There are a few items I want everyone to understand about training snorkels:
First, don’t go grab your standard scuba snorkel and use it as a training tool. Non Training snorkels are built to go up the side of your head and need to be attached to a mask strap to stay in place. Training snorkels go up the face, between the eyes, wrap around the head and come with their own strap. This front of the face design will keep the snorkel from interfering with correct stroke mechanics.
Now that you have the right snorkel in mind here are some ways it can help, and not help you.
Snorkels force you to rebreathe your exhaled breath. This leaves you with a lower oxygen content in each inhale, while you are doing a heavily aerobic activity. Pulling your air through a thin tube also makes you work harder for each breath. While these are positives from my coaching perspective, I know many swimmers who found this harder on them than they expected. So don’t be surprised if you find swimming with a snorkel aerobically tough.
My favorite use for a training snorkel is early season open water distance. While I encourage low head positions and low breathing, the fact remains that turning your head to breath still has an impact on your shoulders. During the early to mid-season when I’m starting to churn out heavy yardage snorkels can help swimmers reduce the amount of stress on their shoulders.
For each benefit of the snorkel there are some counter considerations. One possible issue is they can cause neck strain. Every time you push off a wall the portion of the snorkel that extends above your head will shake with the force of the water flowing past it while you are underwater. For many swimmers this negligible, for others with neck problems or simply smaller in size the shaking can create neck strain. This strain is something I experience (I’m only 5’2” and in my 50s) which is why I save my snorkel for open water.
As you start with a snorkel you will need to build a bit of skill. Each time you do an underwater push off you will need to purge the water from the snorkel before taking your first breath. Not everyone finds purging the water from a snorkel easy, it takes a forceful exhale to clear the tube of water. If you don’t purge all of the water you will wind up inhaling the water left in the tube. While this is not hard, it can be tiring when you are doing it off of every wall when you are already out of breath.
If you reached this point in the article you may be saying “maybe not”. Overall snorkels are a valuable tool in the swimmer’s tool kit, they just take some getting used to for many.