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Fitting out | Competitive swimming | How to do it
September 2014

Fitting out the

competitive swimmer

A competitive swimmer who is not sure of what swimsuit, cap and goggles are best for him will rely on a retailer to offer advice in order to make the right choice. Yamkela Mkebe shares the tips distributors of swimming gear have for retailers trading in the field

There are many factors retailers should take into consideration when recommending competitive swimwear for a customer.

These include the level of the swimmer, what and how often the suit will be used, how much the customer is prepared to pay, different types of suits, different materials, different cuts and technology, says Samantha Gunther from Arena distributor Leisure Holdings, who was a former competitive swimmer.

One of the most important questions would be to ask what type of swimsuit the customer had in mind — in a racing costume, does he prefer a brief, jammer without teflon treatment, or a highly technical water resistant teflon treated suit, advises swimming specialist retailer Gary Doveton.

The level of the swimmer is important because it will influence the price the customer will be prepared to pay. The parents of a school team swimmer might not be too keen to pay for the tech bodysuits used by the top national team swimmers, and you’ll save time by rather recommending a traditional competitive swimsuit.

What used for

“One of the key considerations is what the swimsuit will be used for,” says Stuart Hopwood from Speedo distributor Brand ID. Will it, for example, be used for racing or training, and how often, and for how long will the athlete be swimming? Sizes for competitive and training swimsuits differ and retailers should keep in mind that training suits do not fit as tightly as competitive suits, says Gunther. “A race suit should fit skin tight to allow the swimmer to achieve the best advantage in the pool.”

“For training, swimmers tend to wear one to two sizes up on their racing size, as the time spent training is far longer than that of actual racing, requiring the suit to be more comfortable,” adds Hopwood.

“Generally, swimmers prefer a very tight fitting swimsuit for racing as it enhances their body profile and thereby reduces drag, which improves performance.”

When an athlete swims regularly and for long durations in a pool that uses chlorine, it is recommended that a chlorine-resistant swimsuit, like the Speedo Endurance+ be used, as it is quick-drying and the fabric is specifically designed to resist the damage caused by excessive exposure to chlorine, he says.

Personal choice

Distributors agree that it is important for athletes to feel comfortable in a competitive swimsuit in order to perform their best. Personal preferences will therefore play a role in the choice of swimsuit.

“A swimmer’s personal preferences for a swimsuit with racer back, or a power back, thin straps or wider straps, will give an indication of the style of suit the customer would like to see,” says Doveton.

The men’s jammer and the ladies’ kneeskin must not be below the knee and the compression of the suit can vary with different types of fabric and style.

Some swimmers may, for example, prefer longer legs on a jammer or kneeskin, while others prefer the freedom of shorter legs. Some like compression in certain areas, whereas others find this constricting.

Some will find thinner straps more comfortable and less constricting than the standard wider straps. Although they are more revealing and less supportive than wider straps, some swimmers say that they provide a better feel in the water.

Wide, compressive straps, on the other hand, keep the suit in place during flips and turns, especially when the swimmer has a slight build. They provide added support, although they are less comfortable during long swims. Many swimmers therefore prefer thinner straps for training suits and wider straps for competitive suits.

Fit swimsuits

Size charts can be used as a guideline, provided that the swimmer had been measured on bare skin and a man’s waist size had been measured 2.5cm below the navel. Waist size will often equal the suit size.

“It is important for the swimmer to try on the garment because body shapes differ so much and the ideal fit can differ from athlete to athlete. The swimmer should ideally be measured in store to determine what size to fit initially,” agrees Hopwood.

“Some retailers are so well versed that they can look at the swimmer and recommend a suit and size,” says Gunther. But, she agrees that measuring the swimmer can assist with recommending the right suit, especially if the retailer or customer isn’t well versed on the differing race suits styles, sizing and fabrics.

“It is ideal for a swimmer to try on the swimsuit while practicing his preferred stroke, to determine that the straps do not impact on the range of movement required in the stroke he swims,” advises Hopwood.

There are a few easy methods for retailers to use when measuring a swimsuit for fit. Check the bottom of the suit or jammer at the knee and “if you can fit one finger under the suit, then the fit is perfect,” recommends Gunther.

