June 3, 2008 | We wrote extensively about the Swimmers Snorkel back in September 2006, marveling how just a few millimeters of change had produced an entirely new product, quite distinct from the diver's snorkel and one with almost untold benefits for the pool swimmer. After 18 months of using the snorkel almost daily, Mike Hanlon has found more benefits and few drawbacks – indeed, as a regular traveler, the snorkel goes with him on every trip, becoming, in effect, his portable gymnasium.
Eleven weeks ago, I broke all the bones in my left foot in a pool accident. I went to step across the edge of a spa on my way to the pool, my left foot slipped, my right foot went into the spa and lodged securely between the side of the spa and the bar which ran along its edge and then I fell back over the top of it – a freak accident which saw all the metatarsals broken and one in particular severely displaced. After two weeks of waiting for the swelling to go down and to see if the bones would match up, it was decided to pin the offending central bone and just over two weeks ago, the protective casing came off.
As anyone who has experienced trying to get around in a protective boot will tell you, the brain quickly rewires itself to protect the damage and sorting out the rewiring can take a bit of time after the boot comes off. Walking on the foot again was naturally going to be a bit painful in the weeks following the removal of the boot, and the pool was the logical place to go. Fortunately, after a bit of searching, I found a pool that was ideal for the process of retraining the leg – flat bottomed and deep enough so that the buoyancy of the water took enough weight off the foot to enable walking without too much discomfort, and shallow enough so I could keep my head above water when I was walking up and down the pool.
Hence for the last 18 days I have walked daily for hours in the pool, using the Swimmers Snorkel so I could submerge my head and watch my foot and breathe at the same time, using willpower to build a new walking technique and exercising the leg all the while. Whenever the foot or ankle got too sore, I swam a few laps and tried again. I'm pleased to report that given this rather unconventional approach, I am almost walking straight and without pain again.
The Swimmers Snorkel has been with me almost permanently since my first article about it back in September, 2006. Following the article, Finis sent me two snorkels, one being the swimmers snorkel and the other the Freestyle Snorkel.
The Freestyle Snorkel is an evolution to the original Swimmer's Snorkel, shaped so the snorkel fits closer to the face and does not rotate at the mouthpiece, offering increased stability and a streamlined fit with less resistance. The new design allows the swimmer to achieve a lower head position during freestyle and apparently optimize body position.
I just couldn't get used to the Freestyle Snorkel, probably because my technique got severely compromised from many years as a surf competitor where the head position during swimming needs to be more upright. When pool swimming, the vortex of air behind the nose allows a low head position to be maintained whilst still allowing access to fresh air – in the surf, the same low head position just didn't work for me because with the roughness of surf, it was just too easy to get a mouthful of water.
Muscle memory is obviously a powerful thing. Try as I might, I have been unable to modify my breathing technique back to its pool origins and I have also found that I could no longer breathe effectively on both sides of the body to keep things balanced. Hence one side of my neck and shoulders got a different workout to the other side and I have been mindful for many years that I wanted to get a more evenly balanced workout. The Swimmers Snorkel has given me that.
Furthermore, with a more upright head position and a technique in serious disrepair, I found that getting a mouthful of water when using the Freestyle Snorkel was just too frequent to be worthwhile particularly when I had the far more upright Swimmers Snorkel in my bag.
For the record, I'll run through the obvious advantages of the Freestyle Snorkel for those without compromised technique. Primarily, it offers a lower head position and the ideal body position for optimum freestyle form for a competition swimmer. The brochure also lists less resistance, increased head stability and the ability to use the centrifugal force generated during flip turns to greatly restrict water from entering the tube. I've given up on tumble turns using the Swimmers snorkel, but once again that's me being an old dog with great difficulty learning new tricks and an aversion to sucking water into my lungs instreead of Air.
Amongst the benefits listed for the Freestyle Snorkel are also increased CO2 tolerance and VO2 max from regular use and a 40% increase in conditioning and workload to the lungs when used with the accessory cardio-cap, offering benefits that are equivalent to those associated with altitude training. Sounds great – it's just a shame my old brain can't get the synapses firing in a new sequence so I can access those benefits. Accordingly, I'll pass on making any more comment on the Freestyle Snorkel other than to say it's clearly working for many other people other than myself, and would almost certainly be a must if being used as a training aid for freestyle competitors.
So back to the Swimmers snorkel.
With any form of vaguely competitive swimming now a distant memory, swimming still remains my number one form of enjoyable exercise. There's something about the meditative rhythm and breathing patterns of swimming which manages to bring the brain back into equilibrium at the same time as ensuring all the main muscle groups get a work-out – it's a great start to the day, or a perfect lunchtime break from the madness of emails and telephone calls and meetings or alternatively, a great way to turn back into a human being when the working day finishes.
At different times, my swimming has lapsed, and several times has had to be employed to gently bring the body back to good working order when excess weight has set in due to my extended deskbound periods, or after the occasional (usually motorcycle-related) accident. Each time it has helped repair the damage I've done and I'm ever so grateful to have found swimming and more recently swimming with the Swimmers Snorkel, as an effective cure-all for my regular self-induced maladies.
Now, with travel almost permanently on the agenda for my work with Gizmag, the Swimmers Snorkel has come into its own. Travel disrupts eating and exercise routines and can be incredibly taxing on the body if not carefully managed. Every hotel has a different gym with different exercise machines and maintaining a fitness regime is difficult. But the Swimmer's Snorkel has helped me develop a pool-based stretching and exercise regime that only requires a pool, and that has proven a Godsend.
Most importantly, it enables swimming to cater equally for both halves of a body – as I've previously mentioned, I really do think it's important to exercise both halves equally to stay balanced and symmetrical. It also enables me to breathe feely whether my arm is in the right position or not – this is indeed one of the fabulous benefits of the invention – it enables one to maintain the stroke rhythm regardless of the breathing and I can now swim longer and harder than I have for more than a decade.
Most of the benefits I have already covered in the previous article remain 100% true, so there's no point in going over them again given they're just a click away.
The main other benefit I have found is that the Swimmers Snorkel enables one to achieve the "dead man's float" without breathing (or being dead) for extremely long periods. After walking around with a boot with two inches of additional heel in it for nine weeks, one side of my body was completely out of whack with the other – similarly, my shoulders had tried to compensate and I was getting all manner of back and shoulder sore spots and pain. Once I was able to take the boot off 19 days ago, I quickly developed a floating and stretching routine which was both calming and relaxing to the whole body. With the snorkel in place I could stretch and relax into a completely supported floating position and bring on an almost meditative state while the body aligned itself, then do it again and again.
The Swimmers Snorkel weighs almost nothing. Along with a set of goggles and earplus, it has traveled extensively with me over the last twelve months and I suspect will do so for a long time yet. That was one of the most significant things I noticed in rereading my article of 18 months ago. In that article I quoted David Denniston as saying, "As long as you don't lose it, you'll have your snorkel for a long time."
That seemed an important thing to say at the time, but now I know it to be absolutely true.
I could not recommend a product more highly than the Swimmers Snorkel!