How developments in swimwear have improved performance

As aquatic professionals you will know that being equipped with the right swimwear is critically important for competitive swimmers. Every second counts, so it is important to have the best fabric and the right body coverage. Last month our blog covered how modern swimsuits can affect performance. This blog will look into the history of swimsuits and how they have developed over time.

At the end of World War II, companies began to research and develop materials for swimwear that could increase the swimmer’s speed. Swimming costumes have been around since the 1800s. In the early 20th century they were made of an unflattering knitted material, which became heavy when immersed in water – not exactly ideal!


British swimmers J. Slane (left) and C. Stephens as they trained for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Lighter, silk outfits were introduced for elite swimmers for the 1924 Olympics.

2The Finnish swimming team during the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

In the 1930s rayon, an artificial version of silk, was introduced, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that swimwear technology really took off. Manufacturers started to look at creating a costume which was attractive and comfortable, without causing offence. Developments in man-made fabrics such as nylon in the 1940s and 50s meant swimsuits became light, comfortable and cheap to produce.


Corinne Condon, an American swimmer poses for this portrait circa 1950.

By the 1960s swimming had become big business and athletes were getting faster all the time. Friction, however, was still a huge problem, which meant that athletes still couldn’t swim with 100% efficiency. One fraction of a second could make a difference between a gold and silver medal.

In the 1980s Speedo became the first company to develop nylon/Lycra swimwear. These flexible and lightweight suits are still the most popular today.


Nicole Haislett (left) and Dara Torres: U.S Gold Medallists during the 1992 Barcelona Games.


Speedo was the suit of choice in the men’s 100-metre backstroke during the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Speedo’s biggest innovation popped onto the scene in 2000. The all-in-one body suit was designed to mimic the movement of a shark. It sparked debate over the technology that cut swimmers’ times dramatically. Stars such as Michael Phelps wore the neck-to-ankle suits for the Athens Olympics in 2004.


Australian Susie O’Neill shows off a new style costume in 2000.

During this period there were huge numbers of world records broken, which prompted The Federation International De Nation (FINA), the governing body for swimming, to bring in new guidelines. Non-textile suits were banned and the amount of body coverage was limited to between the waist and knees for men, and not past the shoulders or below the knees for women.

Designers had to come up with new ways of maintaining speed, whilst keeping within the guidelines. Speedo responded with their Fastskin3 system, comprising of a cap, goggles and suit, engineered to work in unison. The system as a whole is meant to benefit swimmers in areas that traditionally slow them down, such as by giving an 11% improvement in oxygen economy, which enables them to swim stronger for longer.


British swimming stars Rebecca Adlington and Liam Tancock model Speedo’s Fastskin3 swimwear systems.

Designers will continue to develop new innovations in swimming costumes to help swimmers efficiency and new costumes will always be under the spotlight, for the very reason they are created – to help swimmers go faster. We are interested to see what swimwear companies come up with next!

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Training for competitive open water swimming

    oudoor training   pool training

All open water swimmers have their preferred place to practice, but there are three things all open water swimmers should think about, whether practice is outdoors or in the pool.

  1. Technique: developing a biomechanically sound freestyle stroke to optimise your efficiency in the water, often through the use of specific drills and visualisations
  2. Fitness: developing swim-specific fitness that will ensure that you can maintain your technique, at speed, over a prolonged distance, often through the use of interval sets using Critical Swim Speed (CSS) as a benchmark
  3. Open water skills: adapting your swim stroke for the specific demands of the open water environment. These include getting used to variable conditions and the close confines of swimming near many other swimmers

Training outdoors is excellent for longer stints. Sighting and drafting skills can be refined. It is a good idea when swimming outdoors to wear what you’ll be competing in. It will give you a better idea of how you will perform in an actual event. Although it is essential to train outdoors, it is also important not to forget the positive benefits that a session in the pool might offer: namely technique and fitness development. The pros and cons of both pool-only and open water-only environments are listed below. These are taken from a recent article by Swim Smooth in H2Open magazine. Best results are achieved by adopting a combination of both methods.

Open water training


  • Develop safety skills that are specific to open water swimming
  • Experience a wide range of conditions and learn how best to handle them
  • Cold water acclimatisation
  • Less claustrophobic than a pool


  • Sometimes hard to find suitable venues
  • Ideally you need someone else to be with you or supervising in case of emergency
  • Technique and specific fitness work can be harder to practice than in the pool
  • For longer swims, nutrition feeding strategies can be hard to execute without a support paddler/boat

Pool training


  • Controlled environment
  • Much easier to practise drills and distance-orientated interval sets
  • Can attend by yourself without additional support or assistance
  • Much easier to monitor progress with measurable distances against time


  • Not specific to open water swimming
  • Indoor pools can be too warm and may hinder cold water acclimatisation
  • Busy lanes can make structured drills and fitness work hard to follow sometimes
  • Following the black-line relentlessly can be boring

Competitive open water swimming is completely different to racing in the pool. Optimum performance can only be attained by many hours of effort and the best results come from training in a combination of both outdoors and in the pool.

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Fancy a dip?

It seems that summer has finally arrived (we really hope it stays!) and if you can’t make it to the seaside then your local lido might just be the perfect place to go!

Whether you’re looking for a quick dip to cool off or perhaps fancy a change of scenery to your usual swimming regime the open air is certainly a great alternative. Here’s our quick round up of some of the best lido’s around!

