Suits rather than swimmers ruled the pool at the 2008 Olympics. The high-tech suits introduced just prior to the games prompted the debate of whether the suit or the swimmer was responsible for the faster times recorded for the history books. Now that the International Swimming Federation has banned the polyurethane suits from competition, men wear jammers and women wear shoulder-to-knee suits. Even without the added buoyancy of the banned polyurethane suits, FINA-approved tech suits made since 2009 still offer multiple benefits that can positively impact performance, including drag reduction, assistance with recovery and increased circulation.
All technical suits offer compression at some level with the potential for enhanced swimming performance, according to U.S. Masters Swimming. Compression suit panels target large muscle groups and aid in blood flow, which helps warm muscles, aid in the reduction of muscle vibration and offer support in body alignment. Compression can shape the body to decrease drag, which can be especially beneficial to women who wear shoulder-to-knee suits.
U.S. Masters Swimming reports that getting rid of drag is the goal behind any suit. With flat stitching, bonded seams are all but invisible, keeping the suit closer to the body and reducing drag by making the tech suit like a second layer of skin. For women, the design of the back is also important. Whether closed-back or open-back, straps are flat and wide to offer control and support.
Tech suits are made from a combination of polyester, nylon, elastane, Lycra and spandex, with all fabrics required to pass the guidelines set by FINA, according to U.S. Masters Swimming. Permeable yet water repellent, water rolls off the fabric. Because the fabric repels water, drag is reduced. Compression comes from suit design but fabric can also play a part in compression, with carbon fiber adding strength and structure to some suits.
Competitive suits, according to USA Swimming, fit tight as they are meant to compress the body, and can take 20 minutes to put on. Once on, the suit should be tight across the chest and core. If the suit is too loose it can create drag, but it should not constrict the body. A tech suit that restricts movement, causes you trouble breathing or is too loose can negatively impact the swimmer performance. USA Swimming recommends a good rule of thumb in determining a good fit for shoulder-to-knee suits is that the straps should only pull 1 to 2 inches away from the shoulders.
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