When it comes to technical suit styles, women can opt for a traditional swimsuit cut or a model with slightly longer legs known as a "kneeskin," "neck-to-knee," or "short john." There are a large number of design features in both styles of suit that can make a difference in your decision. This guide explains how to find a tech suit that has the features that work best for you.
Choosing a Tech Suit Length
Unlike practice suits, technical suits for women come in a variety of leg lengths: From traditional, high-cut legs to legs that extend to the knee.
- Neck-to-knee tech suits provide more surface area of material against the water, especially if the suit's fabric has special water-repelling or hydrodynamic qualities.
- Because tech suits are worn tight over the hip joints, neck-to-knee or short john tech suits can restrict leg movement during breaststroke kicking — breaststrokers and IMers (Individual Medley swimmers) should look for stretchy fabrics that provide the full range of motion in the hip area, or choose a traditional (legless) cut.
- Because of the greater surface area, neck-to-knee suits also increase the effectiveness of compression technology.
- Traditional swimsuit silhouettes are just as popular as neck-to-knee models, and provide full range of leg motion at all times.
Compression in Technical Suits
Compression technology is a recent development in swimsuit fabrics and is now found in most high-end technical suits. Compression knits provide support, improve blood flow, and decrease recovery time.
- Compression fabric is a knit that aids blood flow, pushing oxygenated blood to the muscles that need it most. This reduces fatigue and recovery time between swims in the same session.
- Compression fabrics, because of their tight yet flexible knit, help stabilize muscles during activity.
- Compression suits are an attractive option for open water swimmers, distance swimmers, and swimmers at multi-day meets.
- Your technical suit should also feel tighter and more compressed than a normal practice suit.
Reduced Drag on Technical Suits
Because technical suits are designed to help swimmers move through the water as easily as possible, reducing drag is a priority in all designs. Seam style, suit pattern, and fabric all contribute to the amount of drag on a given suit.
- Seams: Flat or thermo-bonded seam construction keeps seams lying flat against the body. This reduces drag more than traditional seam styles, which stick up more and catch water. Sprinters especially will want to lean towards thermo-bonded seams, since these provide the least possible drag in the water and a seamless transition from fabric to skin.
- Water Repellency: Look for lightweight materials that are water repellent. They are often described as "hydrophobic." Since they absorb less water, these suits don't drag the wearer down.
- Construction materials: Many tech suits will be a combination of polyester, LYCRA™ and spandex, but there are a few fabrics that have been designed specifically for technical racing suits. They use compression, are especially lightweight, and repel water. Some of these fabrics include: Z-Raptor™ fabric, compression knits, and LZR Pulse™ fabric.
Technical Suit Back Styles
Women's technical suits back styles mimic those of practice suits, with a few technological and hydrodynamic tweaks. This means that shoulder straps meet at the center of the back in a V or X shape, and that the lower back of the suit is cut out. Most technical suits have thick straps for support and comfort, and it is important that the straps of the suit back are tight enough to keep the suit fitting properly, but not so tight that they restrict movement. Look for a back style that mimics that of a well-fitting practice suit.
Take Your Time
Once you've selected your tech suit, it's time to put it on. Because technical suits are made specially for racing, their features require extra care and attention. Try not to rush when putting your suit on. Make sure you allow plenty of time between races or before your race to change into it. Tech suits will take significantly longer than a practice suit to put on because of the compression and tighter fit. Swimmers will often bring plastic bags with them to slide the suit over the ankles up to the knee. Avoid digging or pulling on your suit — especially if you have longer nails — as this might cause the fabric to rip or tear.
Things to Consider
If you are wearing your suit for official competition, make sure that the suit is FINA approved since full body suits and certain types of fabric are no longer legal. Remember that tech suits are worn tight to reduce drag. Either try on a suit before you buy it, or measure yourself and look at the online size chart before purchasing. Each technical suit will feel different based on the different types of fabric, compression quality and stretch components. It's important to make sure the physical feel of your tech suit is great in and out of the water.
Lastly, if you are unsure if a tech suit is right for you — because of your skill level or because of the price tag — try one of the lower-end tech suits first. These have many of the features of the top of the line suits, but may not include every drag-reducing detail. As you become more competitive, you can always upgrade to another style or model.