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New Suits from an Old Swimmer

A long time ago, in a land not so far away, the belief in swimming was that the SMALLER the suit, the better the performance. Many of us have horror stories of size-26 paper suits, and wanting to swim fast just to get OUT of those stupid things.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE As times change, fortunately, so does technology.

Now, I know these suits have been around for a while, so there’s probably nothing too new here, but seeing that they represent a pretty significant investment, I figured it’d be good to see if they’re REALLY worth it. So, I made a phone call to a friend of mine at TYR, and asked if I could try a few of their suits. Why TYR — since there are so many manufacturers of these cool new suits? OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a huge fan of Olympian’s Steve and Bruce Furniss, and Steve founded TYR. Are they that much better than the other suits? I dunno, I only have so much money to spend on these things, and as you’ll see, this isn’t a cheap comparison…so let’s get started.

First, I wanted to do a fairly scientific test, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be virtually impossible for me to do that. See, I’ve been swimming again for a few months, and each week brings some new things…the ability to go a bit faster, keep moving a bit longer, all that good stuff that comes with getting back in shape. I have been making such rapid gains in the pool (gains are big when you come from where I was at!), that whichever suit was the last one, would certainly be the winner. So, in a very NON-scientific way, I figured I’d do a CRASH run…try all the suits in about 30 minutes, and see how I held up.

Since different suits are recommended for different styles of swimming, I figured I’d go 4 x 25 fast on the :30 — or as close to it as possible because my timer and recorder had to scramble at times to get all the info. And Lord knows, I didn’t want to have to do things TWICE. So, it’s ALMOST a controlled test, but…uh…not really.

The toughest part of the test WASN’T going all those 25s. It was scrambling as fast as possible to get in to and out of the suits. I’d finish the fourth 25, climb out of the pool, and do a controlled speed-walk to the locker room, where I’d turn into a contortionist. These suits are hard enough to put on when you’re dry. When you’re wet, the process feels a lot like playing Twister. I’d come running back out of the locker room SWEATING from hiking up those full-body suits. I’d run over to my friend and meekly ask…"can you zip me, please?"  HONESTLY…THAT’S THE FIRST TIME I’VE EVER ASKED THAT!!!

DESCRIBE THE IMAGE The big decision on the suits was what order to try them in. I figured I’d start with my control — the standard nylon baggy suit I wear every day. We’ll just call all those numbers "n," so some people won’t think I wrote this just so I could post my times, and so others won’t write in and say…MAN are you SLOW! From that point, I figured I’d try the more inexpensive suits first, leaving the high-ticket suits for when fatigue set in. You can see the fatigue in each set as the fly was faster than the free in all except the final set. But hey, if you want $300+ for a suit, it better allow me to swim fast when I CAN’T! 🙂 Finally, I can honestly say that I tried to maintain a consistent level of effort throughout the set. While this can never be accurately portrayed in a test so short, and I’m sure the excitement of having a full body, Mr. Incredible-type suit on, helped me swim a bit faster. Doesn’t that all come in to play when measuring performance?

DESCRIBE THE IMAGESuit #1 – Aqua Shift: Jammer – $130

This is a pretty standard suit, covering the thighs from hips to knees. As I jumped in, it felt good, nothing too special. This is a popular suit because it creates the least amount of restriction (and it’s the least expensive suit). This is the suit I thought I’d like the best. I thought it would allow me to swim like I normally do, and not get so much in my way. Especially for breaststroke, I figured it would help reduce the friction of my leg recovery, and still allow me to feel the bottom half of my legs for the power phase.

Just as I expected, my butterfly was a bit faster in the jammer than in the control suit. Surprisingly, the most improvement came in breaststroke. This suit would, without a doubt, require a shave down on most of the body, which gets tougher and tougher as you get older. It didn’t feel a whole lot different, and it allowed each stroke to feel very familiar. Would I spend $130 for a quick 5% improvement in time? Without a doubt.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGESuit #2 – Aqua Shift: Tight – $160.00
 Long pants in swimming? It was a bit of a chore to put these on when wet (it’s just like putting on panty hose, someone said). It’s best if you dry off a bit, and roll up the pants so you can get your feet as close to the end as possible, then uncoil the pants over your legs, pulling up the material, and making sure there are no gathers, or bunches along the way.

