I was recently contacted by Julie at AquaGear Swim Shop and asked if I'd like to do a review of their shop and a product they offer, generously given to me at no cost. I happily accepted, and began perusing the website. I wasn't familiar with AquaGear until this opportunity. I soon learned that they are a family-owned business located in West Palm Beach, Florida that carries all kinds of neat gear and training tools for swimmers. Additionally, AquaGear carries gear for people who are into water-exercising and snorkeling.
AquaGear's website is very easy to navigate, and the prices are very reasonable. It was difficult to make a decision on which product to review because there were so many different things that I thought would be great to try. AquaGear carries all things a swimmer could want, from the basics like goggles, caps, fins, kickboards, paddles, and pull buoys, to fancier gadgets like Swim MP3's, tempo trainers, and lap counters. They also carry a bunch of water-exercise tools, like water weights, resistance cuffs, and gloves, in addition to snorkeling gear. After a quick consult with my coach Suzanne, I decided to go with the Finis Swimmer's Snorkel. She recommended the snorkel because I have some trouble keeping my strokes symmetric due to being a right-side-only breather. The snorkel would remove side-breathing from the picture and allow me to focus 100% on balanced, well-formed strokes.
The snorkel arrived a few days after I placed my order, and I was really excited to try it! It was sturdier and more rigid than I expected it to be. The product insert mentioned that some swimmers may need to wear a nose-clip because it can be difficult for some to breathe only through their mouth. The insert suggested using the snorkel both in the warm-up and cool-down part of a workout. When it was time to try out the snorkel in the pool, I found that it was very comfortable to wear. It is held in place by an adjustable rubber strap worn around the head, just like goggles. It is supported across the forehead with a piece of softer rubbery material. This forehead rest can be adjusted up or down on the length of the snorkel to fit anyone's face.
Upon pushing off the wall for the first time, I discovered that I was one of those people who would need a nose-clip. Even though I kept telling myself to breathe only through my mouth, I didn't have the coordination to separate nose and mouth breathing. After two laps, I'd gotten some water up my nose and some strange looks from the lifeguards. I put the snorkel away and decided to wait to buy a nose-clip until I tried again. (I also had the revelation, "Oh! So this is why you're given face-mask style goggles that cover the nose when you go snorkeling on vacation!")
A week and a nose-clip purchase later, I was back at the pool and ready to try the snorkel again. Luckily, the nose-clip solved my issues with separating mouth and nose breathing. The first few laps with the snorkel felt a little weird from a breathing perspective. It was very different to breathe only through the mouth, and I felt like breathing was a little harder than it usually is while swimming. After about 300 yards of warming up with the snorkel, I took it off and went into my planned workout. At the end, I did another 300 yards with the snorkel. This time around, breathing felt noticeably more comfortable. I think part of the reason that it felt weird the first time is that I was inadvertently holding my head higher up in the water than normal to make sure the end of the snorkel stayed above water. The snorkel is plenty long; once I trusted that it would stay entirely above the water while I swam, my head went back to normal position and breathing was easier.
My subsequent swims with the snorkel have been great! After about 6 weeks using the snorkel, I can say that every swim with the snorkel felt easier and more natural than the previous. The snorkel stays right in place and doesn't lead to any eye-crossing (something I wondered about given where it's positioned). In fact, I barely notice it once I get into my set.
I've been able to integrate the snorkel into my swim workouts in several ways. I've mostly used it at the beginning during my warm-up, typically for 300-500 yards, and then again at the end, with a similar distance for cool-down. I've used it in drills like catch-up freestyle and thumb-drag freestyle. More recently, I've used it for some higher-intensity work, like 50 yard freestyle repeats. Breathing gets a bit harder as intensity increases, however, this is supposed to help improve CO2 tolerance and VO2max. (An added bonus that I came across while researching suggested snorkel workouts online!) I've yet to attempt a flip turn with it, but it is possible, so maybe someday I'll be gutsy enough to try it :)
Removing side-breathing while using the snorkel has allowed me to focus solely on form and maintaining symmetric strokes in the water. After 2-3 weeks of swimming with the snorkel, I started to get a good feel for balance and symmetry between left and right arm strokes. Using the snorkel helped me to see what the balance between left and right strokes should feel like, so I have learned to copy that rhythm when I swim without the snorkel and breathe to the side. It's sort of hard to describe in words, but I guess it's about reinforcing the proper form in your muscle memory.
I recommend the Finis Swimmer's Snorkel to anyone looking to improve their form in the water. It may take a little bit of time to adapt to using it, but for me, the adaptation period was quick and the snorkel has been very beneficial!
If you are looking to purchase some new swimming gear, I also recommend checking out AquaGear for your next purchase -- my experience with them was very positive and I'm sure yours will be too!