlin published several books updating his techniques after his first book was released. His daughter said that at his death he had almost finished a new, comprehensive book on Total Immersion and that it was expected to be completed and published soon.