Quantification of improvement in triathlon swimming performance by textile speedsuits

Abstract

To quantify swimwear-induced differences under triathlon-specific conditions, we compare the swimming performance, the metabolic cost, and the standardised passive drag of well-trained triathletes when wearing (1) five speedsuit models by different manufacturers from 2017, (2) usual swimming trunks/swimsuits (men/women), and (3) individually preferred competition trisuits. Because of the complexity of the underlying hydrodynamic and biomechanical effects, three separate experimental stages were realized, each with 6–12 well-trained short- and middle-distance triathletes (male and female, mean age 22 ± 5 years) from the German national elite or junior elite level. All measurements were conducted on the basis of real athletes’ motion in the water to correctly account for all relevant effects, including skin and muscle vibrations. First, the athletes took part in a series of 100 m short-distance tests at maximal effort in a long-course pool to quantify swim-time differences in absolute terms. Second, the subjects completed multiple submaximal 400 m tests at 95% of their individual maximal speed in a swimming flume, with their swimwear-related differences in metabolic load being explored in terms of blood lactate and heart rate. Third, the passive drag of the triathletes was measured in the flume during a towing test under standardised conditions in velocity steps of 0.2 m/s within the triathlon-relevant range of 1.1–1.7 m/s. In all three test stages, the speedsuits exhibited performance advantages over trunks/swimsuits: in the 100 m maximal test, the mean swim time with speedsuits decreased by 0.99 ± 0.30 s (≙ − 1.5%). During the 400 m submaximal flume test, the mean heart rate showed a reduction of 7 ± 2 bpm (≙ − 4.0%), while the post-exercise blood lactate accumulation decreased by 1.0 ± 0.2 mmol/L (≙ − 26.2%). Similarly, the passive drag in the towing test was lowered by 3.2 ± 1.0 W (≙ − 6.9% as for normalised power and − 5.2% as for normalised force) for the speedsuits. Wearing speedsuits instead of usual trunks/swimsuits is shown to improve the swimming performance and to reduce the metabolic cost for well-trained triathletes under triathlon-specific test conditions. The reduction in passive drag of the passively towed athlete’s body due specific speedsuit surface textures seems to be only one reason for performance advantages: the effective reduction in muscular, soft tissue, and skin vibrations at the trunk and thighs during active propulsive motion of the swimmer seems to further contribute substantially.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the participating athletes for their kind commitment. We express our gratitude to the companies Filser Sport & Marketing, pricon GmbH & Co KG (Germany), Orbea s.Coop. Ltda. (Spain), sailfish GmbH (Germany) and MooveMee GmbH (Germany) for providing free sample suits for this study during the time of testing. We gratefully acknowledge technical assistance from different sections of our institute. Finally, yet importantly, we wish to thank four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Olaf Ueberschär.

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Ueberschär, O., Schleichardt, A., Buchhop, L. et al. Quantification of improvement in triathlon swimming performance by textile speedsuits. Sports Eng 21, 379–388 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12283-018-0282-1

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Keywords

  • Swimsuit
  • Swim performance
  • Drag
  • Flume
  • Heart rate
  • Blood lactate