This week I wanted to return to the subject of snorkels in the swim.
A few weeks ago, WTC standardized all of their rules, one of which was to ban snorkels from races. Overall, I think this was a wise move.
Snorkels—a swim aid similar to paddles, gloves, and fins—can provide an unfair advantage to swimmers because when swimming with a snorkel all you have to do is swim without having to worry about breathing from side to side. Without this rotation, you can go faster, much faster, especially if your form is weak.
But what about in training? Can snorkels help your swim? When should you use them? How often?
I’ve always understood the benefits to swimming with a snorkel, including the ability to improve body position while maintaining a smooth breathing pattern, the ability to focus on generating power in your pull, as well as increasing VO2 max (maximum capacity to transport and utilize oxygen during incremental exercise) since you are limiting oxygen to some extent.
Peter Reid, pro triathlete and winner of the 2003 Ironman Triathlon World Championship considers the snorkel as one of the keys to his swim training.
However, snorkels are an aid and should not be used all the time. Learning to rotate to breath is critical to proper stroke technique.
We have some videos forthcoming that show exactly where and when to breath in your stroke, how to breath (while it seems simple is actually hard to do), as well as some drills to go improve your timing. So how often should you use a snorkel?
If you are very dependent upon using the snorkel, I would use the snorkel for half of the main set, and then overtime begin to wean yourself off them so that within a few weeks you are only using it for drill sets.
Eventually you want to get to the point where you are only using the snorkel for specific sets and drills like when paired with paddles for endurance/power/force sets or for hypoxic training.
The snorkel, like all great swim toys, is a tool and has a specific purpose, so it’s important not rely too much on it because come race day, it will not be there to help cover up your swim form flaws.