The swim snorkel has become part-and-parcel of every competitive swimmer’s gear bag. Here are a bunch of reasons why you should use it in practice today to swim faster.
If you’ve never used a swim snorkel before it will take some getting used to. Push-offs are a little more challenging as it flaps around across the top of your head before you surface, blasting air like a whale blasting open their blow hole, sending a chlorinated mist into the air.
Once you get comfortable with the swimmer’s snorkel, you see that the benefits of using it within your training are pretty clear.
After all, using a swim snorkel will dramatically help you…
1. Balance out your stroke.
Easily the biggest benefit to using a swim snorkel is that not breathing to your dominant side means that your stroke is more balanced.
This is especially important for sprinters who need a smooth, kayak-like stroke turnover. Being able to turn your arms over quickly and evenly gives you a smoother stroke that maintains velocity across the pool.
For mid-distance and distance swimmers the benefits of using a snorkel leans more towards balancing out the workload across both sides of your body and to avoid over-loading one of your shoulders. (Muscle imbalances are a leading cause of swimmer’s shoulder, so there’s that too.)
2. Encourages you to keep your face down in freestyle.
Swimmers naturally pick their head up when swimming freestyle.
To swim with our faces pointing at the bottom of the pool goes against our natural instinct to look where we are going. It’s not so much a bad training habit as it is an over-riding safety mechanism.
While using a snorkel won’t completely remove a swimmer’s need to pick their head and eyes up to find the wall (or avoid a fellow swimmer), it does encourage you to look down.
3. Forces you to keep a straight head.
For you swimmers out there who rock their heads from side to side while swimming freestyle you are in for a soggy surprise when you turn your head and dunk the tip of the snorkel into the water like a straw.
A snorkel can help correct the wandering head and reinforce a straight-line from the top of your head to your ankles.
One of the most important aspects of fast swimming is keeping a straight body-line in the water. This includes keeping a straight head—something that the snorkel forces on you. It instills that propulsion comes from rotation of your hips and shoulders, and not wiggling your head around.
4. It’s use can be done (mostly) without interfering with proper technique.
Swimming is all about technique, and if we are going to introduce tools and equipment to poolside they should solidify good technical habits.
Among the very few research studies performed on the use of swim snorkels by competitive swimmer found that breaststrokers performing a series of 25m sprints tended to slip into a flatter and slower stroke.
(To show how infuriatingly inconsistent science can be read on to the next point for contradictory findings.)
5. You can actually swim faster with the snorkel.
Good technique usually means that you are being more efficient in the water…and you know what that means…faster swimming!
Another study found that national-level freestylers and breaststrokers rocking out with a snorkel over a 100m sprint swam significantly faster compared to regular swimming. Improvements of over 6% for the breaststrokers and nearly 5% for the freestylers. (Alrighty then!)
So yeah. I think the lesson here is that if you are going to use the snorkel, don’t be trying fancy new stuff with your technique that isn’t going to benefit it.
6. A fuller kick.
Something that I almost immediately noticed the first few times I strapped on a snorkel—and the panic of not turning my head to the side to breathe passed—was that my flutter kick was engaged more often.
Why is this?
Because a common dysfunction with swimmers is to cross their ankles momentarily when they turn their head, halting the flutter kick motion behind them. With no fish-tailing movement that encourages that dreaded ankle-cross that stops your kick cold you end up kicking more consistently.
7. Great for kick sets.
I will be the first to admit that I love using a kickboard.
Whether it is to warm-up, do some blast kick sets, or even do some super slow kicking to develop foot sensitivity to the water (yup, that’s a thing!), you’ll rarely find me at the pool without my big, ugly green kickboard at the end of the lane.
But that being said, it doesn’t always encourage the best body position, and it also removes the ability to kick while also engaging shoulder and hip rotation (like you would be doing when normally swimming).
Here’s where a snorkel can come in supremely handy—you can kick in a streamline for max speed. Or you can place your arms by your side and simulate the rolling motion of your shoulders and hips to mirror your natural body position while swimming full-stroke.
8. Increases feel for the water.
This is purely a personal anecdote, and so I imagine the case is different from swimmer to swimmer…but whenever I do some easy freestyle with a snorkel, my stroke feels pretty darn good the moment I take it off and return to regular swimming.
I can’t really explain why. It could be the awareness of better stroke mechanics, or the smoother arm rotation, but the focus on better body positioning and consistent kicking transfers well over to regular swimming.
What does this mean for you?
If your feel for the water is slipping, or you simply aren’t hitting the speeds you want in practice, take your stroke back to basics and do some super slow swimming with the snorkel.
While I can’t promise it will magically fix a bad workout, it will help you feel a little more efficient and smooth in the water.
Like anything else in your swim bag, your snorkel should serve your goals and ambitions in the pool. Perhaps the best part of this relatively cheap tool is that it is highly versatile and you can adapt it to what you want to improve on.
Better body-line in the water? Kick with a snorkel.
Want to experience race-pace, no-head turn sprinting? Strap on a snorkel.
Balance out your weak shoulder with the dominant one? Well, you know the answer.
The Top 3 Snorkels for Swimmers
1. FINIS Freestyle snorkel.
Remember how I mentioned if you had bad head position in the water you would end up drinking some pool water? The FINIS freestyle snorkel, obviously designed for you freestylers, insures that you keep your head down and locked in. Pick your head up and you are sipping on a chlorine-colada.
This was the first snorkel I ever got, and it’s something I also pumped in my ultimate gift guide for competitive swimmers. I put it numero uno because I went straight for this model when I got a snorkel and haven’t looked back since.
2. FINIS Swimming Snorkel
This is the “regular” FINIS snorkel. They were the first company to have head-mounted snorkels, and exclusively held the patent on it until 2004.
This is the most popular swim snorkel I’ve seen on deck.
3. MP Michael Phelps Focus Swim Snorkel
I added Mr. Phelps’ addition to the line-up of swim snorkels because it is light, looks totally badass, and comes in half a dozen color combinations.
Plus, you know, the greatest swimmer of all time had input on its design.
If it’s good enough for him to use during his training it is good enough for the rest of us.
More Gear Guides for Competitive Swimmers:
Tech Suits: The Swimmer’s No-BS Guide to Racing Suits. There is a surprising amount of misinformation out there regarding tech suits. We dispel the myths and shine the light on how effective they are at actually helping improve swim performance.
Swim Fins: Everything You Need to Know About Training with Flippers. There are fewer things more enjoyable than strapping on a pair of fins and laying waste to the pool. Here’s everything ya need to know about training with these bad boys for max effect.
The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to Swim Paddles. Hand paddles are on the staples of just about every competitive swimmer’s mesh bag. Here’s the research and what you should know about swim paddles.
6 Swim Bags That Will Make You Look Like a Boss on Deck. Here are the six snazziest looking swim bags for competitive swimmers.