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Why Does a Swimskin Make You Faster?

Swimskins are a triathlete’s best friend when it comes to warm water races where wetsuits aren’t legal. They’re designed to be worn over your race kit and reduce friction in the water, shaving time off your swim—in other words, swimskins are free speed. Wetsuit temperature cutoffs are typically in the mid 70's (Fahrenheit), although they can vary from race to race. USA Triathlon’s current rules regarding the use of swimskins can be found here.

But why, exactly, does a swimskin make you faster?

  • A swimskin helps you maintain your body line. In swimming, body line equals= speed. Experienced swimmers keep a straight body line; developing swimmers tend to wiggle, or “snake” as they swim. That’s why experienced swimmers can swim so fast with so little effort, while developing swimmers can spend twice the energy and not go nearly as fast. A swimskin, then -especially a snug-fitting one—simply prevents you from wiggling as much, which becomes especially important as you fatigue.
  • A swimskin reduces form drag. Your body and race kit have all sorts of ripples and contours. A swimskin smooths these wrinkles over and makes them into long, flowing lines that water can flow past with little resistance.
  • A swimskin reduces surface drag. The hydrophobic coating on the Viper X, Viper Pro, and Viper Elite repels water, reducing frictional interaction between you and the water as you swim.

How Much Faster?

Most athletes find that a Viper X gives them 2 to 6 seconds per 100 meters in a comparison to a jammer or one-piece women’s training suit. Strong swimmers are closer to 2s/100, while developing swimmers are closer to 6s/100. We applied our patented Arms Up technology to the Short Sleeve Viper for unprecedented speed and shoulder mobility in the water. The speed gain is even greater if you compare vs. a tri race kit, which may balloon and cause more drag than a swimsuit. The speed gain is also greater as you fatigue during the latter part of a long swim.


How Should a Swimskin Fit?

To maximize performance benefit, a swimskin should be compressively tight (much tighter than a wetsuit or swimsuit). In fact, if you can get it on without another person zipping you up from behind while you squeeze your shoulder blades together, it's too loose.

When trying on a swimskin, you’ll want to put your race kit underneath, as you will wear it over a race kit during a race. Remember, the degree of compression you feel on land will be more than what you’ll actually feel while swimming. Note that our size charts already assume that athletes are looking for this compressive performance fit.

How Long Should a Swimskin Last?

A swimskin is a race-specific product, and it won’t last forever. It’s best to swim in it three to four times in the weeks leading up to a race to let your skin build some toughness and reduce chafing on race day; but it’s not meant to be an everyday training product.

For a Viper X or Viper Pro, the hydrophobic coating will wear off after about 20 to 30 uses.

A Viper Elite, meanwhile, will have a similar life for the hydrophobic coating, but because it is a knit and not a woven material, it will experience a slight reduction in the compressive properties of the material over time.

A Viper Comp does not have hydrophobic coating, so there will be no change to the surface drag properties of the suit, but because it is a knit, it will see compressive properties decline over time, similar to the Viper Elite.

Ready to #findfaster? Shop Viper Swimskins now.