Total Immersion - the step-by-step method of learning how to swim

Swimming the Total Immersion stroke

Swimming the Total Immersion stroke - Credit: Archant

Many of us are frustrated by our inability to swim well. Sarah Hill did something about it and now helps others. She spoke to Roger Borrell.

Sarah Hill of Swimmingly

Sarah Hill of Swimmingly - Credit: Archant

THERE’S a simple reason why so many of us swim so badly and Sarah Hill’s experience will strike a chord with anyone who still flounders and flaps whenever they get into the water.

Most have one thing in common – they learned at school and Sarah hits the nail on the head when she says: ‘We weren’t taught to swim – we were taught not to drown.’

Being in water was something to be feared. You had to keep your head above it or you’d die. ‘It put people off for life,’ she says. ‘For years I couldn’t swim for toffee. Over time I got better but it was always a struggle, always frustrating. I used to look at other people and wonder “How do they do that?”’

Sarah went to some lessons as an adult but describes it as a difficult and unpleasant experience. ‘I felt I was being asked to learn too many things all at once – legs, arms and breathing. That made it quite stressful. But swimming is a wonderful thing and I’m on a mission to spread the word.’

Total Immersion

Total Immersion - Credit: Archant

Her salvation came in the form of a teaching method called Total Immersion, a technique that was developed in the United States and it has spread around the world, although hadn’t then reached as far as Lancashire. ‘The nearest coach was in the Loughborough area,’ says Sarah, who lives in Ramsbottom. ‘I spent three full days learning and it changed my life.

‘I learned to swim properly with a system that is all about learning to work with the water rather than fighting against it. Traditionally, we end up fighting the water – thrashing it with our arms and legs to survive.

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‘This method was completely different, a step-by-step method of learning. There is also an element of mindfulness – although I don’t want this to sound too hippyish – which involves understanding what different parts of your body are doing, how it feels, the shapes you are making and how the senses are responding. It’s actually a very relaxing way to learn.

‘The other great thing is that you don’t need to be athletic and it doesn’t matter what age you are.’

Practising balance in the pool

Practising balance in the pool - Credit: Archant

Equipped with her new confidence, Sarah started open water swimming. ‘There was a defining moment when I swam the length of Windermere and thought “If I can do that anyone can.”

‘It’s just a question of learning the right way and I felt Total Immersion deserved a wider audience, especially for women like me who had struggled with sport.’

One of the coaches suggested she became a qualified teacher. There were no others in Lancashire so she gave it a try. It soon became clear that hiring time in local pools wasn’t an option so she took the big step of having an indoor pool built in her garden.

Her business, Swimmingly, opened in May and it has gone from strength to strength as swimming has become a more popular way of keeping fit. She is taking on another teacher soon to work with children. On average, pupils require five or six lessons and then they are equipped to go off to their local pools and develop their skills. Sarah also video and a Japanese technique called Kaizen, developed in industry to create a philosophy of continual improvement.

There are three groups she teaches – people who want to learn swimming techniques for triathlons, those who want to be better swimmers for recreation and general fitness and those who are just terrified of the water.

‘I love working with them all but people who are phobic about the water are the most rewarding. To be able to help someone who has not been able to put their face in the water for 40 years is quite something.

‘I had one lady who had been trying to learn to swim for 25 years but she was terrified. Over that time she’d had ten teachers and spent thousands but she still couldn’t get in the water on holiday with her children. She came to me and for the first half hour she stood on the edge crying and shaking. In the next half hour she had her face in the water.’

Sarah gave up her career as a freelance project manager to teach swimming full time. ‘If someone had told me two years ago I would be doing this I’d have thought them mad,’ she laughs. ‘But this has been a positive, life-changing experience for me and, I hope, for the people I teach.’

You can find out more about Sarah’s work at