Competitive Swimming Suits

Women's Swimming Suits

Women's swimwear is a large category, with many options for the consumer to choose from, but when it comes to competition or fitness swimming, not just any swimming suit will do.

  • Types of Suits: There are many styles to choose from now in the area of competitive swim suits as well as cool patterns and colors, but there are a few elements that do not change very much:

      Women's swimming suit showing crossed straps in back

    • High neck, so water resistance does not drag you down
    • Crossed back, so straps do not fall down as you move your arms
    • One-piece. They tend to be one piece suits, though there are many styles of two piece fitness suits available. They are never seen in competition, however.
  • Common Variations:

      Thick strapped women's black swim suit

    • Thin straps vs. thick straps: This is just a stylistic variation and will be based on your preference. Some women feel more comfortable in the thicker strapped suits, while others prefer the thin straps. As far as daily practice goes, it may just be determined by what kind of tan you want : )
    • Polyester vs. Nylon/Lycra: Suits you find in sporting goods stores or online often come grouped by material. Nylon/Lycra suits are probably the most common types of swimming suits, but polyester swim suits have their advantages. Nylon/Lycra suits are made of a more flexible, smooth material and are usually double lined in the front. Depending on how often you use the swim suit, these types of suits tend to wear out rather quickly and become stretched out and see-through in the front and back. When this happens, many swimmers begin wearing two suits, with the worn-out suit on top acting as a drag suit during practice.

      Polyester Swimming Suits: These are far less common in stores and are never used in competition, but can make great practice suits because the polyester will never wear out. I had a polyester suit and finally had to get rid of it because the rubber in the straps gave out, but the actual suit was still good. Polyester is less stretchy than nylon/lycra, but if you get the right size and don't care that it feels more like clothing material than traditional swimming suit material, a polyester suit can last you a very, very long time as a practice suit. The largest selection of polyester swimming suits I've found is at swimoutlet.com.

    • One-Piece vs. Two-Piece Swimming Suits: It is basically impossible to swim for fitness in a regular bikini or tankini type of recreational two-piece suit because it will come off the second you push off the wall or try to do a flip turn. However, they do make two-piece fitness swimming suits that can be used for practice.

      These suits will be cut differently than a regular bikini with a higher waist and a kind of sports-bra like top. It will fit very tightly because if it didn't, it would just come off like a bikini. If you are comfortable in this kind of suit, it can be a great option to avoid the dreaded "swimmer's tan," but not everyone is comfortable showing that much skin. The one-piece suit is still the standard during competitive swimming pratices and also tend to be cheaper when on sale.


  • Men's Swimming Suits

    When it comes to men's competition swimming suits, there are not as many options. As far as practice goes, men can choose between three main styles: briefs (aka speedos), square leg, and jammers.

  • Speedo vs. Shorts vs. Jammers:

    Briefs, or speedos, as they are commonly known, are the most common male swim suit for both practice and competition. They are also fairly cheap (as they should be, since there isn't much material there).

    Square leg suits are a throw bag to the old days when suits looked like really short shorts. You can purchase practice suits in this style, but they are more often designed as drag suits, to be worn over another suit during practice.

    Jammers look a bit like long bike shorts and come to right above the knee. These are another option for guys who don't want to show off as much skin or who simply prefer the long-shorts style. I can't speak from experience about this topic but I have heard guys say they prefer each type for different reasons. You'll have to decide on your own. As far as competition goes, both speedos and jammers are common and do just as well. If the competition is high enough that you really need to consider your suit as a factor, I would suggest buying a technical suit.

  • Polyester vs. Nylon/Lycra: Suits you find in sporting goods stores or online often come grouped by material. Nylon/Lycra suits are probably the most common types of swimming suits, but polyester swim suits have their advantages. Nylon/Lycra suits are made of a more flexible, smooth material and are usually double lined in the front. Depending on how often you use the swim suit, these types of suits tend to wear out rather quickly and become stretched out and see-through in the front and back. When this happens, many swimmers begin wearing two suits, with the worn-out suit on top acting as a drag suit during practice.

    Polyester Swimming Suits: These are far less common in stores and are never used in competition, but can make great practice suits because the polyester will never wear out. Most of the polyester suits made for men are in the square leg style and may be made of polyester mesh. These make great drag suits to wear over your regular speedos or jammers during practice. Polyester is less stretchy than nylon/lycra, but if you get the right size and don't care that it feels more like clothing material than traditional swimming suit material, a polyester suit can last you a very, very long time. For a large online selection of polyester suits, I prefer swimoutlet.com


  • Suit Sizing:

    For male and female suits, the sizing is usually in inches, which can make it difficult for women to know their size in a suit. For example, a size 36 is equivalent to a size 10, but just like clothing, sizes vary by manufacturer, so if you have never bought a suit from a particular maker, get a size larger than normal to make sure it fits. For men, the sizing is equivalent to buying a pair of pants, size 32 waist= size 32 speedo.

    Buying a racing suit? The biggest mistake people make when choosing a competition suit is to get one that is too big. Swimming suits are going to fit tight and they will stretch out over time, so if you buy a suit that is originally loose, it will only get baggier as time goes on. The rule of thumb when buying a racing suit is to find the size you are comfortable in, and get a size lower (at least). For women, if you can pull the straps up beyond your ears, the suit is too big.

    men's technical racing swim suit

    Technical Suits vs. Fitness Suits:

    For most of us, we will never need to purchase a technical suit. These are the suits that look like something out of Star Trek, are made of some high-tech material and may cover the swimmer from wrist to ankle in some cases. These suits can range anywhere from $60 to over $250 and are designed to be used only in the highest of competitive events such as high school regional, state or national finals, club swimming finals, and the olympics.

    Like I said, there is probably no reason for the average swimmer to spend that kind of money on these types of swimming suits unless he or she is competing at one of these high levels. For most purposes, a mid-priced practice suit is more than enough, but should still have the basic features of a competitive suit such as a high neck and crossed back.

    If you are looking to purchase a technical suit, make sure you know the specific rules regarding suits in your competition. Sometimes there are rules concerning how much a suit may cover and it would be a shame to buy a $250 full body suit only to find out you're only allowed above-the-knee suits.

    Discount Swimming Suits:

    Competition swimwear can be very expensive and gets worn out very quickly. Be prepared to go through 1-2 suits a season if you are very active. I say don't spend big bucks on a suit that you only need for practice, since it will wear out quickly and stock up on cheap practice suits whenever you find a sale.

    I periodically check my local sporting goods stores for swim suits on sale for under $20 (that's about as cheap as you can find women's suits), or I stock up on cheap suits online. I like SwimOutlet.com's clearance corner, where I can stock up on cheap swimming suits for around $20, sometimes less.

    Women's grab-bag swimming suit graphic

    Another way to get great deals on suits is to buy a "grab-bag" suit. You pick the size, but the company picks the color and style from past season inventory and overstock. You get a cheaper price, but don't know what kind of patterns you'll get. This is a great option if you just need to stock up on some practice suits and don't care what they look like.

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