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Over the past decade or so competitive swimmers from all levels have been turning to new and innovative technical swimsuits, also known as tech suits, to enhance their performance and speed in the pool. But the question of whether these tech suits make a difference or not still seem to arise every now and then, especially among swimmers picking up their first suit, or those wondering whether or not it is worth their money.
In this article, we will be taking an in-depth look into whether or not tech suits make a difference in your swimming performance and if they can help you to swim faster and gain an edge on the competition. We will take a look at a number of scientific studies by big research centers and journals as well as taking a look into the past to see what happened in swimming once these suits were first introduced.
In short- Yes, tech suits do make a difference. Tech suits are designed to enhance physical performance in the water. They can increase blood flow through muscles, connect important muscle groups, increase power, and reduce drag. All of this adds up to give you a competitive advantage in the water.
Now that you know the short and sweet answer, I recommend sticking around to gain a more in-depth look into the science behind these suits and how they are designed to make a difference in your swimming speed. In the end, I’ll also give you recommendations for some of the best suits for each event and for swimmers from different levels.
Do tech suits make a difference? Looking at the science.
To kick things off, we’ll be going through a couple of studies that investigated whether or not tech suits really do make a difference in swimming performance so that we can get the cold hard facts- not from me, but from science.
The first study 1 Chatard, J. and Wilson, B., 2008. Effect Of Fastskin Suits On Performance, Drag, And Energy Cost Of Swimming. [online] Pdfs.semanticscholar.org. Available here. we are looking at was published by the Journal Of The American College Of Sports Medicine. The study showed findings of significant improvements in swimming performance when wearing a fastskin tech suit. An average performance benefit of 3.2% was recorded when compared to standard training suits.
Further findings by the study suggests that tech suits were able to reduce drag by approximately 4.4% to 6.2% while also greatly reducing the energy cost of swimming by about 4.5% to 5.5%.
The study concluded that tech suits were able to significantly reduce passive drag, resulting in a decrease in the energy cost of swimming and an increase in distance per stroke and stroke rate ultimately leading to faster swimming performances.
Another study 2Issurin, V., Pushkar-Verbitsky, V. and Verbitsky, V., 2014. Effect Of High-Tech Swimsuits On The Swimming Performance In Top-Level Swimmers. [online] s3.amazonaws.com. Available here. published by the Journal Of Sports Medicine And Physical Fitness also found positive results on swimming performance when wearing tech suits. In total 91 professional swimmers that competed either at the 2009 World Swimming Championships (before the full suit ban) or at the 2011 World Swimming Championships (after the ban), took part in the study.
The study mainly investigated shorter distances and all the swimmers took part in four 50m sprint events consisting of freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. The strokes were also organized into high resistance strokes (HRS, consisting of butterfly and breaststroke) and low resistance strokes (LRS, consisting of freestyle and backstroke).
The study concluded that tech suits were able to significantly improve swimming times with an average improvement of 0,4 seconds in the high resistance strokes and 0.52 seconds in the low resistance strokes. This might not seem like much, but considering that these are professional swimmers and that we are only looking at short 50m sprints, that is actually a very big improvement.
The last study 3 Marinho, D., Mantha, V., Vilas-Boas, J., Ramos, R., Machado, L., Ilah Rouboa, A. and Silva, A., 2012. Effect Of Wearing A Swimsuit On Hydrodynamic Drag Of Swimmer. [online] Scielo.br. Available here. we’ll be discussing was published by the Brazilian Archives Of Biology And Technology and investigated the effect of wearing a tech suit on hydrodynamic drag in the water. This study concluded that tech suits presented performance-enhancing characteristics when compared to wearing no swimsuit (only light underwear).
Something interesting that this study also looked at was the difference between modern tech suits and the banned tech suits. The study found evidence that the modern suits presented similar hydrodynamic advantages when compared to the banned tech suits, but the results were, however slightly lower.
What history has to say about tech suits in swimming: Going back in time.
Before we have a look at some of the more ‘technical’ aspects of tech suits and how they are designed to improve your performance in the water, we are first going to go back in time and take a look at what happened when these suits were introduced into the world of competitive swimming for the first time. (just in case you are still doubtful, even after the science).
In the summer of 2009 at the World Aquatic Championships in Rome, something extraordinary happened in the world of competitive swimming. Over 43 world records were smashed over the course of a week. Something seen never before and after that.