To make sure that I got the full effect, I waited until about 5 seconds before the sendoff to drop into the water. This made it more like a race situation in that the previous set served as a 2nd warm-up, and I was going into a new race. The second I dropped in, I felt the pants were really cool. I had an initial feeling of my legs being really long and slender (immediately I couldn’t wait to see how the FULL body suit felt).

While the fly may not look like it shows much improvement, what I felt IMMEDIATELY upon push off, was the ability to dolphin better than I ever had before. I was really impressed with how the suit made me aware of what my legs were doing. I kinda figured it would hide them, but it did the opposite. The pants made me REALLY aware of how to use my legs better than I ever had. It becomes MUCH more evident on the backstroke. When you flip a breaststroker over onto his back, it’s pretty much the same as what happens to a turtle. But with the ability to dolphin, I actually made a pretty significant drop right away.

I really liked the pants, and felt that I could swim everything the way I was used to, and improved all the times again. While I’ve heard people talk about these suits in reference to breaststroke, I figured it would be harder for me to kick. It wasn’t. I had no problem with the kick and, again, with the underwater dolphin kick now an integral part of the stroke, I really felt like I could get more out of it with the awareness of my legs.

So, 7.5% improvement for $160. I think the real benefits will come the farther you swim in it. I can honestly say, if I could afford it, I would train in these. I love the way they made me feel leaving the walls. Watching all the GREAT swimmers for years, and seeing the way they move off the wall, I honestly felt like I was doing what I see them do. Of course, we all know that feeling it, and doing it are two totally different things. But ya gotta start somewhere.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGESuit #3 – Aqua Shift: Male Zipperback Short John – $220.00
 OK, here we go. I was going to put on the suit that I thought looked like something Johnny Weissmuller wore. I know, the technology is totally different, but the need to ask another swimmer, or friend, to ZIP ME still had me feeling a bit off my game. I DID, however, like the black color, and the suit felt SO tight that I FELT slimmer. I was already wondering if anyone would notice if I kept this on ALL day under my clothes.

I put on the suit, wrestled it up my body, and snuck back on deck looking for an inconspicuous place to get zipped. My Masters friends just HAPPENED to be in a kick set when i walked out and I was greeted to jeers and laughs at my new get up. Mental note: Wear this suit only when OTHER people are also wearing suits like this. Ya kinda stand out if you wear this for everyday training.

I dropped in prior to the send off, and REALLY felt good. Just slipped in, and it was almost like I wanted to pop up again. I liked it already. As I took off on my first 25 of fly, I noticed a bit of constriction on my extension. I didn’t feel all that good — didn’t feel the flow of the legs. When I looked at the time later, I was surprised simply because, overall, I think this one felt the worst overall for fly…at least for me. I think this suit tested the best simply because it’s a really good suit, and I wasn’t so tired yet.

Backstroke felt really good during the swim part, and the feeling of restriction was gone. I guess now I started to realize that I felt like I was shaved down on my chest and back. While it did give me some restriction on fly, it felt GREAT on backstroke. I didn’t get that great feeling of the dolphin kick on the pushoff, but the swimming part was wonderful.

Breaststroke actually felt pretty good. I think the combination of feeling shaved down on the chest and stomach, plus the jammer length, held the kick a bit narrower. This allowed me to kick a bit harder without fear of ripping apart my groin (a common old-guy breaststroke trouble spot). I was starting to get used to this suit, and I didn’t feel the constriction like I did on fly. I liked it for breaststroke.

Freestyle really felt GREAT. I was really amazed at how high I felt in the water, and how easy it was to put more power into the FORWARD pull, rather than trying to lift up to get a breath. This is a great suit in the water. On deck, it has earned the worldwide nickname of "Gut Buster" for its ability to make Masters swimmers look slimmer. Like I said, it does work for more than just swimming, and after 6 days of wear under your clothes, only THEN does it begin to really chafe. The compliments FAR outweigh any discomfort.

