Swimming nose clips (also called nose plugs) are those little pieces of bent wire padded with rubber that you can stick on your nose and that are designed to keep the water out by squeezing the nostrils together.
If you are a beginner, there are so many things to think about and get right. Breathing is yet another technique to master. So the temptation is great to buy a nose plug to at least keep water out of your nose. But is using a nose plug a good idea?
Well, when I took up swimming again as an adult, nose plugs were one of the first swimming accessories I bought besides the mandatory swim suit, swimming goggles and swim cap. I used them extensively before I weaned myself off them after about a year of swimming.
So let’s review what the advantages of using a nose plug are:
- When you learn the freestyle stroke, it avoids that water enters the nose when you rotate your head to breathe. You only need to concentrate on your mouth to breathe.
- When you learn backstroke, it avoids that water enters the nose if you lack balance (and the head submerges) or if water is projected at your face by the recovering arm.
- To learn or improve your butterfly stroke, you may have to do body undulations and dolphin kicks on the back. In that case it may nearly be impossible to keep water out of your nose without the clip.
- When you learn the flip turn, it allows you to learn the correct flip motion first without worrying about breathing. Later on you can remove the clip and practice correct exhalation during the flip.
- If your nose is allergic to pool chemicals (e.g. chlorine), a clip might be the solution to keep those chemicals out.
- There exists a killer amoeba that lives in certain warm bodies of water and enters the human body through the nose. From the nose it migrates to the brain and literally eats it alive! As you might guess, this is a very dangerous medical condition. Luckily infections by this amoeba are rare. Nevertheless you might wear a nose clip as a precaution when you swim in bodies of water that might be infected.
You will rarely see an advanced swimmer use a nose plug, except for specific exercises or in the case of an allergy, because using it has also its drawbacks:
- Breathing is less efficient because the nose is shut down and the overall physical efficiency in the water decreases.
- You have a greater tendency to hold your breath if you wear a nose plug. Holding your breath should be avoided as it is better to exhale continuously in the water because it keeps the body more relaxed and the stroke more fluid.
- Water might become trapped in the nose and generate snot that can’t evacuate (eeek!). That was the case for me and my nose was regularly obstructed after a swim practice where I had used a clip.
- When I started to wean myself off the nose clip after about a year of swim practice, I had the problem that water entered my nose when I rotated the head to breathe. It seems that wearing the nose clip all the time, I had gotten into the habit of swimming with the head too deep below the water surface, which caused the aforementioned breathing problem. So this was a bad habit I had to shed.
A nose clip is a great device for a beginner as it makes breathing easier while you learn how to swim the different strokes, especially freestyle and backstroke. However, once you are fluent in a swim stroke, you should try to get rid of the nose clip and only use it under special circumstances.