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.

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

I’m a 14 year old girl and I remember seeing Missy in the 2012 London Olympics! She has definitely made the nose plug famous! After seeing her the the world record in the 200 M Back Stroke, the first thing I did was get up, go to Sports Authority, and get one. What kind of plug does she use?

Des Cairns
11 years ago

I agree with Coach Erik, as a backstroker i really struggle if i can’t breathe through my nose as well as my mouth, especially in the 200. To be honest though i don’t see what’s so bad about getting water up your nose! Personally i just blow out during the turn and first five metres but then for the next ten i just let it go up my nose… not like it’s the end of the world. Cacane has an interesting point as well, i’ll have to try that one.

11 years ago

I think Missy Franklin just made nose clips cool. For whatever reason to wear them or not to wear them, it doesn’t really matter to a lot of young swimmers. All that matters is that Missy wears them!!!!!

11 years ago

Trying to remember back to Seoul’88: Did David Berkoff wear a clip? Did Suzuki, who snuck past for the gold that year? There were two guys who, going 33 meters under water before the 15m rule, probably could have used one. Now that was fun backstroke to watch!

11 years ago

“defending 100 back B-Final champion” ??? If someone called themselves that I would fall out of my chair laughing at them. How about just 9th place finisher.

11 years ago

As a backstroker I preferred to breathe in through my mouth and nose during races. I had tried using a clip during some fast backstroke in practice, it was okay.. I will tell you it is a lot of fun to do underwater sets and not have to worry about it at times. Short interval sets: at the wall I didn’t want to screw around trying to recover without breathing through my nose or taking it on and off on. I still say a swimmer should do underwater work without the plug, never know what could happen during a race, stranger things have happened.

11 years ago

Lots of great backstrokers (including Sean Murphy, Canadian Olympian and Stanford Cardinal) have used nose clips in the past. I have always been amazed by how many DON’T use them. Anyone who has swum for a coach that likes to give underwater “shooter” sets has either used a nose clip or just learned to “let the water in,” and dealt with the sting, the stuffy nose all day, etc.

11 years ago

I personally think they should stay legal. (I’ve never used one, because I’m one of those “freaky people”) I don’t anyone who uses them, but I know a lot of people who would benefit from their use.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner 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, …

Read More »