But how? How was it possible? Well, it was no longer just technique, training, and hard work that were winning the medals. There was a new element in the equation- tech suits. As an example, we can look at the 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps who was single-handedly being beaten because he wasn’t wearing one of the new, fancy technical swimsuits.
Needless to say, after Phelps got his hands on his own tech suit he also started breaking world records left right and center along with the rest of the field. One of the most famous world records is his 49.82 100 fly, which was recently taken down to a 49.50 by the new world record holder- Caeleb Dressel.
After that swim meet, FINA banned a lot of the suits and submitted an approved list of suits that limited sizes and materials. Men were no longer allowed to wear full bodysuits. And since then very few swimmers have been able to come near Phelps’s 100 fly world record (up until the recent rise of Caeleb Dresell of course). Most professional 100 fly swimmers average 51-52 seconds for the 100m butterfly event.
Another example is Paul Biedermann’s 200m freestyle world record. He dropped 4 full seconds off his best time in less than 12 months after slapping on one of the full-body tech suits to swim a time of 1:42. A world record that still stands to this day. Most age group swimmers would go crazy if they were able to drop 4 seconds in a year, not even to talk about a professional swimmer.
Here’s a little video of that race-
Since then the effects of these tech suits have become slightly reduced due to certain regulations imposed by FINA, but as the research shows, these suits are still completely capable of enhancing performance in the pool.
How do tech suits make you faster? Taking a look at the technical aspects of tech suits.
Now that we’ve seen how tech suits can have a significant impact on performance in the pool. We are going to have a look at how these suits are actually designed to be able to do that-
Performance: Tech suits provide muscular compression.
Compression is arguably one of the most important aspects of a tech suit. A tech suit with good compression built into its design can significantly increase performance in the water.
Muscular compression increases muscle activation and efficiency by allowing blood to circulate through your muscles at faster rates. Blood contains important molecules like oxygen and vital nutrients. Blood also plays an important role in removing carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and other toxins that can be detrimental to speed in the water.
So due to the increased blood flow, your body is able to resupply oxygen and nutrients to your muscles more efficiently, all while removing lactic acid and other toxins at a faster rate. This will ultimately help you to swim faster over the course of a race by reducing fatigue and improving power.
Speed: Tech suits improve stroke rate and stroke length.
Secondly, tech suits are able to improve a swimmer’s stroke rate and stroke length in the pool. This will ultimately help you to swim faster and more efficiently, setting you one step closer to whatever your goal in the pool may be. This was verified by yet again another study 4Chollet, D., Chavallard, F., Seifert, L. and Lemaitre, F., n.d. Do Fastskin Swimsuits Influence Coordination In Front Crawl Swimming And Glide?. [online] Iat.uni-leipzig.de. Available here. published by the Faculty of Sport Sciences at the University Of Rouen in France.
During the study 15 elite french swimmers were tested to determine the effects of tech suits on buoyancy, passive torque, glide, and arm coordination when compared to standard training suits.
The study found that tech suits were able to effectively create conditions for lower resistance in the pool while swimmers also experienced longer gliding phases and improved efficiency, leading to an improved stroke rate and stroke length.
Power: Tech suits link important muscle groups to increase power exertion.
Most tech suits contain some type of technology that connects muscle groups together. Some suits are designed and weaved in such a way to connect muscle groups, while others (especially newer suits) use carbon bands and internal muscle taping to attach muscle groups and increase power.
This will allow you to have a higher power output since your muscles will now be able to work together more efficiently. The way the taping is strategically placed in the majority of the suits will also allow muscles to be pulled in certain directions faster which yet again enhances performance.
For example, during the breaststroke kick, the taping will help you to pull your legs up to your glutes faster and then to execute a more powerful kick which creates a fast snapback effect in the water.
Construction: Tech suits are designed to be as light as possible.
Another way tech suits enhance physical performance in the water is by using ultra-lightweight materials and designs. Although, having a slightly lighter weight may not have the biggest performance-enhancing benefits it can still certainly help.
Some tech suits use less material and have a thinner, but lighter design. While other suits might have a denser design, but they contain lightweight materials like carbon fiber. A good example of such a suit comes from Arena.
The Arena Carbon Air and Carbon Air 2 are some of the lightest tech suits currently available. Arena claims that these suits are 30% lighter when compared to some other racing suits. The Carbon Air suits are quite thin, but provide outstanding features, compression and of course weight.
Personally, I really like the Arena Carbon Air suits, the Carbon Air 2 is the newer variation and has been upgraded for better features. The original Carbon Air was discontinued and the Air 2 is now being sold at the price of the old Arena Carbon Air, you can check it out on SwimOutlet by clicking here if you’d like to.
