WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THESE DEVICES:
EMERGING KNOWLEDGE AND CONCERNS ABOUT THE USE OF "CONDOM" SUITS
It is possible that these suits are an advertising hoax, and really do not enhance performance. Below are some observations. These features have been compiled since August, 1999.
Why would simulated shark skin be simultaneously appropriate for a much faster yacht and a much slower swimmer? It is true that sharks sidle around in the ocean at a slow speed using little energy, but when it comes to a matter of survival (e.g., chasing food, or escaping an orca), a shark needs every advantage. In those circumstances, the shark has to swim fast, much faster than a human, its speeds up there with, and faster than the yachts. Its skin is textured to accommodate that important need.
To decide on an artificial surface that mimics the natural aquatic world, and would be best for humans, it is necessary to look for an animal that moves at a "survival speed" that matches a human's survival speed (sprint swimming). To analogize a shark in water with humans in water is incorrect. Some other, much slower animal of a similar size would be appropriate. Few such animals exist (e.g., dugong, manatee, but even they might be too fast at a pinch).
Consequently, Speedo's "Fastskin" condom suit is made of an inappropriately textured fabric for human swimming speeds. Other considerations, as well as mimicking a truly equivalent beast's epidermis, also have to be considered. Could this be yet another Speedo advertising ploy to suck $600 out of a swimmer as opposed to $40?
SYDNEY, May 19 AAP - Geoff Huegill and Michael Klim are more worried about their full-length swimming bodysuits splitting than any splits on whether they should be allowed to wear them.
Huegill and Klim voiced their concerns about the aesthetic figure cut by the suits as they stood on the blocks before a race.
"My suits are pretty small and I tried to pull it up because I don't like having the sort of 20 cent coin slot hanging out the back," Huegill said after winning the 100m butterfly final.
"It's not the best sort of feel or look."
"I'm a bit worried that someone's going to start throwing money from the grandstand, it's a bit like tiddlywinks."
Klim said he was worried that his suits would split open as he preferred to wear them tight.
"It's known to happen," he said.
"I actually broke the zipper on my suit before the 100 freestyle and it's not a very reassuring thing when you've got 20 minutes to the race and you're scavenging around in your bag looking for a suit."
Klim said he expected to wear a new $600 suit for each race at the Olympics.
O'Neill bettered Meagher's 200metres butterfly mark last week in a costume cut off at the shoulders and knees to avoid aspersions being cast on her achievement.
She wore a similar suit when she won a gold medal in that event at the Atlanta Olympics.
"I didn't want people to think the suit swam two minutes five seconds, but it was also that I didn't want to think it, either," O'Neill said.
Neck-to-ankle suits are less helpful to butterfly swimmers than freestylers such as Ian Thorpe, but O'Neill plans to squeeze into one in September anyway.
"They take a bit of getting used to; they're very tight around the chest and can make it hard to breathe," she said.
"I didn't think it was the right thing to do to wear one at the trials but now they're over, I may as well experiment and get the fastest suit I can. It wouldn't make sense not to for the Olympics."
There does not appear to be any benefit to wearing these suits. Any benefits will be restricted to the peculiarities of some individuals. For every swimmer that derives a benefit, there will be a least one, and probably more, who slows because of their invasiveness on the swimming experience. Too many swimmers recorded inconsistent results at the Australian Olympic trials to justify any attribution of benefit to full-body suits.
There was no universal 3% improvement in performance derived from these items as Speedo claimed in its advertising hype. The magnitude of any effect they and Adidas Body Equipment might have, is grossly inflated, and then it only occurs in isolated cases. The improvement in "overall depth" of swimming performances at these trials was what should be expected of Australian swimmers competing for selection in "their" Games. No performance improvement impact of a general nature at these trials can be attributed to the advent of these suits.
