The world of sporting goods is full of excitement. Can these basketball shoes make you jump higher? Can this jersey break the air and make you run faster? Usually the answer is no. So when Speedo put me on his current high-end racing swimsuit, which some prominent Olympians are currently wearing, I didn’t think much about it. After all, the days of “quick suits” for the whole body are over — these are just shorts. I was already swimming in stretchy Spandex shorts. What difference could it really make?
It turned out to be a pretty significant difference.
The suits I’m talking about are the Fastskin LZR line from Speedo. If that sounds familiar to you at all, it’s because in 2008 it was the LZR Racer full-body swimsuit that was responsible for 98% of the medals won in swimming and 23 of the 25 world records that were broken at the Beijing Olympics. He was so fast that he led people to call him “technical doping”, and his use in the competition was banned the following year. From 2009, swimmers could only wear suits covered from the waist to the knees or less, while swimmers could only wear suits covering the shoulders to the knees.
The suits I wore were Fastskin LZR Pure Intent (male/women) and Fastskin LZR Pure Valor (male/women), and both are suits worn by athletes such as Caeleb Dressel, Hali Flickinger, Ryan Murphy, Abbey Weitzeil and others. The Team USA version is decorated like the American flag (although the male Pure Valor looks a bit like their crotches have been redone?), But anyone can buy a version other than Old Glory online.
Well, I’m “anyone” when it comes to swimming. I didn’t actually learn anything about the technique until I was in my thirties, and since 2013 I haven’t been swimming laps regularly. I surf quite often, so theoretically my swimming muscles should still be half there? I figured I’d be a good substitute for your average, amateur swimmer, so I asked Speedo to send me Pure Intent, a pair of “jammer” style briefs that sell for an incredible $ 400 (up to $ 600 for the female version). Let me take you through what happened.
First, a size warning. My waist is about 31 inches, so I looked at Speed’s online size chart and saw that I was size 22. Friends, this was a mistake. Speedo also showed hip measurements, which I ignored because I had no idea how big my hips were. I just assumed we would be fine with the waist. We were not well. We were very ill. The shorts that arrived looked like they were made for a child and I knew immediately that we had a problem. These shorts are also not as stretchy as a plain old spandex. The result was that I couldn’t pull them next to my knees. That was literally impossible. Despite the fact that no one was present to witness this futile attempt to put on shorts, I felt deeply ashamed.
Measuring my hips, I found they were 39 inches, which would make me move the size limits to 24! Oops. So Speedo sent a larger size. Meanwhile, a former friend of the swimmer assured me that if I don’t have a buzz on my legs and chest hair, there is no point in this exercise. Every day more and more uncomfortable.
Size 24 had finally arrived and still seemed impossibly small. My friend the swimmer assured me that this was normal and that I would have to blink, squirm and “pinch my cheeks”. It still lasted five minutes of very intense wiggling, and got stuck several times, both on the hips and on the buttocks. My waist would sink into the flesh, and it was generally a painful and uncomfortable experience. In the end, I was glad to buzz on my legs because there was enough hair pulling. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten a size 25, despite the fact that it seems too big for my waist.
However, once I actually put it on my face, it looked right. It’s not comfortable, but “correct” because it seemed like a rough approximation of the way professionals wear it. The suit sat low at the waist. It’s a compression suit and I could really feel the grip. My butt was smoother than I had ever seen it. I felt like I could barely move, but after an additional examination I still had a whole range of motion, so hell, let’s go swimming.
When I jumped into the pool, I could immediately tell it was somehow different. As I swam, I couldn’t feel the water where the suit was. I felt like I was gliding through the water more easily, but I knew it could be in my head, so I devised a test: I would swim 100 meters, then 200 meters, then another 100 meters, as fast as I could (in a 25-foot pool). I first performed this exercise in my usual Spandex jammers that I have had for 10 years, then I would stop, have lunch and repeat the same exercise in LZR Pure Intent. I knew this gave my old swimsuit an advantage because my hands would be significantly fresher on my first swim, but I concluded that if a $ 400 suit couldn’t make up the difference, it was basically a scam.
Here are my times:
Holy shit. I was really ready to call this shit nonsense, but it’s statistically significant. More than 12 seconds from my first 100 meters and more than 26 seconds from my 200 meters! Witchcraft! By the second 100-meter swim in the LZR, my hands were very worn out, but it was still more than six seconds faster. I repeated the same series of exercises a few days later, but this time I wore the LZR Pure Intent first, and the results were practically the same, except that in my second set I was even slower in my old panties. This is measured with my Garmin Enduro watch, which automatically counts the laps and measures them, although it hesitated for a few seconds each time I stopped at the end of the set, so we can subtract 3-5 seconds from each, but it seemed to be pretty consistent for each set.
After crushing my numbers, I turned to Speedou asking what the magic is in these shorts. The answer I got: “The latest suits from Fastskin are designed to combine 20 years of performance learning with innovative technologies and materials, and Speedo has worked with some of the world’s leading research institutions to study shark origins and how to reduce swimming resistance. Speedo has also collaborated with a variety of partners, including the Natural History Museum in London and Formula 1 on those suits. ”
Um, the origin of sharks? You did 23 and I on the jaws and somehow made a quick pair of shorts? Okay, I guess all of this sounds great, but it doesn’t tell me much about how that damn thing actually works. I have contacted Speedo again and will update if I get back to you.
Here’s what I can tell you. When you touch the outside of the suit, it’s not soft and silky like Spandex, but it’s slightly rough. The website claims that its “texture that mimics shark skin creates micro vortices along the surface of the suit, helping to reduce resistance and encouraging forward propulsion,” which may be again. But the material itself almost looks more like a top rain jacket. Indeed, when I tucked the suit under the tap, the vast majority of the water immediately dripped (while my Spandex pants sucked it out). This tells me that the suit has some hydrophobic properties, which would really allow it to glide through water with less friction.
The belt is not lined with one, but with two silicone straps that not only pull the hairs on your body as you try to pull them on, but also prevent water from pouring into the suit, which can slow you down. I also noticed that the suit has a ton of vertical stretch (if you pull it from top to bottom), but there is almost no side stretch. I guess that way it achieves compression without limiting the range of motion. There’s a slightly raised hexagonal pattern on the buttocks, which makes these shorts look very cyberpunk, but I really have no idea what it does other than that.
These shorts look great and really made me swim faster. I am a high-ranking amateur, so I would doubt that someone with real training and good form would have an even bigger advantage. Since you are not racing, then a suit that helps you swim faster is not that important. Most of us just swim for fitness, and while you want something that doesn’t slow you down unnecessarily, you’ll still exercise well even if you’re swimming in baggy pants (I wouldn’t recommend it). These shorts (and women’s complete suits) are made for contestants, period. If you’re trying to win races, either in actual swimming meetings, or are simply obsessed with trying to break personal records, then yes, these $ 400 shorts (or a $ 600 suit for women) will definitely help you go faster. That’s why they’re worn by Olympians.
But it’s great to see that, yes, I can really help even an ordinary swimmer go faster.