Rocket science: get the gas to swim faster!
Oxygen. If we don’t get enough, the lights go out and it’s often in short supply for swimmers.
The tricky business of breathing can slow the stroke rate if you take too long to inhale. Gasping for gas can lead to an increase in frontal drag, if breathing leads to changes in the pulling motion of the arm under water, or if your head lifts too high for breath. But the delivery of oxygen to the muscles is key to unlocking the energy that generates speed. Or put another way, without enough O2, you are out of the race.
So what happens when gas is in short supply? A catastrophic dependence on anaerobic sources of energy, which leads quickly to a lowering of the body’s pH (H+ ions). Once the body begins to become acidic, the muscles cease to recover or function at the same rate. In swimming code that is “dying” mid race.
The body manages pH through breathing. The faster our respiratory rate, the more CO2 we blow off and the more we can balance our body’s pH. Frequent breathing during intense exercise not only helps to maintain a neutral pH, but it also helps prevent acidosis to begin with by pumping oxygen to the muscles. Having a pipeline of oxygen to muscles that are under the pump is key to high performance swimming.
Most of us have limited training time and spending much of it in a state of acidosis ain’t ideal. One way acidosis can be reduced in training is by using a snorkel.
FINIS’ Stroke Lab have engineered snorkels suitable for distance swimming and sprint work but snorkels can deliver great gains no matter what your swimming targets.
Pool swimmers, triathletes and open water enthusiasts can all see improvements with a snorkel. As well as helping muscles keep generating race-level energy for longer, not turning to breathe allows greater focus on stroke and technique.
And, believe it or not, that thin tube also does some hard yards to improve your lung capacity. Regular training with a snorkel can help greatly improve cardiovascular strength, especially designs like the Stability Snorkel. Breathing through a snorkel forces the lungs to work harder for each breath. It only allows a certain amount of air down the spout and this also forces swimmers to regulate breathing which can in turn make it easier to establish breathing and good cross-body patterning.
Using a snorkel in the pool or the ocean is straight forward but it may take a few sessions before the technique is as second-nature as, well, breathing.
Time for the safety message: learning to train with a snorkel should ideally be done under the supervision of a coach or swimming partner to begin with.
Pool snorkels have a spout for inhaling O2 from above the water line and you can exhale CO2 through the spout, the nose or both. Things can get tricky if you don’t use enough force to clear the spout while swimming, especially after flipturns. Also, if you find it hard not to breathe in through your nose, using a nose plug can help.
The three major benefits of training with a snorkel are increasing lung capacity, improving technique thanks to the ability to monitor and focus on stroke and reduced strain on the neck, particularly helpful for those with existing neck problems. The snorkel allows your head and spine to remain in alignment and eliminates the need for twisting, lifting or reaching motions which can help with neck and shoulder issues.
FINIS has the Original Swimmer’s Snorkel which is a fantastic option for those who focus on distance in the pool. The Stability Snorkel is designed for high speed swimming and is particularly good for sprint training.
So time is ticking.... dive in and try training on a full tank of gas!