What’s up Techniq Group Fam… Let’s talk about snorkels.
As coaches, it’s important to be methodical about why we choose to incorporate different types of equipment in our training plans. In today’s post we are going to delve into what may be the most important piece of common training equipment available today; the snorkel. In my coaching, I would sooner discard the kick board, buoy or paddles before parting with the snorkel.
In the below post, we will breakdown why this piece of equipment is so invaluable and also chart some of the potential negatives relating to implementing the snorkel in your training.
Please note the products mentioned in this post are just popular options; I don’t endorse one over any other.
PROS: Snorkels have broad application in teaching and improving technique. Wearing a snorkel can help an athlete isolate head position, body line and alignment across multiple strokes (and at varied intensities). The benefit of learning to swim with a relaxed head in a neutral position can not be overstated. The snorkel also lends itself to some interesting training applications.
Head Position/ Body Line “Look Down”
A snorkel allows the swimmer to maintain a still and steady head position. Looking down aligns your head in a neutral position relative to your spine and instigates a proper body line. A few weeks back I heard a coaching friend explain this concept with the perfect analogy. To paraphrase: “imagine you have a wooden pole or stick- its cylindrical and perfectly straight from top to bottom. Now, imagine you have a ball that needs to be balanced at the top of the pole. The ball will balance, only if it remains perfectly central atop the pole. Move the ball slightly in front of the pole and it falls; slightly to the right and, again, it falls”. This analogy conjures the perfect image of the way the head (the ball) needs to sit atop the body line/ spine (the pole) to maximize efficiency. Move your head too far up and the hips are bound to sag; move off to the right, and the line is ruined again. The snorkel, more than any other tool, allows you to practice this important skill in a focused way… (Shout to “Dexter” Dave Gendernalik for the perfect analogy).
Most sculling exercises are done in a neutral body position with the head down. Sculling improves your ability to “feel” the water and increases your capability to anchor your catch (among so many other advantages- post for another day). Lifting the head to breathe disrupts the necessary regularity of your body position to take full advantage of sculling. Sculling with a snorkel will allow you to focus on isolate your sculling without interrupting the process for that pesky breath.
I’m a huge proponent of kicking with a snorkel. Give your kick board a well deserved hiatus and use a snorkel during kick sets to train in the proper body line for dolphin, breaststroke and flutter kick. While kicking with a board has many benefits, such as improved muscular endurance and power, those same benefits are available to you without sacrificing body position. Kicking with the head properly aligned also allows for kicking at different tempos, rotational kicking drills and seamless transition from kick work to full stroke swimming. Years back, I was doing a ton of board kicking with a group I was coaching. We were seeing great gains on board kick test set results but were not seeing the big kick translate to improved kicking in races. The following season, we transitioned to a lot more hard kicking in body position (with a snorkel and in streamline) and haven’t looked back since.
Additionally, training benefits abound. Upside can be gained by training high intensity power work- isolating a specific part of the stroke, such as scapular connection rather than breathe timing. Once comfortable, a snorkel will also allow you to swim with a slightly more relaxed heart rate, as you can control your breathing rate independent of your stroke timing. Increase tempo while maintaining a balanced stroke and an open armpit catch. One of my favorite things about working snorkel work into your training is the ease at which you can transition between kicking, drilling, sculling and full stroke swimming; all while paying justified attention to your body line.
ON THE FLIP SIDE: Much like drills, implementing any training equipment in your program can have some potential negative side effects.
What About Breathing? What about Neural Pathways?
Critics of training with a snorkel tend to espouse that wearing one too often (or at all) allows you to ignore the necessary skill of breathing and breath timing; they may argue that the benefit of improved body line while wearing a snorkel does NOT translate to the full stroke.
This well-founded critique is based in the science of neural pathways. Simply put, the science of neural pathways (and please excuse the rough brain science here) states that imprinting of skills is specific to the WHOLE movement. Conversationally, this idea is adjacent to the more relatable issue of muscle memory… I digress. In other words, critics of training with a snorkel, or any equipment for that matter, argue that in order to learn a total body movement - i.e. freestyle - you must imprint the movement on your brain as a whole. Thus, swimming with a snorkel will only improve your ability to do just that to… well… swim with a snorkel. According to this critique, when a swimmers refers back to the whole stroke (after using a snorkel), the preexistent deficiencies will remain (even after improvement with the snorkel).
While the science is reasonable in this critique, my personal experience has been that a snorkel can have tremendous impact on improving head position and body line when used in the right dosage; even when transmitting the movement back into the whole stroke.
With all these benefits, a snorkel should be a mainstay in the kit bag of swimmers at all levels. Some solid choices on the market…
Convinced? Some popular snorkels readily available today:
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Founder, Techniq Group