As hypothesized in September, 1999 [see point #4 above], these full-body-arms-leg suits fail because they interfere with, and cause a loss of, "feel" of the water, due to the skin being covered. The full versions have been rejected by most swimmers. It is important for swimmers to sense the water for propulsion, particularly when the forearm and part of the upper arm contribute to more of it than the always-exposed hand. As well, the position of the torso indicates to the swimmer the streamlining of the major load in the propulsive task. Pressure on the shoulders and flow over the chest and sides, are the senses that serve as the "speedometer" used by most swimmers. To cover these sensitive areas, is to take the swimmer out of the aquatic interface. To not understand this, demonstrates the incompetence of the designers of these suits and the marketing "whizzes" who seem to have pushed this idea. One is set to opine that improvements in swimming will come from practitioners and scientists, not corporate marketing offices.
The "feel" hypothesis is supported by breaststrokers. It is the stroke that requires as much feel in the legs as it does in the arms and upper body. Even though the US swimmer Ed Moses, uses a sleeveless neck-to-ankle Speedo, the overwhelming majority of breaststrokers prefer the true skin-to-water interface to its removal by an artificial covering. TO TAKE THE FEEL OUT OF SWIMMING IS NOT AN AVENUE FOR IMPROVING PERFORMANCE!
Swimmers at the Australian Olympic Trials did employ the variations of the new suits. It quickly became evident that, in particular, males preferred suits that only covered part of the legs. Bare tops and arms became more evident as the trials progressed. Some swimmers even "tailored" their own suits by removing the arm and shoulder joint portions. On the other hand, females had to have covered tops but they too elected to swim with bare, rather than covered, arms. Many females preferred the thigh-only covering to the waist-to-ankle suits.
Swimmer preferences were influenced by the belief or pressure to use a new suit. The manufacturers' hype before the meet was unprecedented. It is still debatable as to what advantage, if any, exists with these devices or pieces of equipment. One thing though is certain: the profit line of the swimming apparel companies improves when these suits are purchased rather than an "older" form of swimming briefs.
[The Carliles attempted to discern suit use at the Australian Olympic Trials, a task that was extremely difficult from the stands in the huge Sydney aquatorium.]
"If there is any difference between the bodysuits, and all their variations in cover and fabrics, and the standard suits (old briefs and the Atlanta "Aquablade"), we are convinced that it will depend on how well the suit is fitted and the type of suit worn -- and possibly on other factors as well -- (the stroke swum, the swimmer's shape, etc.).
In these Australian Olympic Trials, swimmers changed in their preferences as the meet progressed. Obvious trends emerged with each succeeding day. This is what we observed.
- Approximately 80% of breaststroke finalists wore standard suits.
- Backstroke and butterfly men gravitated to waist to ankles, and to a lesser degree, waist to knees, only. This included Michael Klim who was the walking Speedo advertisement for complete cover (the most expensive suits).
I believe Speedo and the other companies will be "burned" with their arms-covered suits -- the swimmers (rightfully no doubt) have rejected the "gripper" fabric on the arms. It is just a bad idea."
Communication from One of Swimming's All-time Greats (May 30, 2000)
"I thoroughly enjoyed the swim trials and meeting swimmers, coaches, and old friends. I have in my possession and have tried both the Adidas and Speedo full suits. I will return them to the person who loaned them to me after doing more "tests" this week.
Comments About Them
- Easy to put on like a wetsuit, or stockings.
- Speedovery firm around stomach, thighs, and bottom (I am 67 kg), need help to zip it up.
- Speedosuit gave me a rash on the side of my neck after 3 km and rubbed raw at the top of zipper by the end of a 4.3k swim.
- I did a 29.2 for 50 freestyle with a dive start at the end of 4 km. That was equal to my best current time.
- The sleeves felt like they were restricting my over arm actions. It felt like my elbows were being pulled down from a high recovery. Sore muscles across shoulder blades the next day -- different spot to normal.
- Nearly impossible to do breaststroke, not because of the groin but because of floatation! I was pushing hard against buoyancy to go down into the water. I have worn wetsuits, spring suits (short arms short legs), and steamers (long arms long legs) in 2-mm to 4-mm thickness and it is the same feel of buoyancy in these long swimsuits.
