If you’ve been away from the pool for the last few years or are totally new to competitive swimming, swimwear has gotten much more complicated! This is a quick guide to men’s swim suits to help you demystify all the new stuff out there. All of the suits below have versions that are made for racing only but only briefs, square leg suits, and jammers are appropriate for regular workouts. By the way a lot of this actually applies to both men and women, but I don’t really know the finer points of racerbacks, flybacks, maxbacks and whatever else you ladies are into.
Referred to by most as speedos, this suit is the classic competitive swim attire. It’s cut to cover the important parts and not much else. The brief offers a full unrestricted range of motion. It also happens to be kind of awkward in situations where you’re the only serious swimmer in the pool. The brief is totally fine when you’re amongst swimmers, but if you’re going to open swim or something like that you may want to look into getting yourself a jammer. I have a few briefs but I never wear one by itself, it’s usually underneath a jammer or a full body suit if I have one on.
The square leg suit is an extension of the speedo style brief. Instead of having a high cut on the sides it is flat across the front. Drag suits (loose durable suits you wear over another suit during practice) are often made in the square leg style.
The jammer is probably the greatest competitive swimming development since goggles. The jammer is similar in looks to the classic bike short. A lot of guys have passed on getting more serious about swimming because they don’t want to wear speedos in public. I know it slowed me down from coming back to the pool. The jammer is boardshort length, just tighter. This is what I usually workout in.
Tights are suits that go from your hips to your ankles, basically tight pants for swimming. Tights tend to be for racing only due to the materials that they are made of. Most racing suits are built for speed, not day to day endurance. Whether you go with Tights or a suit with some upper body coverage is a personal preference. If you watch the elite guys on TV a lot of them switch back and forth based on the race they’re swimming. Of all the suits I’m talking about here, this is the only kind I don’t own (UPDATE: I bought two pairs and tried them out here). I would just look like a fat man in tiny pants, not a look I’m after.
Short John/Knee Skin
This suit goes from the shoulders to the knees, but does not include arms. Personally I prefer a suit like this to go all the way to the ankles, but a lot of breaststrokers seem to like the feel of the water on their shins.
Full Body Suit
This suit is the ultimate race suit in my personal experience. The full body extends from the shoulders to the ankles, but does not includes arms. Full body suits cover as much of your body as allowed by swimming’s competitive rules and provides plenty of compression for the squishier parts of your body. There’s quite a bit of controversy as to what types of materials are legal for competition. In 2009 most types of materials from regular textiles to polyurethane are good to go, next year may be another story. No one really knows what’s going to happen.
So for the guys this is every mainstream style of suit available for competitive swimming. I’m not sure if there is really anything left to come up with unless blueseventy is going to start making a mankini or TYR decides to develop a Tracer version of the Borat suit. I sincerely hope neither of those things happens… good luck finding the right suit(s) for you!