I recently wrote an article comparing the various styles of body suits used in swimming. It generated so much interest and discussion that I figured I should write about another aspect of swimming where we are faced with major choices: goggles.
Granted, a body suit is a huge investment compared to a simple pair of goggles. We’re talking anywhere between $100 and $300 for a state-of-the-art suit — and between $3 and $30 dollars for a decent pair of goggles. But when you think about how many pairs of goggles it took to find the ONE STYLE that’s right for you — the cost can add up. And when you consider how important a non-leaking, non-fogging pair of goggles is to your comfort and enjoyment, those goggles just might be the most important piece of equipment you own.
Goggles have been a consistent part of our sport for a LONG time — but not THAT long. Prior to 1970, goggles were almost non-existent. And in the 70s, especially if you swam at the U of Tennessee, goggles were just for WIMPS.
In my opinion, goggle design has not made huge strides in the last few decades. Every once in a while, someone comes up with a comfortable goggle that gives GREAT vision and is just sleek enough for use in competitive swimming. A small company in Ohio made some cool goggles a few years back, but other than that, there haven’t been a lot of design breakthroughs. There have been new colors and coatings, slight modifications here and there, but no major revolutions. It still comes down to finding the one style that fits your eye socket and nose bridge in a way that is comfortable and provides good vision. Some will argue that the mask-type goggles have been a major breakthrough. These are wonderful if you wear contacts or if you need goggles that will stay securely in place during a triathlon ocean swim, but mask-style goggles are not for competitive swimming, where streamlining is all-important. You can feel these goggles slow you down, and they can be dangerous if you do a racing start (the large lenses might pop out).
For a competitive swimmer, the most important question to ask about your goggles is: Do they offer good peripheral vision. That is, do they let you see the things around you without turning your head to see them. Most competitive swimmers do not train alone – but typically share a lane with 2 to 7 other people. Most competitive swimmers know that head position, streamlining, straight pushoffs, and finishing fast at the wall are vital to success. Yet in a crowded lane these focus points can go out the window (unless your goggles provide good peripheral vision).
1. Head position is affected if you are constantly lifting the head and looking forward to see what the person in front of you is doing. If you get in the habit of looking forward at practice, the habit will show up when you least want it — at meets.
2. Streamlining requires you to have your head securely locked between your shoulders and your eyes DOWN. If your goggles give you no peripheral vision, you will either never get quite streamlined — or you’ll break streamline sooner than you should.
3. Pushoffs are affected not just because you have to circle swim, but also by your goggles. I’ve seen SO many swimmers introduce a pause in their turns to see if they’re being passed or to check where the person behind them is, prior to initiating the pushoff. If you can’t see the swimmers around you, chances are that you’ll stay to one side prior to the turn. Then, when you push off, your angle is so drastic that you’re not really practicing an effective pushoff. If you can see where other swimmers are, you can enter and exit the turn at a more narrow angle and with no hesitation. This gives you more pro-ductive turns — turns that are more like what you want in a race.
4. Finishing at the walls is so important, but even those swimmers who practice it are affected by having to see exactly WHERE to finish. With limited peripheral vision, we’re back to the problem of head position AND hesitation. If you lift the head to see where to finish, this prevents you from learning your stroke count from the flags in (yes, you need to know this on strokes other than backstroke). It also imprints a hesitation and a slowing down that may show up when you least want it — in a race. The name of the game in racing is to get your hand on the wall.
We all swim in crowded lanes. The trick is learning how to swim smart within those limi-tations. Good peripheral vision is the first step.
That said, I’ll now give you my thoughts on these four pairs of goggles. I’ll start with my least favorite, and move to my most favorite. After 40 years in the sport, I’ve got my opinion, and it’s pretty set…so don’t expect it to change here. Also, please understand that each of these manufacturers has dozens of goggles selections; these just hap-pened to be the ones that are in my swim bag.
The first goggle pictured is from Speedo (Endura Biofuse Goggle). It has a comfortable fit because of the solid, huge gasket that holds in the lens. These goggles are very popular among kids, mostly because they suction so well, and are really comfortable. The trouble I have with them is that, as soon as I put them on, I feel like a racehorse with blinders on. I can’t see my hands when I reach forward, and approaching the wall becomes an act of faith. I don’t want to slam my heels on the wall — or miss it completely – so I lift my head to check exactly where I am. The huge opaque surrounds simply make it tough to see what you need to see. Scouting other bodies in the lane with your head in a good position? For-get about it. Get ready for some major contact, because you really can’t see where anyone else is. Again, please understand that Speedo makes dozens of other styles, many of which do offer good peripheral vision. This is just one style — and there are others who make this style. But no matter who makes them, I just don’t like them for anything concerning performance or training.
The next pair of goggles (Remora II) were give tome by my favorite Nike rep (thanks, Roque). At first I thought, great… more gaskets. If you can’t tell from the paragraph above… I’m NOT a fan of gaskets. I liked how comfortable these were, and was pleasantly surprised with how much I could see. The gasket didn’t seem to block the view. They do, however, have some shaped plastic on the top, which does make it a bit tougher to see every-thing, but the clarity was really good, and they didn’t fog at all (a nice point to remember if you don’t like to use saliva). As you’ll see in a minute, I’m a creature of habit, and while these won’t be my favorites for training, I can honestly say that these will stay in my bag for filming and for just a change of pace. I liked them.
My buddies at TYR (Socket Rockets (TM) 2.0) sent me the next pair, which I liked immediately. First, the blue, slightly mirrored color really brought out the nice tones in my skin, so I figured I looked pretty cool. Second, the gaskets are hardly noticeable. It’s almost like a thin layer of silicone has been painted on a pair of Swedish goggles. The sides are a bit shallower than my usual goggles, so my forward vision is just a BIT limited, but still incredibly good. They fit so well for me that I didn’t need the strap too tight. I’ve been using these a lot lately, and will continue to do so. Comfort and vision, what a nice mix.
Finally, the staples in my bag for YEARS… Swedish goggles, or Swedes. This pair is made by Lane 4 (Finis Rippers), and I’ve got a few of various colors (it’s easy to be a goggle col-lector when these cost like $4 each). Gaskets? Who needs gaskets? These are simply plastic against the skin, and while that seems pretty HARSH, if they fit, you’ll never need another type of goggle as long as you live. These are training, racing, and just plain great goggles. Simple and effective. One pair, with part of the strap cut off and used as the nose piece (as shown in the TYRs), makes for quick adjustments if you tighten the straps for racing, or loosen them for training. Obviously, you can see every-thing with these. I can see the reflection of my hands reaching forward on freestyle or breaststroke. I can see the wall coming in to my turns without lifting my head. I can see shadows of people as I’m coming to the wall. It’s almost silly how simple and effective, and cheap these are. But from what I’ve heard, if they don’t fit your face, you may as well be wearing NAILS! Proper adjustment around the nose is KEY. If you’re off just a bit, you’ll have marks dug in until the next practice. Better wear some glasses if you want to hide those.
Finally, goggle choice is all about personal preference in the feel, look, and ability of the goggles to keep water out. My only advice on goggles is simple: Make sure you can SEE! Not just straight in front but ALL AROUND. Try on friends’ goggles before you settle on a pair for life, and understand that your training, speed, and future in the sport could ultimately be affected by a poor choice in goggles. When you get the right pair, you’ll know it. Once you can see where you’re going, your turns, finishes, and every-thing in between will seem smoother and faster.