Using a snorkel mask may sound more like you're getting ready to explore the spectacular coral reefs of Hawaii and less like you're swimming laps in a pool. Yet despite how silly it may look, swimmers use snorkels that rise in the front, rather than to the side, to help improve their breathing technique and increase respiratory efficiency. If you're getting used to breathing while you swim, or you want to strengthen your lungs, wearing a snorkel mask while you swim is an excellent way to condition yourself to time your breathing. Plus, it might just remind you of swimming in the Pacific off a tropical beach rather than the fitness center.
Put on your swim cap and goggles like usual. The best way to do this is to place the strap of the snorkel around your head and align the tube in front of your face so that it goes straight up. Alternately, use a snorkel mask with goggles already attached, but that may not work as well. Make sure the mouthpiece fits comfortably in your mouth – the last thing you want is to accidentally drink a giant gulp of chlorinated water. Furthermore, you should be able to see and breathe clearly before entering the pool. Try breathing in with the snorkel mask over your nose.
Get in the pool by swimming on the top of the water rather than diving into it. Your face should be down and submerged in water up to your ears. If it's not working properly, fix it immediately before you continue swimming. Also make sure you can see through the goggles or mask underwater.
Take time getting used to the mask and how it feels to breathe into it before you start swimming laps. Practice swimming in place and floating -- breathe through your mouth into the snorkel, then move onto easy kicks for a few lengths. Always inhale through the tube and exhale through your nose. As you acclimate to the snorkel and how it feels to breathe in and out of it, your body will relax, and you'll feel more comfortable swimming full laps.
Swim slowly and keep your body balanced. Unlike when you're normally swimming laps, if you turn your head to the side, you'll end up with a mouth full of water. The good news is that if your body is off-balance, the snorkel will pull to one side or the other, alerting you that you need to balance yourself. Instead of worrying about side breathing, just focus on breathing through the mask and entering your hands in the water as cleanly as you can. The longer you use the snorkel, you'll notice how your head sits lower in the water, which leads to breathing with less strain and focusing on the stroke, not the breath.
- If you're an advanced swimmer, try flip-turning by inhaling deeply before turning. The snorkel will fill with water. Expel the water at the end of the flip-turn, sending the water out of the top of the snorkel tube.
- Switch among freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly while you wear the mask and see how your breathing changes with each one. Additionally, consider adding kick or balance drills.
- Check to see if your pool permits snorkel masks. Not all pools, especially public ones, will let you do this.
- If you go underwater while wearing the snorkel, blow out all of the water that goes in the tube with force before breathing in again.
Nadia Osman is a California-based writer. She has covered travel, real estate, fashion, fitness and other topics for various online publications. Osman holds a B.A. in history from UC Irvine.