The Invasion of the Nose Clips

SMU sophomore Rachel Balke models her team-issued nose clip above

No more than a few years ago, whenever a new swim parent asked if their child could swim in a nose-clip while swimming backstroke to keep water out of their noses, the answer was usually one of uncertainty.

Thoughts of “well…I’m not sure if those are legal” and “no, she’ll get laughed out of the pool!” would cross a coach’s mind, before giving some more politically-correct response about the importance of learning proper breath control when a swimmer is on their back.

But nowadays, as they say, is a whole different ball game. The nose clips are here to stay.

Nose clips are not a brand new phenomenon, but they are now reaching a critical mass to where, like caps and goggles, it will be odder for a swimmer to be without them than with them (at the least in backstroke races).

At this year’s USA Swimming National Championships, no fewer than three of the A-Finalists (including National Champion and wunderkind Missy Franklin) were clearly observed wearing nose clips. Several college teams, including SMU who boasts defending 100 back B-Final champion Therese Svendsen amongst their ranks, have begun handing them out to their entire programs.

The theory is pretty easy. In the backstroke especially, the fastest part of the race is by far underwater (as former Texas Longhorn Hill Taylor demonstrated so famously in this video). The limiting factor, especially at the elite level, is rarely the ability of swimmers to hold their breath for the legal-maximum of 15 yards/meters, rather to go that 15 yards/meters while blowing enough air out of their noses to keep themselves from swallowing a gallon-and-a-half of water through their noses.

This, like all new swimming innovations, will be met with shyness and skepticism, especially in the youth and high school ranks. But don’t be afraid to try it out. If anybody questions you, you’ve got the professional support of the best backstrokers in the world to back you up. Lots of companies make these nose clips, and they’re pretty cheap, so don’t be afraid to try out a couple of different kinds until you find one that works. My personal favorite are Speedo’s silicone clips, because they maximize comfort. They can be purchased for less than four bucks a pair from Be sure to use practice to get used to them before trying them out in a race.

Of course, the advent of these clips mean that FINA probably won’t ever eliminate the 15-meter-underwater rule (yes, there are still those who preferred swimming before that rule was put in place), or else they’ll make the nose-clips illegal. These nose-clips serve to push the equilibrium back in favor of the underwater swimmers and the overwater swimmers. With nose clips, the great underwater backstrokers, like Natalie Coughlin, will move further to the forefront while those who specialized above the water, like Aaron Peirsol, will be forced to adapt to keep up. This is good news for the Americans, who have revolutionized international swimming with the underwater mastery of swimmers like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

The invasion is here, so be sure to catch the front-end of the wave, or be left in its wake.

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I’ve also seen 50 free guys use them since some decide not to breathe for the whole race. it keeps the air in their lungs on the flip turn since they wont have to blow out through their nose.


My question has always been, why are nose clips not illegal?

Isn’t the purpose of people wearing them to ‘artificially’ aid the swimmer to be able to perform beyond their natural ability?


not really. you could make that same argument about goggles and caps, but those clearly should remain legal. I find it hard to believe kids these days aren’t learning to equalize the pressure in their heads/noses to avoid having to be constantly blowing out air or “swallowing a gallon and a half of water through their noses.” It seemed like everyone knew how to do that by the time we were ten.

Anonymous Swimmer

I might be a little late… But how does one do that?

High School Swimmer

I’m pretty sure that’s not possible, especially when your upside down and the pressure of the water is pushing into your nose.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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