Tapering, Shaving, Pantyhose, Tech Suits? What are these things in swimming, and should my swimmer do them?
It’s part of the training we do with some older swimmers in preparation for some postseason meets. This doesn’t apply to younger or less experienced swimmers, as tapering does not really help them improve. Basically though, it’s reducing yardage, adding speed, and adding rest time over the course of 1-2 weeks as a means to prime swimmers physically and mentally for their best performance. Swimmers need to do nothing more than show up at practice and do what the coaches ask of them.
- Only HS swimmers (male & female) should shave the night before Districts or CHMC, unless you are a younger female who has already started to shave normally, in which case follow the same as HS swimmers.
- If you plan on shaving for Districts, stop shaving NOW, especially the legs. Actually, if it’s late January, you probably should have stopped several weeks or months ago. Starting November is ideal for our season; the longer the time-frame the more likely it will be effective.
- Night before the meet: Shave legs, outside top of arms (NOT inside arms or hands where you grip the water, not bottom of feet), shave back & armpits, shave chest too if male.
- Go slow, don't cut yourself.
- The purpose is NOT necessarily just for the hydrodynamics of less hair, but for removing the top layer of skin. Swimmers literally feel smoother and 20 pounds lighter in the water. This feeling comes when the under layer of skin feels the water for the first time; it definitely and consistently results in time dropped for the vast majority of swimmers who plan this out weeks to months ahead of time, and with the proper consistent training regime.
- Swimmers who shave the night before a meet should definitely wear light tights or pantyhose under their suits during warm-ups and any practices thereafter, from hips to ankles.
- Swimmers who do not shave may wear them too for 1-2 weeks prior their meet. This is NOT for drag; as a coach, I do not believe in the use of drag suits except in very limited scenarios, and this is not one of them. This IS to simulate an extra layer of skin/hair on the legs while training. AGAIN, this should ONLY be done after Madison Championships.
- The tights/pantyhose should be water permeable, thin, lightweight, and should fit snugly with few to no ripples to reduce drag, and feet should be bare (cut the feet off of pantyhose).
- Swimmers may choose to use rubber bands at the ankles to keep pantyhose from stretching.
- If they do the above, they should continue through warm-up at Districts. ONLY swim without when time to race.
Wearing tights & pantyhose and/or shaving is not required. However, some swimmers, particularly older and more experienced swimmers, do use this strategy. It does not really make a difference for younger or less experienced swimmers.
Only 13/Above may wear a tech suit. Even then, I recommend not buying one until at least a sophomore in high school and once body types start to settle in. Tech suits may help a swimmer race "faster"..., but not really for many. Tech suits (depending on the level of technology of the suit, which of course equates to higher cost) may help swimmers achieve faster times because they:
- Use water repellent material in making the suit.
- Are seamless; fabric is heat bonded, not stitched, or if there is stitching the seams run with the flow/direction of the water.
- Compress swimmers muscles and body.
Various tech suits do all or some of the above at different grades of quality. However, the goal of all is to:
- Reduce drag.
- Improve blood/oxygen circulation, efficiency, and economy.
It’s not just physical, but psychological. If a swimmer "techs" up, it's the same as "suiting up" in some professions. If a swimmer believes something makes them faster, it will. It's the equivalent of putting one's "game face" on, psychology prepping to do battle, to exert the body beyond what it's used to, but mentally overcoming the pain. Whether it's a tech suit, a favorite pair of socks, a pre-race meal, a pre-race routine, or one's "racing goggles", its the brain telling the body to get ready, we're doing this!! So, it’s not really the suit, but the brain.
However, swimmers who can “psych-up” without a tech suit have huge advantages. Many swimmers spend the whole night before and day of the race being nervous, thinking of the race, with their adrenaline pumping and not sleeping well. As a result, by the time they get to their race, they are tired. Whereas Olympic swimmers don’t start to get that adrenaline surge until 15 minutes prior to their race. Learning to manage one’s fears, anxiety, and stress, and when to release it all for best performance, will do more than a tech suit. Hence, I only recommend older swimmers who’ve matured mentally and physically more, and who have relatively strong strokes to begin with, and have put the time into training, are the ones who may invest in a tech suit.
An expensive tech suit may make a swimmer more hydro dynamic and compress muscles to improve the body's efficiency and explosive power. Tech suits are very tight and uncomfortable to be in, and most girls need a friend or two help them squeeze into them. They are literally pushing body parts into the suit so it fits as a second layer of skin. This is no joke, my use of the term literal is LITERAL. Any drag, any ripple, any looseness defeats the purpose and is just wasting money on the suit. AND once you wear it a few times in a row, you lose the feeling. So again, it’s wasting money, unless you wear it strategically at the end of the season.
Additionally, tech suits are a sort of placebo for many swimmers. No amount of heat bonding, drag reducing, water repelling, suit efficiency will overcome poor technique or poor training habits. Listening to the coaches, pushing yourself in practice, not making excuses, staying healthy, and showing up consistently will ALWAYS do more than a tech suit to drop times. There is no secret sauce, dedication and hard work wins!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti tech-suit, but they are expensive and most swimmers should not wear them until they get to high school.
Hope this helps, :)