Recently, I’ve been noticing that a lot of my training peers have been showing up at the pool with snorkel as part of their standard swim bag of tricks and, up until recently, I’ve just brushed it off as a “nice to have, but not necessary” novelty item to play with. Before this, the only other people I ever saw using a snorkel were those weirdoes, old people particularly, who spent their time doing this strange dead man’s float thing from one end of the pool to other.
In my pool specifically, there’s a guy older than time itself, who uses a snorkel along with his fancy aquatic gloves and booties to do this odd limp movement that makes him look like a bloated flog struggling to make it to the other end of the pool without drowning.
Oh, and of course, there’s always this pop culture classic to consider (click HERE).
So, yeah, a snorkel never really weighed as an important “must have” tool for my own swim bag of tricks.
However, as I mentioned before, when I started to see other swimmers showing up and utilizing their snorkels I admit to becoming a bit curious especially when those swimmers started swimming the 100m quicker than I could. Now, in all honesty, I’m still focused on distance over speed at this point in my training given the Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids coming up but, still, their speediness in the pool were no less significant so I started to reconsider my stance on the whole snorkel issue and soon enough I was curious enough to actually consider investing in one.
A quick Google search on triathlete and swim boards revealed that a snorkel is actually a pretty handy thing to enhance your workouts; basically, adding the ‘zippidy’ to your ‘doo dah’ in the pool, so to speak. Apparently, a snorkel has the ability to improve body position while maintaining a smooth breathing pattern, as well as enhancing your V02-Max as it strengthens your lungs by making them more expansive. It seems that the restricted airflow creates a hypoxic effect (and, seriously, who enjoys hypoxic drills?), mimicking the decreased oxygen in every breath that an athlete would experience during, say, training at high altitude. Even when swimming easy, the snorkel might improve breathing by encouraging the swimmer to maintain a steady exhalation between inhalations. Okay, that makes sense to me. The main reason swimmers feel out of breath is that they hold their breath with their face in the water (something I definitely used to do and had to work hard to correct), and a snorkel can help with that.
The most basic application though is that it helps improve your technique. And, as you all know, technique is everything when it comes to swimming. By removing the necessity of turning your head, you can simply relax in the water and focus on the small details of your stroke like the single-arm drill, the catch, the pull or even the finish phases of each arm, and even to help maintain a streamlined position while doing your dreaded kicking drills – definitely my least favorite.
Sounds to me like the total shit, right? Sold!
I want me a snorkel too.
So got me a snorkel I did.
A humdinger of a snorkel if I do say so myself: a flashy, hydrodynamic, center-mounted “Freestyle Snorkel” by Finis, the gods of all things swim equipment related (fuck Speedo).
Apparently, this was the same snorkel endorsed and used by the US Olympic Swim Team and a favorite tool by Olympic champions Dara Torres (a twelve-time Olympic medalist and former world record-holder in three freestyle events) and Eamon Sullivan (three-time Olympic medalist, and former world record-holder in two events). The package boasted using centrifugal forces during flip turns to greatly restrict water from entering the tube, the ability to maintain a natural, rhythmic breathing pattern due to easy body placement in the water, and a purge value to increase lung capacity to clear water from the tube. Shit, ask it nicely and I’m pretty sure it will make you a decent stake of pancakes in the morning. Unfortunately, it ended up sitting in my swim bag for approximately two weeks before I even considered using it.
You see, it also scared the living bejesus out of me.
The whole concept of breathing underwater seemed about as counter-productive and ass backwards. It was like considering running a marathon on stilts. I like my air…a lot…especially when I swim. But, eventually, I knew I had to justify this $40 purchase (not to mention the long drive to Team Aquatics in Burlington), so it was with great reluctance that I eventually strapped it to my head and prepped myself mentally to do a few laps.
Okay, snorkel: amaze me.
Now, I’d like to say here that my first few laps were graceful and fluid, a true thing of beauty to behold in the water, but they weren’t; far from actually. In fact, I made it (maybe) 5 meters from the shallow end wall before I was sputtering and geysering like a dying sperm whale. I just couldn’t wrap my lizard brain around inhaling underwater and when I made the initial effort I did so through my nose like I might if I was running or cycling. In the water, though, this is not good and I almost drowned – quite literally.
I felt let down for believing the hype. And that was that, I put it away in my swim bag and didn’t touch it again for another month or so. But, it continued to taunt me from the pool deck until I decided to give it another go. This time, however, instead of strapping it to my head and just launching myself off the wall willy-nilly ‘Hunt for Red October’ style, I decided to spend a few minutes at the end practicing inhaling and exhaling with my face in the water until I was confident enough to attempt to swim a lap or two.
I definitely found a new appreciation for the whole breathing process that beginner swimmers tend to stress over (I know I did), that’s for sure. I mean, seriously, how often do you really think about breathing when you roll out of bed in the morning? It’s not even on your day’s Top 100 list of things to accomplish. But jump in a pool and it’s suddenly priority #1. Get that figured out to the best of your ability and then throw in a new monkey wrench into the whole process and, voila!, you’re almost back to square one (click HERE).
Eventually, I got a bit more comfortable with the snorkel so I got cocky and attempted a flip-turn. Again, I almost died and returned to the surface coughing and sputtering. Doh! I decided then and there to fuck flip-turns altogether for the time being and simply add that to next years’ list of goals.
Instead, I decided to use it while doing some kicking drills in the streamline position as I’ve seen and read on many a swimmer on-line tutorial. Now, this was fun; especially with my fins on. I felt like Aquaman, gliding effortlessly through the water with my marine buddies (even if that’s only Grandfather Time in the other lane). At the end of the lane, instead of flip-turning, I executed this 360° turn with my face still in the water just as I’ve seen Grandfather Time do countless times in his Slow Lane. Who knew that I’d ever be taking swim tips from some guy in aqua booties?
That’s fucked up, I know.
Anyway, after 200m or so of joyous streamlined kicking, besides counting every stray hair, random fuzz ball, spec of grit and water-logged Band-aid (an unfortunate drawback to using the snorkel I’m afraid), I began to realize that my sinuses were beginning to this, shall we say, ‘full’ feeling (lest we forget: click HERE). So at the next wall, I stopped and as I raised my head and removed my snorkel a complete deluge of pool water poured from my nose.
And for the record, I think I’ve forgotten how to do long division. Maybe it was washed away along with the pool water.
With a little more practice I learned that it was more efficient to inhale through the snorkel, yet exhale through my nose just as I do when I swim freestyle normally. Why this didn’t occur to me at the beginning I’m not too sure; again back to the thinking of breathing, or the lack thereof.
Now, having figured this out, it’s actually helping me reinforce what I’m already apparently doing well in the water which, when it comes down to it, is the number one continuous need that trumps everything else: breathe. When that need is satisfied and natural, the ability to relax in the water is ultimately achieved. And believe me, when you’re spending upwards of three hours plus in the water, 3-4 times a week, the ability to relax is important.
So while I’m not exactly Eamon Sullivan yet, I definitely am beginning to see some of the possibilities for future improvement in my on-going swim development. I certainly plan on continuing to learn how to utilize my snorkel after this 10k business is over and I start to shift gears back to speed and form. My ultimate goal being to turn myself into a born again speed demon in the pool heading into competition season, and if that means mastering this whole snorkel thing, flip-turns and all, then so be it.