choosing the right swimming gear
it all starts in the pool
Most import for having regular swim trainings, is to select an indoor swimming pool with opening hours fitting into your daily schedule. I selected a pool in my neighbourhood that opens at 6:00am, so I can get through my training before I go to the office. Yes, it is early but it is a perfect start in the day. In addition, swimming pools are not so crowded during morning hours, which gives a certain comfort for the training.
Having arranged the location, it is now time to think of some proper swimming gear. The good news is, pool training is not an expensive exercise. It doesn't require much equipment compared to other popular sports activities. However the market for swimming gear and accessories is huge, so when I started regular training I needed some time to understand what is good for me and what is not. There is the basic gear that everyone needs, no matter whether you are a beginner or an experienced swimmer. In addition to those essentials, there is some "nice to have" equipment that may come to good use for an advanced swim practice. Below are some of my lessons learned that might come handy while you are selecting your swimming equipment.
You will need a good fitting swimsuit for your regular training. The board shorts and bikinis from your last beach holiday will not make it. They might look nice but aren’t very good for swimming as they create too much drag. Suitable for a men are usually swim briefs or jammers. For women, most comfortable for regular training is the one-piece swimsuit.
There is only one criteria for selecting your swimsuit; it has to be comfortable. Especially for women it is important to have enough freedom of movement at the shoulder area to prevent chafing. But remember, your swimsuit is to be used for swim training only. There is no need to pay 400 Euro for a swimsuit that is designed for professional athletes attending international swimming competitions.
Since we are swimming in a public pool, you will need to wear a swim cap. Swim caps, suitable for swim training, are usually made of latex or silicone and come in many different colours. Most of the brands are offering two or more sizes. I recommend to try out different sizes before you buy them. Again, it has to be comfortable throughout the whole training session. Such swim caps are not designed to keep your hair dry or to create a waterproof seal around your head. They are important to protect your hair from the chlorine and to keep long hair out of your face. They also make you swim a little faster, but this is more important for the competitions.
There are some small differences between latex and silicone caps. Latex caps are thinner than silicone caps. The latex material is more fragile and tears faster apart. It has a shorter lifespan because it gets attacked easily by the chlorine and becomes viscous and sticky. Silicone caps are thicker and more resistant to the chlorine, thus live longer. Most brands are offering both materials and I use both kinds for different purpose. In the swimming hall I prefer the thinner latex cap and in open water I use the thicker silicone cap to protect my head from the cold water.
Swimming goggles are mandatory for your training, as they will protect your eyes from the chlorine water, provide you with the necessary visibility and will permit more relaxed and streamlined swimming. Your googles are in fact the most important gear for your swim training. But, selecting the best swimming goggles for your personal preferences can be a frustrating experience. There are many brands that offer goggles in endless sizes, shapes and prices. However, it is important to find a pair that will be comfortable enough for you to be worn for a one or two hour training session. The goggles should be padded with gaskets made of soft rubber or silicone. In addition the nose bridge shouldn’t cut into your skin. The straps should be easily adjustable even while you are swimming.
My advise, take your time in the shop and try out many different models. A high price or famous brand is no guarantee that the goggles will fit better to you face. When trying them in the shop the goggles should stick easily to your face without using the straps. That will also ensure that no water will leak in during training or competition. For the indoor pool you may choose clear lenses; for outdoors UV protected coloured lenses. I recommend to buy a goggle case to protect the goggles in your swim bag.
However, only during your swim training you will understand whether you bought the right model. Don't be disappointed when it didn't work out with the first pair. You have to try hard, to find your perfect fit. I had already piled up a small collection of goggles at home, before I finally found the perfect pairs for my needs. I have chosen two different types of goggles. One pair of comfortable but resistant goggles, that I use in daily pool trainings and in open water trainings and competitions. And another pair of slim and tight (but not so comfortable) goggles for pool competitions. Those allow me to dive in from starting blogs and do quick flip turns without losing them.
Provided that you have found the perfect swim goggles for you, there is still one more problem you have to deal with. Your goggles will start fogging up in the water. This has a simple reason. Your face/air inside the goggles is warmer than the water outside the goggles. Condensation creates this fog at the inside of the lenses. How to make your swimming goggles fog-free? Almost all brands are selling swimming goggles with an anti-fog coating on the inside of the lenses. But this coating doesn't last for long. The more you touch the inside of the lenses, the more quickly the coating wears off.
So, what to do when the anti-fog coating is off? Before you consider buying a new pair of goggles; there are some common accepted solutions to at least temporary get rid of the problem.
Anti-Fog Spray Some of the known swimming gear brands have addressed the issue and developed anti-fogging products that can be a short term solution. You simply apply it into your goggles, wait a short time and wash it out. Do not forget to wash it out, otherwise it may get into your eyes and will ruin your training or competition.
Baby Shampoo Yes, many swimmers use baby shampoo against foggy lenses. Apply it by putting up to two drops into each lens, wait 15 minutes and rinse it out with clear water. The baby shampoo will leave a layer of transparent film inside the goggles that won't let the condensation build up the fog.
Toothpaste This works in the same way as the baby shampoo but lasts longer. By applying it, do not use your toothbrush. Btw. this is my favourite anti-fogging method.
Saliva You may budget for the other three solutions above , but your own spit is actually the most common and effective short-term solution to prevent fogging. Due to the sensitivity of the eyes most swimmers prefer this method. Licking saliva around the inside of your goggles will add a layer of water to the lens that prevents condensation, at least for a short while.
Swimming fins may help you to build up your leg muscles. It is important to use them in moderation, as a tool to improve your strength and technique. My preference goes to the short blade fins, as they put less strain on the Achilles tendon. They provide less propulsion than long blade fins but your kicking movements are closer to those you do without fins. Short blade fins can be used in kicking sets to provide a good leg workout and to improve the flexibility of your ankles.
Pull buoys are flotation devices designed for two purposes. First to keep your legs up by placing them between your thighs during isolated arm movements in the water. It should not be used to improve your balance in the water. For that you should practice swimming drills that keep your hips and legs up while swimming (e.g. freestyle) without the pull buoy. The second purpose is to hold them in front of you while doing kicking sets.
Using swim paddles during your training has two benefits. First and foremost, you will build up strength and power in your upper body by adding resistance to your stroke. Second, it will help you improve and entrench good technique habits. There are two kinds of paddles, hand paddles and finger paddles. I prefer finger paddles because oversized hand paddles may put too much strain on ligaments and tendons in arms and shoulders. So, use your swim paddles moderately.
thongs / flip-flops
I highly recommend to wear flip-flops in swimming halls. Even if you chose the most exclusive and clean swimming hall; with the increased number of trainings you are also more exposed to the risk of getting foot fungus. The best protection is wearing thongs or flip-flops.
This equipment items above are the basics to go for a regular swim training in the pool. There is additional gear for open water training and meets as well as some very useful electronics and software, that will be the topic of upcoming posts.