The basic rule when fitting a suit on a female is to put her thumbs under the shoulder straps and gently lift the straps up towards her ear lobes. “If the straps go between the ear lobes and shoulder with tension, then it is more or less the correct size,” says Brad Gale from Second Skins.

If the straps can’t lift off the shoulders, the suit is too small and if the straps go to the ear lobes easily then the suit is too big.

If any body parts puff out of the suit, and it is too much of a struggle to put it on, the swimsuit is probably too small. A too small swimsuit can limit blood flow and breathing and restrict movement, which would reduce performance.

If two fingers can easily fit between a jammer and the knee or waist, it will be too loose. Any bagging of wrinkling of the material or scooping at the neck of a woman’s suit, means that the swimsuit is too big for competitive swimming, as it will create drag that will slow the swimmer down.

A polyester compression swimsuit might feel tighter than a lycra one when first trying it on, but remember that it will feel the tightest during the first try on.

The material used will also determine if the female needs to go up a size or down a size, says Gale, adding that it is important to understand “all brands fit differently”.

Selecting goggles

Another important gear item in the swimming bag is goggles. An informed retailer can offer recommendations that will help a customer to make the right buying decision.

Retailers should take the following into consideration when recommending goggles to customers, recommends Gunther:

  • The level of the swimmer
  • Where the swimmer plans on using the goggles — in open water or a pool
  • The age of the swimmer — whether he is a junior or senior
  • Whether mirror lenses are required for outdoor, or non-mirror indoor
  • The correct fit with suction around the eyes and nose.

There are different lens tints for indoor or outdoor use. Light coloured lenses provide brighter vision, which makes them suitable for use indoors, or in overcast conditions. Clear, amber or lighter lenses are better for indoor swimming because of low light, adds Hopwood.

Mirror or dark coloured lenses are recommended for outdoor swimming where the light is brighter.

Fitting goggles

The common problem is that customers don’t try on various styles of goggles before selecting one. Everyone has a different face shape, and therefore not all goggles will fit the same, says Colin Farrer of Zoggs distributor CorSport.

“Even your eye sockets vary in shape, so trying on an aesthetically pleasing goggle, could end up causing problems that you hadn’t banked on, like leaking and fogging up,” adds Farrer. The idea of the tighter the straps, the better the fit is wrong, and is the biggest mistake that people make when fitting goggles, he advises.

Retailers are advised to ask the customer to try the goggle on without the strap to determine whether a good seal is formed around the eyes and nose, thereby ensuring that the goggle won’t leak, advises Hopwood.

If a customer is able to get a second or two of suction when trying on the goggle without the strap, then that is a winning formula, says Farrer. Retailers should remember that the strap is there to keep the goggle on the swimmer’s head in the water — over-tightening the strap will compromise the seal and lead to frustration in the water.

On the other hand, Gale believes that a customer should try on the goggle with the straps pulled over his head. “If the goggle is comfortable out of the water, it will be comfortable in the water.”

Goggles are also made with a foam gasket and foam will never create suction from pressing them onto the eye socket, he adds. Recommendations for competitive goggles depend on a personal preference, but a smaller goggle is better for racing, because it is more aerodynamic.

Hopwood recommends a goggle with the lowest profile. “Technology is important to ensure the best goggle for both racing and training,” he adds. A swimmer spends more time in training than when racing, therefore a more comfortable goggle is recommended for training.

Swimming caps

The recommendation of a swimming cap also depends on a customer’s needs and various other factors, says Gunther.

These would include the level of the swimmer, the purpose of the cap — whether it will be used in competition, training or for leisure — whether it will be used by a junior or an adult, whether the customer prefers silicone or fabric.

“A silicone cap will keep the hair dry, while the lycra cap is more comfortable,” says Gunther.

A silicone cap that fits comfortably without wrinkles or dome caps are the best recommendations for racing, according to Doveton.

According to Gale, silicone caps are also recommended for swimmers who train and race often because they last longer. They also stretch over a lot of hair.

There are two ways to measure when trying to find a perfectly fitting swimming cap, explains Hopwood. One is to measure the circumference of the head and the second is to measure across the top of the head.

“These are then compared to a size chart in order to determine the correct size cap. Alternatively, where caps do come in different sizes, it is recommended to fit the cap to determine the correct size,” he adds.

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