The London Fields Lido, Hackney


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This once derelict 1930’s building has recently been re-furbished, re-opening in 2006 after 18 years of closure with the capital’s first Olympic sized heated outdoor swimming pool. The lido first opened in 1932 and has now been rebuilt to highest modern standards. With plans to build a retractable roof, this lido provides year-round activities for all ages and abilities.  A great place to relax in the sun on the Sunbathing Terrace or you can grab bite to eat in their cafe.

Saltdean Lido, Sussex


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If you’re on the SouthCoast and fancy a swim, you could join the masses on pebbly Brighton beach, but if you want to avoid the crowds then why not go a mile up the coast to the wonderful art deco lido at Saltdean. It may not be the largest of lido’s, but it certainly has its charms on a hot summer’s day. In April this year Campaigners unveiled plans to build an extra indoor pool at the lido, so hopefully you’ll soon be able to enjoy the lido all year round! Facilities include two pools, a diving board, cafés and sun terraces. Saltdean Lido is also a bit of a bargain only costing £4 for adults, £3 children and £2 for under-5s and concessions. It is currently open 7am to 9pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm on the weekends, until mid-September.

Sandford Park Lido, Cheltenham


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Set on a four acre site, the Sanford Park Lido is a fantastic outdoor pool based in the heart of Cheltenham, with the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds nearby. The lido itself is a children’s paradise with slides, a children’s pool and a paddling pool. The 50m pool is also an ideal place to train, with two lanes reserved most days. The 2013 season opened back on 4th May and will run until the 29th September. They even have four early morning swim sessions a week opening at 6:30am and 8am on Sundays, for those who fancy a bit more quiet time when swimming. However, it’s not just swimming they offer down at the lido. Visitors can play volleyball, table tennis and can even experience theatre and cinema in a unique setting. 

Ilkley Lido, West Yorkshire


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Built in 1935 as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations for King George V, the lido has remained open since then from May to September each year and offers visitors fantastic range of things to do. The site has an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts, bowling greens, a café and an outdoor picnic area for visitors to enjoy. During the summer season it will cost £5.20 as an adult, £2.75 for juniors and £2.20 for concessions and is open from 10am-5.30pm Saturday and Sunday (open until 7.30pm Monday to Friday).

Stonehaven Open Air pool and Lido, Aberdeenshire, Scotland


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The Stonehaven Open air pool and Lido first opened in June 1934 and is now open every day throughout out the summer season, officially closing on Sunday 1st September. The pool is located within a beautiful Art Deco building which holds a Category B listed buildings status and has been rated by VisitScotland as a 4star attraction. The lido offers visitors walled sun terraces, free patio armchairs and sun loungers, full disabled access, two water chutes and a poolside café and on Wednesday nights you can even go for a moonlit dip as the pool is open until after midnight. They also offer twice a week early morning swim sessions between 6:30am to 10am and daily quiet swims that do not allow for any music or unaccompanied children between 10 until 11am. For more general swimming the pool is open Monday to Friday 11am until 7.30pm and closes at 6pm on the weekends.

We really hope you are able to enjoy the fantastic lido’s Britain has to offer this summer! To see a more extensive list or to find a lido in your area please visit

RAPs will be attending this year’s LIW


We’re really excited to announce that for the first time RAPs will be attending Leisure Industry Week (LIW), which takes place between the 24th – 26th September 2013 at the NEC Arena in Birmingham.

For those of you that haven’t heard of LIW, it is the UK’s leading exhibition for the leisure industry. This annual trade show connects you the with the latest products, services, brands, and innovations the industry has to offer and with the attendance of leading companies and industry experts you will be able to see what’s new on the market, and be inspired to develop fresh ideas and experiences for your members and customers. By attending this fantastic event you will also be able to meet with new and existing suppliers, attend high-level seminars, take part in interactive activities and network with industry colleagues.

It’s not just the swimming industry who will be there though! The event is also attended by other sectors of the leisure industry including:

  • Sport
  • Leisure facilities
  • Food & drink
  • Play & attraction
  • Health & fitness!

What’s even better is that if you register in advance it is free for you to attend! However, non-registered visitors will have to pay a £30 entry free on the door. So why not register your attendance today by visiting the LIW website. We hope to see you all there!


RAPs at Flame 2013



It’s a busy time here at RAPs with the pilot closing this month. To help build on the pilot’s success and help develop a wider awareness of the Register, we attended Flame 2013, an event run by ukactive.

With a conference taking place during the way, a fantastic learning and networking opportunity was presented to the delegates, made up fitness professionals from all across the industry, from swimming instructors and lifeguards to directors and CEOs.

An impressive programme was installed with seminar-style sessions covering a diverse range of topics, including marketing, technology, management, personal development, sales and service.

The event concluded with an awards evening where leisure, fitness and health clubs were rewarded for a range of successes and best practice over the past 12 months.

Winners included Featherstone Sports Centre, who won Educational Club of the Year (Schools) and DC Leisure, who won the Leisure Centre Operator of the Year award at what is considered to be the most prestigious health and fitness facility awards.

Flame offered RAPs a great chance to catch-up with some familiar faces, as well as meet some new ones in what is a really exciting time for the Register.

If you managed to make it to Flame, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!