So, improvement ranging from 6% to 12% depending on stroke, and an overall improvement of 10% for $220? Man, it’s a bargain.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGESuit #4 – Aqua Shift: Male Zipperback Full Body – $380.00 (Uranium)
 It’s MR. INCREDIBLE (referring to the Pixar movie). The 5th and final round turned out to be the toughest by far. I was getting tired from sprinting for sure, but the costume changes were getting exhausting. This suit proved to be the TOUGHEST by far to get on. I know it would have been far better to be dry, shaved, and NOT so tired, but I had to get this thing on quickly. I was initially worried that I’d take too long and get too much rest. HA. This thing proved so tough to put on that I was sweating as I finally got it on far enough to head back out to the "zipping station."

My fatigue was quickly proven in the fly. Not only was I tired, but also that restrictive feeling was back. I didn’t feel like I was getting everything out of the stroke, but I did have that great feeling of being able to dolphin off the wall again. It seemed the long pants really work with me to help me feel what my legs are doing, and allow me to get more out of my legs. While the time on fly was slower, I think working on the underwater portion without being so tired may prove to be the fastest of the bunch in anything other than a 25.

Back felt great again, and I guess I started to get used to the suit by breaststroke and was able to go my fastest 25 of the day. Trust me, this was no easy feat, as I was getting pretty tired by this point.

Finally, the freestyle. MAN…I liked THIS suit. From the top to the bottom, I felt great. I felt like I was completely shaved down, my body felt high, and my arms were being used ONLY to send me forward. Of all the suits and all the 25s, this combo of suit and stroke yielded the largest improvement of any 25. Almost 15% on one length. Call it what you will — my last length, Sammy Save Up, Sandbagger — whatever. This is a cool suit. Regardless of how long it took me to put it on, no matter how embarrassing it was to be falling around in the locker room, I really liked it.

From what I can see on TYR’s website (and I think they may have updated this suit to only come in a new material) this suit is listing at $380.00. OUCH. I’m thinking, $380 for a suit I can wear only a few times in meets, and is only a TOUCH faster than the Zipperback Short John…is it just too much?

I guess it all depends on what event you’re swimming. If I were a freestyler or backstroker, without a doubt, I’d buy this suit. While the numbers may not play out the way you’d think, I really felt SO much better in this suit, plus it carries the ability to really help you in the underwater dolphins. In anything above a 25, this could be more significant. For fly, in my opinion, it’s going to depend on how much of the underwater dolphin you use. I don’t see a lot of the great swimmers using this type of suit for fly, but for more novice or Masters swimmers, it could still end up being beneficial. For breaststroke, I didn’t feel the restriction I did in fly, and I got a good feeling of being shaved down all over. Again, while this suit may not usually be recommended for breaststroke…I liked it.

DESCRIBE THE IMAGESo, after my Big Test, what suit would I get?
It would depend on the events I planned on swimming. For me, from a feeling standpoint, I loved the long pants. Even though the times indicate the Zipperback Jammer is the best bargain for the performance, I just felt better in the long pants. I think that in the long run, for swims longer than a 25, and for my specific events, the pants would be the best bargain. If I weren’t on a budget, I’d go hog wild and get the Zipperback Full Suit. Even for well over $300, if it means the difference between winning and losing, making a cut or missing a cut, it’s cheap in the long run. If you’re a young swimmer, just check out the cost of college. If you’re a Masters swimmer, just check out the cost of buying your own trophies to pretend you won a meet to your friends at work.

LONG story short, you have to make your own decisions, but I do think these suits will not only help you swim faster, but also will make you MORE aware of what you’re doing in the water. They also reduce the friction and resistance of the water. Be careful to talk to your suit rep about sizing. I think I got pretty lucky with mine. I still went a size tighter than I wear in jeans, and two sizes down from my standard drag suit. This didn’t seem to be a problem at all. I wouldn’t go much smaller, as that could have been the reason I felt restriction in fly, and it could also cause me to sing in a higher voice in the streamline position on ANY stroke. Chose wisely, and I hope this helped.

Thanks to TYR for getting me the suits to try at a good price, and, without a doubt, I highly recommend these products.