- My 12-year-old niece, who swims 7 times per week (40k plus per week), also tried the Adidas suit (a smaller size than mine) and said the same about buoyancy and shoulder restrictions.
- I wore the Adidas suit for 2.5 km on another day. It started to rash under the armpits and neck.
- I did 62.7 for 100m freestyle off a handicap start at Manly pool with some Masters swimmers. It felt like the speed of a 65.0. My best current time is 63.4.
- I had trouble with arm recovery too with the Adidas suit. A "bat wing" was created under my armpit in the arm recovery -- could be some drag there.
- I took the Adidas suit off and swam a few laps without and it felt fantastic, like swimming in the nude. It occurred to me that the long suit, if used often, would very soon prevent feel for the water.
- Suits are helpful for swimmers with lots a muscles and flesh, skinny swimmers not very helpful (Gian Rooney tall and slim build also said this).
- Sleeved suits are actually detrimental to technique and energy efficiency. Adidas' sleeves are less restrictive than Speedo sleeves.
- This type of equipment is extremely detrimental to feel for the water. Swimmers would become robotic. There would be no natural swimmers left if they all used them in training.
- The suit actually pulls against roll and stretch. Good strokes would become mediocre after time.
- The suits are buoyant.
Ultimately these floaties provide a short-term competitive gain for long-term loss. It will not feel as good to swim. The sensuousness of movements will be gone and mediocre swimming will result."
Notes from the USA Trials --Especially concerning the "Fastsuits"
From Forbes Carlile [08/15/2000]
Here follows a further plea for sanity and for determined action by administrators on behalf of a growing number who see the use of equipment suits as potentially greatly harming our sport.
First the facts. It appeared that during the first few days of the meet at least 95% of the swimmers, with high hopes, squeezed themselves into bodysuits extending either to the ankles or to the knees. Very few wore covering to the wrists. As the meet progressed it was noticeable that many reverted to standard suits. In the final of the woman's 100-m breaststroke, every girl wore a suit of standard cut, which we understand were almost all made from Speedo's "Fastskin" fabric, claimed to be an advance on their Aquablade material. However, a handful of men and woman wore Aquablade suits stretching to the knees.
We estimated that around 90% of the swimsuits worn at the meet were Speedo, the rest being Tyr and with very few Adidas. To our knowledge there were no Dyana or "Teflon-Coated Lycra" Arena suits which have appeared in European swimming with a number of national teams being sponsored by this company.
Of great significance, is a statistical study made during the meet by Dr. Joel Stager of the Counsilman Human Performance Center for Swimming Science (Indiana University). With 3/4 of the race results considered, his conclusions were that an average of only 0.34% improvement was made at the year 2000 trials compared with the predicted performances based on trials over the last 25 years.
There is the possibility however, that for some events and for some swimmers with well-fitted suits, performances may be enhanced.
A number of coaches after the meet, expressed their disillusionment that nothing like the claimed 3 to 7 percent drop in times was forthcoming.
It should be said that Joel Stager's analysis was made on a sample of almost entirely Speedo suits. It may be that even the small improvement was a purely placebo effect.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Do not invest in these over-hyped devices. At the first big test of their effectiveness, they failed badly because they do not work equally for every swimmer. Only some individuals will reap their performance-enhancing capabilities. Tall linear individuals are not likely to be helped at all, while curvier and fleshier individuals could benefit. Competitions no longer will be fair when they are allowed and even if they are available. The whole situation would be simplified if they were rightfully banned in compliance with FINA's rule SW 10.7.
STILL THE CONCERN: The concern over these suits is not whether they do or do not augment performance. The concern is that FINA has legitimized the introduction of equipment and devices that might assist performance. The doors have been opened. It will not be long before swimmers, with the assistance of their equipment, win races. That will change the character and cost of the sport, making it more exclusive and expensive.
FINA must be stopped now before the sport is irreparably damaged, if that has not already happened!
Return to Table of Contents for The Bodysuit Problem.