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by Scott Bay

April 6, 2018

Snorkels are simple training devices, but they can make you a much better swimmer

Many swimmers, especially the seasoned ones, have been taught the best way to improve is to swim. While that’s essentially true, I think we can all agree that our sport is one of the most complex on the planet and full of movements we don’t do on land.

This makes trying to learn and do everything at once—from large to fine movements with breathing, timing, and training from a physiological standpoint all mixed in—overwhelming. This is where training tools and equipment can play a huge role in making you better.

One of the best tools out there, for everyone from a novice to an elite, is the snorkel. It helps you focus on one thing, encourages a pattern of movement, and helps you build skills.

The Why and the How

Focus on Just One Thing—We’re a multi-tasking society, answering emails during a meeting or talking on a cellphone while driving. But if our body is desperately seeking oxygen, we don’t have much room to think about anything else.

The snorkel takes away the task of when and where to breathe, so you can think about other things or notice little things in your stroke that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Encourage a Pattern of Movement—Remember the old saying “Perfect practice makes perfect?” There’s no such thing as muscle memory. Instead, we rely on a pattern of movement imprinted on our brains.

If our brain is consumed with the thought of getting oxygen, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to focus on improving your stroke. A snorkel can help with this.

To imprint a correct pattern of movement, we have to repeat it over and over again in order for it to be stored. Your brain can add other movements, such as rotating to breathe, to the original pattern after you’ve learned it.

Enhance a Skill—For those of you who have used a snorkel, you know that all is well until it’s time to turn. If you’re swimming freestyle and doing a flip turn, clearly there will be water in the snorkel. The key is to make sure you get enough air on the way in, so you can exhale while you’re upside down on the wall. Water accumulating in the snorkel is displaced by that air as you right yourself after the flip and proceed to the streamline and breakout.

Back in the day, your coach probably said you should take at least a few strokes before breathing off the wall. Guess what you have to do with a snorkel? That’s right—manage that breathing and think about your streamline and efficiency.

Final Thoughts

All training tools require some getting used to, and a snorkel is no different.

If you have a chance, try it out on your own outside of a structured practice, so you don’t have the added pressure of the set or the clock making your experience miserable.

Long course, in many people’s experience, is a little easier to get used to breathing through a snorkel because of the longer times between stops. Some of us also tend to breathe in through both our mouth and nose when we breathe, but after a few chlorinated water sinus rinses, we learn not to or that a nose clip can be helpful.

Snorkels (and other training tools) are great for helping you become a better swimmer, but you should never feel like these things are like Superman’s cape or training wheels and that the only way you can swim well is with them.

Instead, use them to build skills, so you can be a better swimmer. The great thing about our sport is that, at a certain age, you may not be able to get fitter or stronger, but you can always get better.


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