Since I am on the topic of breathing while swimming, let me explain, what seems like an obvious procedure, how to breathe through the swimmer's snorkel.
Before we get to that, perhaps a bit of an introduction of what the swimmer's snorkel is and how it can help you improve your swimming technique.
Contrary to a common belief, the centrally mounted snorkel is actually not a modern invention. The first documented record of a front mount snorkel as an aid to swimming can be traced back to 1860's.
Wow, how impressive is that?
And today 99.99% of swimmers think how hip and cool they are swimming with the newest gadgets :).
Funny, how most of us associate things with the first experience we have.
Well, anyway, so what is swimmer's snorkel.
As the name indicates the front mount snorkel attaches to the front of the head instead of the side like regular scuba or snorkeling snorkel equipment.
It also has a more of a streamlined shape where the tip bends towards the back of the head and the snorkel body is flatter instead of round.
And finally, it attaches to the head with a strap and not clumsily to a scuba mask (I opted into not wearing my snorkel when I scuba dive as it always just gets in the way).
Front mount snorkel is designed to help swimmer's technique and the snorkel can do this in several ways.
First, when swimming with the center mount snorkel, the swimmer does not have to worry about breathing, therefore has one less thing to worry about and can bring undivided attention to some other part of the stroke such as body roll, early vertical forearm or healthy kick.
Second, the snorkel serves as a sensory cue to keep one's head down while swimming. The swimmer can use the snorkel as a reminder to look at the bottom.
Third, it is just plain fun to swim with a snorkel and it breaks up the monotony.
Fourth, a swimmer can also use the center mount snorkel to help with chicken peck breaststroke problem by attaching the snorkel upside down and in the back along the spine.
Fifth, using the front mount snorkel can help strengthen your lungs and here we come to the whole idea of this article.
How do you actually breathe through the damn thing?
There are two basic ways.
Obviously, the intake of air has to go through the snorkel pipe so I will not discuss that. However, the variation comes in when we talk about exhalation (getting rid of your air or blowing the air out of your lungs).
The first method is to utilize your nose to blow the air out before the next inhale. This method makes sure that you are not sending breathed out air back into the snorkel pipe, so your pipe air is nicely rich with oxygen at all times.
As we all know, when we exhale, our breath contains much higher concentration carbon dioxide than during the inhalation process, so by exhaling into the water, we are getting rid of it there instead of the pipe.
Furthermore, by exhaling through your nose, you actually get rid of the air quicker since you cannot control the amount of air coming out of your nose as you can with your mouth.
However, this is not necessarily an advantage at first as it takes some time to get used to the fact that you inhale and exhale through different parts of your face. So, until you get used to it, you might feel like you get rid of all your air and then need to very quickly inhale.
Also, don't forget that you still need to purge the water from the snorkel via your mouth when you push off the wall or if you get water in your snorkel at any time of your swim.
The second method uses only the mouth to exhale, so the excess CO2 gets sent back into the pipe where it mixes with the fresh air and then it is inhaled as a mixture back into the lungs.
You may be wondering, why in the hell would I want to breathe out into the pipe through my mouth, that doesn't make any sense. I want oxygen, you told me so in the bilateral breathing article, don't I?
Yes, you are correct, however, like anything in training, we always strive to improve something about what we do, be it perfecting your technique, strengthening your kick or improving your lung performance. And this is where the swimmer's snorkel also comes into place.
Since you inhale and exhale through your mouth into one single plastic pipe, the air that you subsequently inhale has less oxygen and more carbon dioxide than normal fresh air. This, in turn, makes it over time a bit more difficult to breathe and you need to really focus on properly purging the air out as well as your stroke technique.
Think of it in similar terms as in hypoxic breathing swimming sets where you'd breathe every 3rd stroke, every 5th stroke and every 7th stroke for a certain distance (25,50,100 or more if you are advanced).
There is one handy piece of additional attachment which can be placed on top of the snorkel tube and the sole purpose of this gadget is to restrict the flow of air into the tube.
It is called the Cardio Cap. While using the Cardio Cap your lungs have to work even harder to get the appropriate oxygen intake.
In a way, it is like swimming in an altitude where the air is a bit thinner. So, you can be in Colorado or apparently now even in Australia (possible at your local swimming joint).
If you are not into buying a gadget and you'd rather try this in some other way, you can always stick your tongue into the tube during the inhalation process which makes the inhalation a bit harder as you are restricting the intake flow.
So what is the key take away from all this breathing through swimmer's snorkel stuff?
It is simple, there is no right and wrong here.
If you use the snorkel to improve some part of your stroke and do not want to worry about getting into an oxygen debt, then breathe out through your nose (if you can master this technique).
If you are a bit more advanced and can do many things at ones or if breathing out through your nose causes you some issues, then why not purge your excess air out through the pipe to make you work a bit harder.
Ideally, you'd be able to switch your breathing type and pattern on the fly, so either of these is possible, but this comes with time and practice as everything else in the complex world of swimming motions :).
For example, I've been always using only my mouth to breathe in and out of the snorkel. If I switch to the nose exhalation, I get a bit confused and constantly have to think about breathing through my nose, so in theory, it actually defeats the purpose of the snorkel as I cannot concentrate on something else.
Of course, if I were to practice the nose breathing technique, after a while it would be like second nature to me and I could enjoy my technique work in more comfort.
If you really struggle with using the center mount snorkel, perhaps the issue is that you are afraid of getting water into the tube and choking on it. In that case, you should check out the Dry Top attachment. The Dry Top is a small, yet sophisticated device which attaches to the top of the snorkel and prevents any water seeping into the tube while you are swimming. So, leave your worry behind and get snorkeling :).