How do racing swimsuits make us faster?

The streamlined fabrics and designs making waves in competitive swimming
Although they may look simple, swimsuits have been engineered to help swimmers glide through the water. Most important is the hydrodynamic shape. New materials are designed to reduce drag and compress the body into its most streamlined form, helping to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles. The fabrics can be made from nylon or spandex and are designed to be lightweight and have a high compression-to-weight ratio. Bonded seams, for instance, create a six per cent reduction in drag compared to sewn seams.

Suits made of hydrophobic (water-resistant) microfilament textiles can reduce drag by eight per cent. They work by effectively pushing the water away from a swimmer’s body.


Swimsuits have been banned from many competitive events due to their impact on performance

All these measures help swimmers get ever quicker. So quick in fact, that in 2010, polyurethane suits were banned from competitive swimming as they gave an unfair advantage after records tumbled at the 2009 World Swimming Championships.

Comfort is also a priority of course. Special straps help avoid soreness while wide-vision goggles aid sight and reduce drag. Even chemicals are combated with new materials resisting chlorine up to ten times longer than older suits.


Written by the How It Works team

This article first appeared in How It Works issue 60

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