The Growing “Tech Suit” Trend

Caeleb Dressel dives into the water during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, wearing a FINA approved ‘Tech-Suit’.

(Robert Hanashiro / USA Today Sports)

Caeleb Dressel dives into the water during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, wearing a FINA approved ‘Tech-Suit’.

With WPIALs recently over for swimmers at Taylor Allderdice and Western PA, many are now looking forward to resuming training over the Summer. Moreover, with various championship meets still on the horizon, swimmers need to consider the upcoming season.

USA Swimming, which is the governing body for competitive swimming within the United States, definesTech Suits” as swimsuits that extend to the knee length with woven material, taped seams, and a “Fina Certified” logo somewhere on the suit. Technical suits–often shortened to tech suits–are high-tech swimsuits that compress your body and behave hydrophobic in the water, which lets you move faster and easier.

Tech Suits are still a relatively recent technology when it comes to swimming, but their impact has already been seen. In many sports, massive breakthroughs are only seen once in a generation, with rare superstar athletes winning through genetic leaps and athletic prowess.

In swimming, the 2008-2009 ‘super suit’ era saw records broken that still holds up today as a result/ of these suits. Until then, swimming as a sport was defined solely by athleticism. These ‘super suits’ were derived from NASA’s space program and were composed entirely of polyurethane, which allowed swimmers to remain much more buoyant in the water and almost entirely water-impermeable. Eventually, supporters did realize that this was paramount to ‘technological doping’, and these suits were banned, but their lasting impact is still shown today.

Again in September of 2020, the long-awaited “12-and-under tech-suit ban” kicked in, which was for the first time since 2009 that USA swimming took major actions against tech-suit culture in the sport. This marked a moderate shift in what was largely seen as a move to rethink how younger swimmers’ economic status played a role in competitive meets.

Tech suits have become synonymous with competitive swimming. Olympic athletes sign deals with brands, building a brand image that reflects heavily on the sport. While these athletes can get away with being supplied by top brands, a majority of athletes need to pay out of pocket for their equipment. For guys, the average price you’ll find for one of these suits sits at close to $400, with plenty of suits going over that too. For girls it’s even more expensive: they can cost as much as $600. 

The price tag is often worth it because of what these suits accomplish, they can squeeze and combine various muscle groups which allows a so-called “second-skin” effect to build around the wearer. More advanced suits are even capable of pulling your legs for you when you kick in the water, with a snap-back effect that most top brands like Speedo try to market as a key selling point.

The physical boundaries in a sport are what drive it to the edge, with genetic ability and training being the defining attributes of any athlete that seeks to push themself and the sport itself. Typically, world-record-breaking swimmers are a ‘1-in-a-billion’ generation-defining athletes.  However, there is a lot of debate on the merits of how innovation on its own can breed an unfair evolution in a sport. Similarly, it can be argued that if there was a specific shoe or a pair of shorts that allowed track runners to break world records that were seemingly out of reach, there would be a lot of debate on the fairness and legality of this evolution. 

Although it may seem like schools should have no financial responsibility now that the swim season is over, ultimately they should spend the off-season coordinating with brands to make the sport more affordable. Reducing costs like these is a necessity in preserving the longevity of the sport which should allow more competitively viable athletes to swim at a higher level.