When the Speedo LZR Racer hi-tech swimming suit hit the international swimming community during the 2008 Olympics, the world was mesmerised. The inclusion of non-fabric polyurethane panels to reduce drag and give a smoother passage through the water was so unexpected that it caused a lot of controversy.
In combination, the new swimsuit features produced a highly streamlined body shape. The three main innovations were tight compression of the abdomen, more skin cover and non-woven fabric that didn’t absorb water. And the competitors wearing technological swimsuits gained low friction and faster times in international swimming competitions.
But after a lot of heated argument about cheating, many materials and styles were banned in 2010 by the international swimming federation.
Since then swimming suit technology has been forced to change direction. But even so, the market has expanded to include a wide selection of new swimwear fabrics, like Fast skin II and Aquablade, which conform to FINA’s ban on non-woven polyurethane materials.
The newest fabrics are usually based on a Lycra and nylon mix, with welded seams and water-repellent properties, but body compression suits that act as a corset to pull in a soft abdomen are out!
This is because they’re considered to be swimming gear that is a tool that aids swimming, like flippers. And it’s hard to argue with that because it removed the need to work hard on developing strong abs and a naturally streamlined outline in the water.
The question of whether or not the FINA approved high-tech fabrics give a speed advantage is still a subject of great debate. Some manufacturers claim their swim suit technology gives an increase in speed of 3% - 7% and others say their hi-tech fabric reduces drag by as much as 4%.
These may not seem to be big advantages, but when you consider that competitive swimmers are constantly battling to shave off as little as a tenth of a second to break a record, every possible advantage is significant.
So what is best for competitive swimmers and triathlon participants? The main question is whether an expensive high-tech swimsuit is going to pay dividends in increased times. The answer is a definite yes, especially now that the prices have tumbled down to a more affordable cost.
For serious swimmers and triathlon competitors, there’s almost certainly some speed advantage linked with the low friction, close-fitting high-tech swimsuits.
And for folks who swim for fun, a swimsuit price including years of research into aerodynamics isn’t necessary. You won’t get any benefits from a suit with microscopically small, shark-fin shapes incorporated into the fabric! And neither will your teenage kids – so no matter how much they insist that they totally need the latest shark-fin swimming suit technology – stand firm!
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