Drag reduction: tech suits use water-repelling fabric to decrease drag.
Most tech suits are manufactured by directly using water-repelling fabric combined with some other materials, whereas some slightly lower-end suits use a water-repelling coating.
The fact of the matter is that the suits are designed in such a way to decrease water saturation. This will help the suits to stay light when you are in the water as well as decrease drag by creating a frictionless surface that slides through the water.
The fact that the suits are water-repellent will also keep them light and will stop them from creating additional drag that can weigh you down when swimming like a lot of training suits do.
You can easily test this by jumping into a pool while wearing your normal drag suit. When you get out the suit will be sopping wet and heavy because it absorbs water relatively fast. But if you jump into a pool wearing a tech suit it will still be relatively light and a lot of the time even dry when you get back out.
Drag reduction: Tech suits are almost completely seamless to decrease drag.
You have most likely heard brands like Arena, Speedo, and TYR using terms like powerskin and second skin when referring to their tech suits. This is because these suits are so smooth and fit so tightly that they are almost like a second layer of technological skin.
These suits aren’t just so smooth for any reason either. They try to eliminate seams and any other part that may cause drag in the water. This will allow you to swim with less resistance, ultimately allowing you to swim faster.
Interested in a tech suit? Find the best for your swimming event and stroke-
- 15 Best tech suits for every event and swimmer.
- Best tech suits for butterfly swimmers.
- Best tech suits for backstroke swimmers.
- Best tech suits for breaststroke swimmers.
- Best tech suits for freestyle swimmers.
- Best tech suits for IM.
Tech suit psychology: The mental benefits of tech suits.
Now that we have covered how tech suits are designed to make a physical difference. We are going to look at another way they can help you to swim faster and it has to do with our psychology as humans.
Take a look at this famous quote here for a second-
Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re probably right-Henry Ford.
Believing that you have done everything you can to prepare for your race is an important aspect of swimming fast. And if you believe that your tech suits can help you perform better, then it probably will, as crazy as that sounds.
Tech suits can provide you with a sense of confidence, readiness, and belief. If you ask any swimmer who has worn a tech suit about how it made them feel they are most likely going to tell you that it made them feel faster and more confident in the water. (even if it didn’t).
The fact of the matter is that tech suits will make you feel confident and ready to swim fast. In my opinion (and many other top coaches’ around the globe), mental confidence that you are able to swim fast is ridiculously important.
Why? Because like Henry said if you believe you can’t, you’re probably right. Putting this into a swimming perspective- if you believe you can’t swim fast, then you are probably right and you won’t swim fast. But if you believe you can swim fast, then you will most likely swim a good time. It’s all in your mind.
On top of that, putting on a tech suit is like a mental trigger telling your body it is race time. Once you’ve worn a tech suit a few times your body will subconsciously go into race mode and it can ultimately enhance performance in the water.
What are the best tech suits? My top 5 picks for swimmers of all levels-
Now that you know that these suits can actually make a difference and allow you to swim faster, you might be wondering- Well, what is a good tech suit for me? There are many great options out there, but below I’ll list a few of my favorite suits, what events they are for, and why you should consider them.
<-Scroll to view full table on mobile->
|Tech suit||Recommended events||Material Composition||View latest price on SwimOutlet|
|Arena Carbon Air 2||All events- sprinting, middle-distance, long distance||65% polyamide, 34% elastane and 1% carbon fiber||>View latest price|
|TYR Venzo||Sprint events, 200’s, and IM, all strokes||70% nylon, 30% lycra||>View latest price|
|Speedo LZR Pure Intent||Sprint events, 200’s, and IM, all strokes||66% polyamide, 34% elastane||>View latest price|
|Arena Carbon Glide||Middle- and Long distance events||65% polyamide, 34% elastane, 1% carbon fiber||>View latest price|
|Finis Fuse (budget suit)||All events||71% polyamide, 29% elastane||>View latest price|
1. Arena Carbon Air 2
The Arena Carbon Air 2 is one of Arena’s newest and most innovative tech suits. It’s a super lightweight suit with a really comfortable fit, good muscle compression, and a ton of features. In my opinion, this is one of the best suits to go with since it is so versatile.
You can swim practically any event with this suit, including sprints, middle-distance events, as well as long-distance events. It also works great with all the strokes, although I do think the TYR Venzo or Speedo LZR Pure Intent would be a better option for breaststroke swimmers.
