Incorporating pool toys to improve your Ironman swim

Incorporating pool toys to improve your Ironman swim

Incorporating pool toys to improve your Ironman swim

Today on The Kona Edge we chat to a phenomenal swimmer, Marni Sumbal.  She shares the frustrations of triathletes who don’t come from a swimming background with us and tells how to get help with your Ironman swim.  We look at mechanics and body positioning in the water and Marni reveals how the use of pool toys can assist you in correcting your technique and improving you swim mechanics.

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BRAD BROWN:  Welcome back to yet another edition of The Kona Edge, it’s fantastic to have you back on, thank you so much for listening and downloading this podcast, it’s time to chat some swimming today and we are joined by a returning guest, Marni Sumbal. Marni, welcome, thank you for joining us today.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Thank you for having me.

BRAD BROWN:  Marni it’s quite funny because often we chat to top age groupers here on the podcast who come from a background in one of the sports and more often than not, it’s either the bike or the run, it’s not too often that we get out and out swimmers, who grew up as swimmers, that then transition into triathlon, but you were a pretty competitive swimmer in your early years before you made the transition into multi-sport?

Start off on the front foot

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yes, I was definitely born in the water and my land legs were having a hard time doing any other sport. I loved the water and I swam all through high school and college and I just kept up swimming. I think I was one of the few swimmers from our college that actually kept swimming after college was over with, I guess I wasn’t too burnt out from it.

BRAD BROWN:  It does make a bit of a difference, obviously the other two disciplines, that’s where an Ironman is won or lost but for a lot of athletes the stress comes around the swim and when you come from a swimming background, that takes a lot of it out. You’re almost starting off on the front foot.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah and I definitely have the advantage when I start a triathlon, but I learnt pretty quickly that I lost it fast when it came to the bike. I was so good in the water but so horrible on that bicycle which I never grew up riding, so it was kind of like so foreign for me. I think the thing that a lot of athletes really struggle with in swimming is such a skill specific sport. It’s not like riding a bike or running, when you want to be faster on the bike or running, you just go harder but if you try to go harder swimming, you really exhaust yourself and the mechanics are flawed and you don’t get anywhere. Swimming is that sport that it’s so skill focused but at the same time you need the physical abilities to do it. Finding a way to work on the mechanics, but also to improve your physiology so you’re more comfortable in the water and I think a lot of triathletes fail in this area, mostly because the water is cold, it’s wet, it’s hard to get to, but also they don’t have the right swim training to prepare them for the open water.

BRAD BROWN:  I think that’s so important Marni and I think a lot of people overlook that and you mentioned the mechanics, it’s very technique’y, it’s a lot like golf in that sense, just because you swing hard, it doesn’t mean you’re going to hit the ball further, you’ve got to have that finesse and that takes time to develop, but also if you don’t have the technique, you can keep doing the same things over and over or more of it, you’re not necessarily going to get better, so sometimes, and particularly with the swim, it’s best to get help early on.

Overcoming the frustations of swim mechanics

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah and I think this is an area that athletes, especially my husband who didn’t grow up as a swimmer and just learnt to swim when he started doing triathlons, he really struggled with and he would go from Masters coach to another coach and you’d think that even his wife who grew up as a swimmer could help him, but the problem was that everybody that he was talking to, even myself at the time, four years ago, it was all so focused on pool swimming and these mechanics were not helping him, it was actually making him frustrated, as I’m sure a lot of triathletes feel, that they begin to overthink the mechanics and it just becomes frustrating. Where’s my elbow supposed to be, how am I supposed to reach and glide if I’m just sinking and it was just becoming so difficult and so we learnt from our mentor and coach, Matt Dixon, with Purple Patch, he’s a great person to learn from, that Matt told us about, was Gerry Rodrigues and are you familiar with Gerry Rodrigues?

BRAD BROWN:  I’m not, tell me more?

MARNI SUMBAL:  He’s regarded as one of the best open water swim coaches, so I think of him as the best swim coach for triathletes and the way that he helps his athletes improve and we saw it from Karel, he improved, he’s now a 1:03 Ironman swimmer, so he made huge improvements in the water, it took a long time and it’s still a work in progress, but the things that have helped him is incorporating pool toys, which you’re probably familiar with, the snorkel the ankle strap, which our athletes like to call the ‘death strap,’ the pool buoy, the fins, you’re using these pool toys so that it takes the thinking away from what the mechanics and it forces you to have good body posture and alignment and then you learn to feel that posture and then you try to mimic it without the toys.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s the key, it’s once you’ve got that right, it almost becomes second nature and it’s almost, you want to sort that out so you’re not developing bad habits, you’re getting your body into good habits which you can then reinforce with those toys and eventually it becomes natural movement.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Right, and seeing that for most triathletes, probably 90% or more of our training is in the pool, but we always race in open water, we have to find a way to make sure that all of our swim training is preparing us for open water.

BRAD BROWN:  Do you think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that triathletes make, is that they don’t differentiate between the two?

Does your swim training prepare you for the open water?

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yeah, I think there’s this old school style of swim training that is helping athletes be great pool swimmers but then when they get out into the open water, they don’t have the right mechanics and so if we can help the athletes with using the toys, as I mentioned, it’s not so much about the sets, it’s not about doing 8 x 300 or 2 x 1000 and a bunch of 25’s fast, it’s really about getting that posture in the water so that you reduce the resistance and the drag and you’re not noodling your way through the water and then when you clock yourself in the open water, you have that good body position. No matter how wavy or choppy or what type of current you’re swimming in, you’re not expending more energy than you need.

BRAD BROWN:  And the conditions are vastly different in open water to a swimming pool as well. For me, my first swim in the ocean was in an Ironman and I was quite surprised, there’s no black lines along the bottom to follow!

MARNI SUMBAL:  Not at all and so you have to be good at sighting and we can incorporate those things into pool training, but if you’re just stuck with counting laps and like you said, just doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result, it doesn’t get you more comfortable and even if the swim is short, relative to the bike and the run, it sets the tone for the rest of the Ironman race, or the half Ironman race. You really want to make sure that you’re starting off fresh and deliver yourself to the bike.

BRAD BROWN:  I love that. Marni, I think we’re going to leave it there for the swimming. If you want to find out more about what Marni does, the website to get to is, I think there’s some great advice in there for the swimmer and I look forward to chatting about your bike, particularly, in the next one, to figure out what you’ve done to get better over the years. So thanks for your time today, much appreciated. We look forward to touching base then.

MARNI SUMBAL:  Yes, look forward to it.

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About Us

Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).

Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.

He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.


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