The world of sporting goods is rife with hype. Can these basketball shoes make you jump higher? Can this T-shirt cut through the air and make you run faster? Usually the answer is no. So when Speedo offered me their current high-quality racing swimsuit, which is now being worn by some great Olympians, I didn’t think much of it. After all, gone are the days of full body “quick suits” – just shorts. I’ve swam in stretchy spandex shorts before. What difference can there really be?
It turns out to be a pretty significant difference.
Suit for the olympians
I’m talking about Speedo’s Fastskin LZR suits. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because in 2008 it was the LZR Racer full body swimsuit that accounted for 98% of swimming medals and 23 of the 25 world records broken at the Beijing Olympics. It was so fast that people began to call it “technical doping”, and the very next year it was banned from use in competitions. Since 2009, male swimmers can wear suits that cover from the waist to the knee or less, while female swimmers can wear suits that cover the shoulders to the knees.
I was offered Fastskin LZR Pure Intent suits (Male/Female) and Fastskin LZR Pure Valor (Male/Female), both suits are worn by athletes such as Cheleb Dressel, Hali Flickinger, Ryan Murphy, Abby Weitzale and others. The Team USA version is framed like the American flag (although the men’s Pure Valor looks a bit like their crotch has been edited?), But anyone can buy a non-Old Glory version online.
Well, when it comes to swimming, I’m just anyone. I didn’t learn much about technique until I was 30, and I hadn’t been swimming regularly since 2013. I surf quite often, so in theory my swimming muscles should still be half there? I thought I’d be as good a helper for the average recreational swimmer as anyone, so I asked Speedo to send me a Pure Intent, a pair of muffler-style swim shorts that retail for a whopping $ 400 (up to $ 600 dollars apiece). female version). Let me tell you what happened.
First, a caveat about sizing. My waist is about 31 inches, so I looked at Speedo’s online sizing chart and saw that I was in size 22. Friends, that was a mistake. Speedo also showed my hip measurements, which I ignored because I had no idea how big my hips were. I just assumed that if the waist is correct, then everything will be fine. We were not all right. It was not very good for us. The shorts that arrived looked like kids’ shorts and I knew right away that we had a problem. These shorts are also not as stretchy as plain old spandex. As a result, I could not lift them above my knees. It was literally impossible. Despite the fact that no one witnessed this futile attempt to pull on the shorts, I felt very embarrassed.
By measuring my thighs, I found they were 39 inches, which would have forced me to go beyond size 24! Ouch. So Speedo sent in a larger size. In the meantime, my ex-swimmer convinced me that if I didn’t buzz the hair on my legs and chest, there was no point in this exercise. More and more uncomfortable by the minute.
Finally there was a size 24 that still felt incredibly small. My swimmer friend assured me that it was okay and that I would need to shake, squirm and “pinch my cheeks”. It still took five minutes of very intense bending and it got stuck several times on both my thighs and buttocks. The waistline dug into my flesh, and overall it was painful and unpleasant. In the end, I was glad that my legs were buzzing, because pulling my hair out was enough anyway. In hindsight, I should probably have gotten a size 25, even though it seemed too big for my waist.
However, once I put it on, everything looked right. Not comfortable, but “correct” in the sense that it looked like a rough approximation of how the professionals would wear it. The suit sat low at the waist. This is a compression suit and I really feel the compression. My ass is flatter than I’ve ever seen. I felt like I could barely move, but on further inspection I still had a full range of motion, so damn it, let’s go swimming.
When I jumped into the pool, I immediately realized that I felt differently. When I was swimming, I could not feel the water the way the spacesuit was. I thought it was easier for me to slide on water, but I knew it might be in my head, so I devised a test: I swim 100 yards, then 200 yards, then another 100 yards. as fast as I could (in a 25 yard pool). I first did this exercise in my regular spandex mufflers that I had for 10 years, then I stopped, dined and repeated the same exercise in the LZR Pure Intent. I knew this gave my old swimsuit an edge because my hands would be much fresher on my maiden voyage, but I figured if the $ 400 suit didn’t make up for the difference, then it was essentially a scam.
These were my times:
Holy shit. I really was ready to call it all bullshit, but it’s statistically significant. Over 12 seconds from my first 100 yards and over 26 seconds from my 200 yards! Witchcraft! By the time I did my second 100-yard swim in the LZR, my arms were very much depleted, but it was still over six seconds faster. I repeated the same set of exercises a couple of days later, but this time wearing the LZR Pure Intent first, and the results were pretty much the same except that in the second set I was even slower in my old shorts. This was measured using my Garmin Enduro watch, which automatically counts laps and lap times, although it fluctuated for a few seconds every time I stopped at the end of a set, so we can subtract 3-5 seconds from each, but it seemed to be pretty consistent for each set.
After counting my numbers, I turned to Speedo and asked what magic was in these shorts. I got the answer: “The latest Fastskin suits have been developed by combining 20 years of experience with innovative technology and fabrics, and Speedo has worked with some of the world’s leading research institutes to study the origins of sharks and how they reduce swimming drag. … Speedo has also collaborated with various partners, including the Natural History Museum in London and Formula 1, on these suits. ”
Umm, the lineage of sharks? Did you do 23 and Me on Jaws and somehow do some quick shorts? Okay, I think this all sounds cool, but it really doesn’t tell me much about how this damn thing actually works. I have contacted Speedo again and will let you know if I get a response.
Here’s what I can tell you. When you touch the outside of the suit, it’s not soft and silky like spandex, but rather a bit rough. The website claims that its “shark-skin texture creates micro-vortices along the surface of the suit, helping to reduce drag and encouraging forward movement,” which, again, is possible. But the material itself is more like a high-end raincoat. Indeed, when I tucked the suit under the faucet, the vast majority of the water spilled out immediately (whereas my spandex shorts soaked it up). This tells me that the suit has some hydrophobic properties that actually allow it to glide through the water with less friction.
There are not one, but two silicone bands on the belt that not only pulls on body hair when you try to pull it on, but also prevents water from getting inside the suit, which can really slow you down. I also noticed that the suit stretches a lot vertically (if pulled from top to bottom), but hardly stretches at the sides. I suspect this is how compression is achieved without limiting the range of motion. There is a slightly raised hexagonal pattern on the gluteal panel which makes these shorts very cyberpunk, but I really have no idea what they do other than that.
These shorts look cool and really made me swim faster. I am a very experienced hobbyist, so I suspect that someone with real training and good form will have an even bigger advantage. That being said, if you’re not racing, then a suit that helps you swim faster isn’t really that important. Most of us just swim for fitness, and while you need something that doesn’t slow you down unnecessarily, you’ll still get a good workout even if you’re swimming in baggy shorts (although I wouldn’t recommend it). … These shorts (and the women’s full suit) are made for athletes, period. If you’re trying to win races, whether it’s an actual swimming competition or maybe you’re just obsessed with trying to break personal records, then yes, these $ 400 shorts (or a $ 600 suit for women) will definitely help you go faster. This is why the Olympians wear them.
But it’s great to see that yes, they can really help the average swimmer go faster.