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by Elaine K Howley

May 5, 2021

Using a snorkel in training can help improve your open water swimming experience

For many people the concept of a snorkel brings to mind Caribbean fish-spotting sessions. For open water swimmers, however, a snorkel can be an important part of your gear bag when training in the pool. Specifically, a center-mount snorkel that’s intended mainly for freestyle training can help you improve your open water swimming in at least five ways.

Snorkel training builds symmetry and balance

Because you don’t have to turn your head to breathe while swimming freestyle with a snorkel on, that gives you the opportunity to focus on the symmetry of your stroke.

This can be especially important for swimmers who breathe only to one side. When you always breathe to just one side, that can throw off the symmetry and balance of your stroke, which can sometimes manifest as pulling to one side and swimming off course quickly in open water.

But training with a snorkel removes that head turn and can help you feel where your stroke has fallen out of symmetry. This way, you can get the feel of swimming straighter and you might even be able to knock some time and distance off your swim by staying on course with less frequent sighting. 

Snorkel training can improve body position and body alignment

In addition to making your stoke more symmetrical, training with a snorkel can improve your body position. That’s because breathing is the most challenging part of freestyle for some swimmers.

It’s not uncommon for swimmers to lift the head up, even just slightly, when turning to take a breath. This can cause the hips and legs to sink in response. But removing that head turn lets you practice perfect body position and learn what it feels like.

When you swim without the snorkel, the muscle memory of how you should be riding in the water should remain.

And if you have a tendency to wiggle because your hips and shoulders aren’t in synch when the body rotates or you’re crossing over on the entry, adding a snorkel can help you become more aware of that and correct that excess movement that can slow down your forward progress.

Snorkel training can help you work around injuries

Everyone gets a pain in the neck sometimes—whether literal or figurative—and snorkel training can help you keep training in light of a physical pain in the neck. Whether caused by poor sleep, back issues, trauma, or illness, neck pain and stiffness can put a real damper on your pool training.

But adding a snorkel can help you continue training freestyle without putting the same rotative strain on the neck that usually comes with breathing to the side.

Snorkel training can improve lung capacity

Breathing through a narrow tube restricts your access to air to a certain degree. It’s a little like training at altitude because you’re getting less oxygen into the lungs with each breath you take.

This restriction can be made more intense with the use of a limiter—a simple plastic or silicone sleeve that goes over the end of the snorkel that further decreases the size of the hole and limits the air you can inhale as you swim.

Over time, if you’re training at a moderate exertion level, this air restriction helps your lungs get better at functioning in a reduced-oxygen environment, which can lead to gains in anaerobic capacity. In other words, consistent training with a snorkel can make your body more efficient at working with the oxygen it takes in. You might even be able to reduce how frequently you breathe during a race after consistent snorkel training.

Snorkel training can make you more mindful

By removing the need to turn your head to breathe, a snorkel allows you to just put your head down and swim. Without as much worry about taking your next breath to, you know, survive, that can free up your mind to focus on the little things that will make you a faster, stronger swimmer.

How does the water feel when you pitch your hand a certain way or change the entry or catch? Are you faster when you can focus on the rotation of the body without having to turn the head? These are all things you can explore while swimming with a snorkel.

Practicing these small changes may pay dividends in a more efficient in for long-distance swimming down the line. And because you’re focused on those changes rather than survival, adding a snorkel to drill sets can really amp up your ability to integrate tweaks to technique more quickly.


  • Open Water