Overall, definitely one of the best tech suits, especially for swimmers who swim a wide array of events. The pricing on the suit isn’t bad either with the suit coming in at a lower price than a lot of the other high-end tech suits.
Features and benefits of the Arena Carbon Air 2 tech suit-
- The Carbon Air 2 has a single fabric construction, this reduces drag by removing the side seams on the suit. It also decreases water absorption, increases comfort and makes the suit easier to put on.
- Carbon bands in the suit allow for comfortable and intelligent muscle compression. They attach to important stretch points to provide compression on overextended zones, improve core stability and enhance power when required.
- The Arena Carbon Air 2 allows for a greater range of motion. The internal lining is made up out of 3 different panels to allow for increased freedom of movement.
- The suit is very versatile allowing it to be used on a wide range of events ranging from short 50 sprints all the way to long 1500 and mile swims.
- Highly water-resistant fabric reduces your drag in the water and optimized your hydrodynamics to ensure that you can swim as fast as possible.
- The Air 2 has an ultra-lightweight design with a material composition of 65% Polyamide, 34% Elastane and 1% Carbon Fiber to ensure you stay light and agile while racing. It’s currently the lightest tech suit available.
- The suit is slightly see-through due to the thin fabric used for the light design.
- The Air 2 doesn’t have the best buoyancy.
2. TYR Venzo
The TYR Venzo is one of the best and most innovative sprinting tech suits currently available. The compression on this suits is really good and so is the water repellency. The Venzo is loaded with a lot of awesome features and is one of the most durable tech suits I’ve ever owned.
The suit can be used for any stroke and is designed for events in the 50 to 200 range, including the 200 IM. The TYR Venzo features a frictionless fiber construction allowing you to swim with minimal resistance and maximum speed while the endo compression cage keeps muscles primed to swim fast.
All in all, definitely one of the best and coolest looking tech suits out there. I highly recommend this suit is you specialize in events ranging from 50 to 200.
Features and benefits of the TYR Venzo tech suit-
- The TYR Venzo has a frictionless fiber construction. The TYR team has analyzed drag on a microscopic level to design a suit that utilizes ultra-smooth fiber, allowing for a frictionless and durable fabric that will reduce your resistance in the water.
- Surface lift technology in the suit stops water from permeating the fabric of the tech suit, ultimately resulting in a higher body position in the water. This can reduce resistance and help you to swim faster.
- The TYR Venzo contains an endo compression cage. This forms a flexible and compressive cage of support for the abdominals, obliques, and quadriceps and creates a snapback effect that increases distance per stroke, resulting in faster swimming times.
- Seamless Exo shell design is aimed at streamlining body position while decreasing drag for maximized performance.
- The lightweight material composition of 70% nylon and 30% lycra allows for lower drag, increased agility, comfort, and ideal swimming performance.
- Durable fabrics allow the suit to retain critical features like compression and water-repellency for longer. This keeps your suit fresh and saves you from purchasing a new suit earlier on.
- The jammer is available in both a high- and standard waist variation, while women’s suits are available in open- and closed-back variations.
- External seams are slightly bulky.
- High price point.
3. Speedo LZR Pure Intent
The Speedo LZR Pure Intent is one of Speedo’s newest and most innovative tech suits to date. This suit takes what Speedo has achieved with its popular Speedo LZR Racer X tech suit and improves on it to deliver a feature-packed racing suit.
Like the Venzo this is a great tech suit for anyone specializing in the shorter events ranging from 50 to 200 with the 200 IM also included. This suit makes a great fit for all of the strokes and allows for unrestricted movement while providing great compression, drag reduction, and other great performance-enhancing features.
Overall, a great high-end tech suit for sprinters. Both the Venzo and Pure Intent are really good and I recommend going with whichever suit you like most.
Features and benefits of the Speedo Pure Intent tech suit-
- The Speedo LZR Pure Intent has dual compression layers in its design, this will allow for intelligent muscle compression, ultimately enhancing blood flow to muscles which will help you to swim faster.
- The suit also has an ergonomic seam construction, when this is combined with the dual compression layers it allows the suit to connect your critical muscle groups for an increased power output while racing.
- The LZR Pure Intent has a triple fabric construction with bonded seams, allowing the swimmer to have a greater range of motion in the water so that you’re able to generate maximal power no matter what stroke you are swimming.
- Textured fabric zones in the suit target drag reduction for enhanced swimming performances and more gold medals.
- New band technology in the Speedo Pure Intent allows for a powerful leg kick while racing, this helps you to swim faster by maximizing the speed from your legs.
