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by Mark Gangloff

October 30, 2012

Spice up your workout with a bag full of toys

I love toys. Some people love toys that help them take care of their yard. Others like toys to build stuff. Still, others like toys that help them fish, hit a golf ball farther, or drive faster. Today, however, I am talking about toys that we can use to do the thing we all love to do: Swim.

After a brief interview I did for USA Swimming that focused on what was in my swim bag, I really started thinking: What is in my swim bag? And why are these things in my swim bag? I’ve done product reviews for, ranking the products and giving insight about them. But today, I have a little bit of a different intent. Rather than focus on the details of various products, I’m simply going to advocate filling your swim bag full of “stuff” because it’s going to make swimming even more fun. For those of you who like competing, it’s going to help you go faster, too.

Pictured are all the things I carry in my equipment bag. This is after a purge of all of the extras—this is the minimum amount of stuff I carry in my bag!

Kickboard, ankle strap, fins, snorkel, kick/pull (the orange thing), pull buoy, pocket suit, parachute, rope, and 4 different types of paddles from

Like many of you, I have a love/hate relationship with working out; motivation can be a struggle.

I used to love when our coaches would say, “dump your bag out—we’re using it all!” And now, as a coach, I find myself doing the same thing. Here are the ways that equipment helps me get and stay motivated.

Toys make me think

It is okay to think when you work out. In fact, the most enjoyable workouts are those that combine pushing your mind and pushing your body. They are also the workouts that tend to go by the fastest. Changing equipment forces me to be mindful. It can be simple: “Okay I have to take the fins off my feet and put my paddles on my hands.” Then, my mindfulness deepens progressively: “Now that I have my fins on, what is my leg is doing?” Or: “My paddles are on, what is my arm doing?” Suddenly, I find myself focusing on perfect position and I’m instantly pushing myself to think beyond routine.

Toys change my feel

You may be wondering, “Why does he carry four different sets of paddles?!” Each type gives me a different feel in the water and works a different component of my pull. I like the big paddles for most of my longer training sets. I love my smaller black paddles when I am working on my hand speed in the water—I cannot move the big ones through the water fast enough. The triangle shaped paddles help me feel the pressure on my fingertips. The oddly-shaped green paddles help me feel the in-sweep of my breaststroke pull.

I also have two different types of pull buoys in my bag. The smaller black one is what I use for the majority of my pulls sets. This buoy gives me a good and natural body position. There are times when I want a little extra lift, if I am doing some sculling or some body position kicking, and I will use the kick/pull (the orange thing in the picture). It all depends on what I’m working on.

Toys make me faster | Toys make me slower

I love changing speeds in workout. Sometimes I love to go as fast as I can, other times I love really slowing it down to work my technique. If you’re going for speed, it is all about fins. Put them on and let’er rip—it’s okay to go fast! When I want to slow it down, I put on my ankle strap. It keeps my legs from doing anything at all, so all I have to focus on is what my body does as I move through the water. The more slowly you move through the water, the more you feel what’s slowing you down. Going slow helps me pinpoint problem areas and highlights exactly how I can get better.

Toys work my technique

One of the most important pieces of equipment that anyone can own is a snorkel. I need my snorkel. If you have tried it in the past and given up on it, stay with it. It will pay dividends and you’ll learn to love what is allows you to do. It’s amazing how much your body position can improve when you remove turning or lifting your head to breathe. Drills that require keeping your head in the water become much easier—no interrupting your drill as you struggle to breathe. The snorkel allows focus on the placement of hands, feet, or body.

Why do I carry a rope in my bag? Sometimes I like to be tethered in one place and not have to move anywhere. A coach will hold the rope and watch me swim or I’ll attach the rope to a starting block and feel the way my arms, legs, and body move in the water.

Toys make me stronger

Whether you swim to race or swim for fitness, we all strive to be strong in the water. Being strong is good for our bodies and our minds. There are so many ways that equipment can give you strength. Paddles improve our upper body strength. Fins improve our lower body strength. Pocket suits and parachutes improve overall body strength—using these feels like underwater weightlifting. Want a challenge? Put on your fins, paddles and parachute for some crazy resistance.

Toys help me focus on various components of my race

I like to customize my workouts to complement my races. Let’s say that your strength is your ability to kick underwater. How much fun will it be for you to put your fins on and do a set of 25s kicking underwater? For those of you that race mid-distance free, I can almost guarantee that your favorite piece of equipment is your paddles. Am I right? I also like to work my weaknesses. For me, it is my pull. So, I spend extra time wearing my paddles. You’ll find that many pieces of equipment can give you the same amount of speed that you’ll have when you race. By simulating race-speed in practice, you can train your mind and your body to go fast (and faster).

Toys spice up my workout

As I write this, I remind myself that every piece of equipment is multifunctional. Today I have 13 pieces of equipment in my bag. If I only use one piece of equipment per practice, I’ve got enough in my equipment bag to make for 13 fun workouts. But, I suspect I can use each piece of equipment at least five different ways; that makes for 65 fun workouts! Want to get more out of the stuff in your swim bags? Match various combinations of equipment to different types of practices and you’ll reap the benefit of fun, unique, and challenging workouts.

Equipment provides me with options, which offers me freedom, which leads to creativity, which gives me energy, which results in motivation. Sounds pretty good, right? Now, fill up your swim bag with goodies and head to the pool! is a great place to find toys like the ones in my swim bag, along with many others.



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