The world of sports goods has caused a great stir. Can these basketball shoes make you jump higher? Can this jersey cut through the wind and make you run faster? Usually, the answer is no. So when Speedo made me stand on his current high-end racing swimsuit, which some prominent Olympians are currently wearing, I didn’t think much of it. After all, the days of full-body “fast suits” are over-these are just shorts. I was already swimming in stretched spandex shorts. How much difference can there really be?
A quite significant difference, as can be seen.
Case for Olympians
The suits I’m talking about are the FastSkin LZR line from Speedo. If this sounds too familiar, it is because in 2008 it was a full-body LZR racer swimwear that accounted for 98% of swimming swim wins and 23 of the 25 world records broken at the Beijing Olympics. It was so rapid that it led people to call it “technical doping” and the following year it was banned from use in competitions. Beginning in 2009, male swimmers could only wear a waist-to-knee suede suit, or less, while female swimmers could wear a shoulder-to-knee suede suit.
The suits I was pitching were FastSkin LZR Pure Intent (Men/WomenAnd Fastskin LZR Pure Semen (Men/Women), Both of which are suits worn by athletes such as Caleb Dressel, Haley Flickinger, Ryan Murphy, Abbey Witzel and others. The Team USA version is sorted like the American flag (although the men’s pure semen looks like their crutches have been redone?), But anyone can buy the non-Old Glory version online
Okay, I’m very “one” when it comes to swimming. I didn’t learn anything about technique until the early 30s, and since 2013 I haven’t been able to swim regularly. I thought I’d be a good proxy for your average, amateur swimmer, so I asked Speedo to send me pure intent, a pair of “jammer” style swim shorts that cost $ 400 (up to $ 600 for the women’s version). Let me go through what happened.
First, a cautionary note about sizing. My waist is about 31 inches, so I looked at the Speedo online size chart and saw that I was 22 sizes. Friends, this was a mistake. Speedo also showed buttocks measurements, which I ignored because I had no idea how big my hips were. I just assumed that we would be fine if the waist was right. We weren’t good. We weren’t very good. The shorts that came in looked like they were made for a kid and I immediately knew we had a problem. These shorts are not as stretchy as the normal old spandex. The result was that I couldn’t pull them off my knees. It was very literally impossible. While no one was there to witness this futile attempt to pull off the shorts, I was deeply embarrassed.
After measuring my hips, I saw that they were 39 inches, which would push me to the 24 size limit! Oops. So, Speedo sent big size. In the meantime, a former swimming friend has reassured me that this exercise makes no sense if I don’t have my legs and chest hair cut. More and more awkward by the minute.
Size 24 came to an end and it still seemed impossibly small. My swimming friend assured me that it was normal, and I had to sneeze, shake and “give me a pinch on the cheek”. It still takes five minutes of very intense wriggling, and it gets stuck several times, both in my hips and my ass. The waistline would dig into my flesh, and it was usually a painful and uncomfortable experience. I ended up happy that I kicked my leg because there was enough hair pull. In hindsight, I should have probably gotten a size 25, although it seems a lot bigger for my waist.
Once I actually turned it on, though, it was right. Not comfortable, but in “OK” it looked like a total guess of how professionals wear it. The suit was sitting low at the waist. It’s a compression suit, and I can really feel pressed. My ass was flatter than I had ever seen. I thought I could barely move, but after the next test I was still fully mobile, so what, let’s swim.
When I jumped into the pond, I could immediately tell that it felt somehow different. When I was swimming, I couldn’t really feel the water where the suit was. It seemed like I was slipping easily through the water, but I knew it could be in my head, so I designed an experiment: I would swim 100 yards, then 200 yards, then another 100 yards, As soon as possible (in a 25-yard pool). First I did this drill on my regular spandex jammers that I have been doing for 10 years, then I stop, have lunch, and repeat the same drill on the LZR pure internet. I knew it gave my old swimsuit an advantage because my arm would be much fresher during my first swim, but I realized that if the $ 400 suit couldn’t make a difference, it was basically a hoax.
Here was my time:
Holy nonsense. I was really prepared to bullshit this whole thing, but it’s statistically significant. More than 12 seconds from my first 100 yards and more than 26 seconds from my 200 yards! Witchcraft! My arms cost too much when I took the second 100-yard swim in the LZR, but it was still more than six seconds faster. I repeated the drills of the same series a few days later, but this time I wore the first LZR Pure Int, and the results were practically the same, except I was even slower in my old shorts during my second set. This was measured with my Garmin Enduro watch, which automatically calculates the laps and their times, although at the end of every second when I paused for a few seconds, we could subtract 3-5 seconds from each, but it seemed pretty much for each set. To be consistent.
I reached out to Speedo after crunching my number and asked if there was magic in these shorts. The response I received was: “The latest FastSkin suits were designed to combine 20 years of performance learning with innovative technology and fabrics, and Speedo works with some of the world’s leading research institutes to study shark offspring and how they reduce drag while swimming. Speedo has collaborated with various partners in these suites, including the Natural History Museum in London and Formula 1.
Umm, the ancestor of sharks? You did 23 and Me in Jaws and somehow made a quick pair of shorts? Okay, I think all that sounds cool, but it doesn’t really tell me much about how the nasty thing works. I’ve reached Speedo again and will update if I hear back.
Here is what I can tell you. When you touch the outside of the suit, it’s not as soft and silky as the spandex, but a bit rough. The website claims that its “shark skin-imitated texture creates micro-curves along the surface of the suit, helps to pull, and encourages forward propulsion,” which could happen again. But the material itself almost feels like a high-end rain-jacket. In fact, when I stuck the suit under a tap, a huge chunk of water was off (where my spandex shorts sucked it). It tells me that the suit has some hydrophobic properties, which actually allows it to slip through the water with less friction.
The waistband is not one, but two silicone bands that not only pull when pulling your body hair, but also keep water from flowing into the suit, where it can slow you down. I also noticed that the suite has a ton of vertical extensions (if you pull from top to bottom), with almost no lateral extensions. I doubt how it achieves compression without limiting the range of motion. The butt-panel has a slightly raised hexagonal pattern, which makes these shorts look very cyberpunk, but I have no idea what I do outside of that.
These shorts look great and really make me swim fast. I am a very rank amateur, so I would doubt that anyone with real training and good form would benefit more. That being said, if you’re not running, having a suit that helps you swim faster isn’t really important. Most of us just swim for fitness, and while you want something that doesn’t slow you down unnecessarily, you’re still going to do good exercise even if you swim in a baggy boardshirt (not that I would recommend it). These shorts (and women’s flower-suits) are made for contestants, full stop. If you’re trying to win a race, either in real swimming or maybe you’re trying to break a personal record, then yes, these $ 400 shorts (or $ 600 suits for women) will definitely help you move faster. That’s why Olympians wear them.
But it’s nice to see that, yes, they can actually help even a very ordinary swimmer go fast.