- The suit has a premium waistband engineered to reduce water ingress, ultimately reducing drag and resistance and helping you to swim faster.
- Durable and light-weight construction with a 66% polyamide and 34% elastane composition keeps you light and agile in the water, ensuring peak racing speeds.
- The jammer is available in a high-waist and standard-waist variation, while the women’s suits are available in open-back and closed-back variations, allowing you to choose the style you prefer.
- High price point, this is one of the most expensive tech suits available.
- Leaking at the back, on jammers, if you don’t put the suit on properly.
- The waistband is a bit tight for some swimmers.
4. Arena Carbon Glide
The Arena Carbon Glide is another one of Arena’s most recent and innovative tech suits and is packed with some great features and technology engineered to improve your swimming performances.
The Arena Carbon Glide is my go to tech suit for distance swimmers, due to its lightweight design that will allow you to stay agile and fast in the water while its intelligent carbon cage technology provides comfortable and strong muscle compression to ensure optimal muscle activation and performance.
The suit is also designed to ensure optimal range of motion in all directions and is super comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Further, the suit features hydro-glide technology which effectively reduces resistance and allows for much faster swimming times over the course of a long distance event.
Features and benefits of the Arean Carbon Glide tech suit-
- Ultra-light hydroglide shell effectively reduces your drag while swimming, allowing you to swim faster resulting in more gold medals and best times.
- Intelligently positioned carbon grid technology and internal taping help to compress and activate your muscles while adding support and optimizing your body position. This allows you to reach and maintain your peak swim speed in no time.
- Highly water-resistant fabric reduces your drag in the water and allows you to stay light and swim faster.
- Carbon extreme cage is a tight grid surrounding important muscle groups in your body, allowing for strong compression with a lightweight feel. This allows you to stay light and agile while providing optimal muscle support and increasing blood circulation for more oxygen.
- Internal taping of the suit increases comfort and allows the suit to be worn for long periods of time without restricting blood circulation or freedom of movement.
- The suit is designed to allow an optimized range of motion while swimming, resulting in maximal power exertion, helping you to swim as fast as possible.
- The durable and lightweight material composition of 65% polyamide, 34% elastane, and 1% carbon fiber helps the suit to retain its features for longer, ultimately saving you money.
- Expensive price point.
- It doesn’t have the best snapback effect.
5. Finis Fuse- Top budget pick
All of the suits that I’ve listed above are high-end, top of the range tech suits and unfortunately, with that, there comes a high price point. But fear not, for there are some great budget options out there that still make a good fit for pretty much all of the strokes and events with my favorite being the Finis Fuse tech suit.
The Finis Fuse is by far one of the best value for money tech suit out there. It packs some really solid features and comes in roughly 3 to 4 times cheaper than the majority of the flagship tech suits on the market.
The suit features good muscle compression, allows for unrestricted range of motion, has decent water-repellency, and also a durable design. All in all, a really solid tech suit coming in at a very affordable price.
If you are interested in some more budget tech suits consider reading my article on the best budget tech suits for swimmers.
Features and benefits of the Finis Fuse tech suit-
- Flexible muscle compression allows for a full range of motion on every stroke and kick, ensuring maximal power output and making the suit usable for a wide range of events.
- Bonded seams combined with a double panel construction reduces drag and improves speed in the water.
- Water-repellent technology ensures a reduction in drag and turbulence while racing and optimizes your speed, helping you to crush that record or best time.
- Compression technology allows for high-levels of muscle compression with resilient elasticity built-in. This enhances blood circulation, increases muscle activation, and ultimately helps you to swim faster.
- Silicone watertight edges ensure a comfortable, secure, and water-tight fit while wearing, ultimately reducing drag and optimizing your swimming speed.
- High-quality fabric with a material composition on 71% polyamide and 29% elastane provides you with a durable and light tech suit.
- Budget price makes the suit one of the best value for money tech suits available.
- The suit doesn’t come with a carrying pouch.
- It can take a while to put on.
I think it’s clear that tech suits can make a difference in physical performance and speed in the pool. Just look at the results from numerous studies and take the 2009 World Aquatic Games as an example where over 43 world records were shattered in a single week!
It’s still important to mention that these tech suits only improve what you have already worked for. They aren’t somehow going to magically make up for you skipping training or not working on stroke technique. Yes, they can make a difference, but only up to a certain point.
With that said, if you found this article helpful and would like to read some more swimming content, consider checking out my blog. Anyway, guess I’ll see you around!