The swim snorkel has become part-and-parcel of every competitive swimmer’s gear bag. Here are a fe 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. Breathing in just through your mouth seems easy, but once the snorkel is on and your face is under water, breathing suddenly becomes a mystery.  I suggest a nose plug for those that have problems adapting.   Once you get comfortable with the swimmer’s snorkel, you see that the benefits of using it within your training are 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.)

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 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. Whether we are talking about swim paddles, stretch cords or swim fins if we can’t perform the swimming motion with proper technique all we are doing is creating and/or reinforcing bad technique.

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! Studies 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!)

 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 I could focus on my kicking. Why is this Because a common dysfunction with swimmers is to cross their ankles or scissor kick momentarily when they turn their head, halting the flutter kick motion behind them. With no fish-tailing movement that encourages that dreaded ankle-cross and scissor kick that stops your kick cold you end up kicking more consistently.

7. Great for kick sets.

Whether it is to warm-up, do some blast kick sets, or even do some super slow kicking to develop foot sensitivity in the water (yup, that’s a thing!),unlike the kick board,that does not always encourage the best body position,  removes the ability to kick while also engaging shoulder and hip rotation ,  the snorkel allows you to kick in a streamline 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.

 Doing freestyle with a snorkel, makes my stroke feels pretty darn good the moment I take it off and return to regular swimming. This is related to the awareness of better stroke mechanics, smoother arm rotation and the focus on better body positioning.  The consistent kicking transfers over to regular swimming. 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 super slow swimming with the snorkel.

The Takeaway

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.

Happy swimming!