From goggles and caps to timers and specialized suits, swimming demands a host of performance-enhancing gear. For competitive swimmers, the right equipment can provide crucial advantages in the water. This guide explores the various equipment used in competitive swimming across different strokes and events to help swimmers understand how to utilize tools and technology to maximize abilities in the pool.

Racing Suits

Specialized suits help competitive swimmers gain every edge in the water. Types of racing suits include:

  • Speedo LZR Line – High-tech full-body and knee-length suits using compression materials and hydrodynamic design to limit drag. Offered in variety of branding partnerships.
  • Arena Carbon Line – Streamlined full-body options utilizing advanced materials for compression and water repellency.
  • TYR Avictor Line – Innovative sleeveless and full-body suits focused on compression and muscular support.

Top suits incorporate intelligent seam placement, flexible water-resistant textiles, and strategic compression zones to enhance performance.

Competition Swim Caps

Swim caps serve multiple functions:

  • Reduce drag by covering hair for a sleeker head shape
  • Keep long hair contained and out of the swimmer’s face
  • Provide ear protection and warmth in cold pool temperatures
  • Display team logos and identity

Latex and silicone materials allow stretch and tightness to anchor the cap in place even at high speeds.

Swimming Goggles

Well-fitted goggles protect the swimmer’s eyes in several key ways:

  • Prevent eye irritation and poor vision from chlorinated water
  • Allow clear underwater sight-line to track on walls for turns
  • Streamline the face by eliminating drag compared to bare eyes
  • Isolate each eye optically to remain focused and oriented

A variety of goggle styles suit different facial shapes and socket depth. Finding the perfect leak-proof fit enhances performance.

Competition Tech Suits

High-level swimmers wear technical “tech” suits in important races. Key features:

  • Water-resistant, low-dragitude fabric that repels water
  • Strategic seam placement to avoid drag and chaffing
  • Compression material for muscular and posture support
  • Chlorine resistance to maintain suit integrity

Tech suits can marginally enhance times but mainly provide psychological confidence. Most swimmers reserve them for championship events.


Fins attach to the swimmer’s feet and aid with propulsion and speed. Benefits:

  • Oversized blade surface generates added thrust and power
  • Reinforce proper kicking technique by accentuating whip-like motion
  • Build ankle flexibility and kick stamina through added resistance

Fins come in short and long blade lengths for different degrees of power. Overuse risks injury so they are incorporated selectively into training.


Paddles are plastic plates worn on the hands during swim practice. Advantages:

  • Increase resistance on pull pattern to build arm and back strength
  • Encourage higher elbow lift and proper pulling technique
  • Help develop a more powerful catch phase after entry
  • Hand paddles vary in surface size depending on training focus

Paddles boost workload but using them excessively risks overuse. Targeted paddle sets improve specific strokes.


Kickboards are foam flotation devices used mostly in freestyle and backstroke. Functions:

  • Maintain proper horizontal body position by keeping upper body buoyant
  • Isolate the kick so arms get a rest while legs focus on kicking
  • Improve body balance, alignment, and leg tempo during kick drills
  • Strengthen dolphin kicking by taking arms completely out of stroke

By removing stroke variables, kickboards spotlight leg conditioning and technique.

Pull Buoys

Pull buoys are small foam blocks squeezed between the upper thighs. Uses:

  • Support leg buoyancy to isolate arm strokes and core
  • Refine pulling efficiency by preventing inefficient leg motion compensating
  • Develop bilateral breathing patterns without legs sinking
  • Improve rhythmic timing on entry, pull, catch, and rotation

Pull buoys are excellent tools for targeted arm stroke training across all distances and strokes.


Swimmers use snorkels as hollow breathing tubes extending from swim cap. Functions:

  • Allows continuous breathing regardless of head position
  • Trains bilateral breathing by eliminating need to lift head
  • Removes temptation to breathe late or hold breath while swimming
  • Permits vocalization to engrain stroke feel and rhythm

By ensuring constant oxygen flow, snorkels promote relaxed technique focus and endurance.

Tempo Trainers

These devices attach to goggles and provide audio beeps or flashing lights to help train ideal stroke rate tempo. Benefits:

  • Set specific intervals for each stroke like seconds per arm cycle
  • Develop sense of rhythm and timing for efficient propulsion
  • Quickly alert swimmers if tempo is too quick or too slow
  • Customizable based on goal pace and stroke count

Tempo trainers build muscle memory for excellent pace consistency and efficiency.

Competition Backstroke Ledges

Backstroke ledges are small depth extenders allowing feet/legs to remain lowered without touching the wall. This enables starts and turns without bending knees to avoid disqualification. Benefits:

  • Legal wall contact on backstroke turns without bending legs
  • More powerful turns by maintaining streamline off the wall
  • Tactile reference so athletes known when full leg extension is reached

Without ledges, backstrokers must master the unusual skill of curling just short of touching the wall, which is difficult to repeat precisely each turn.

Ankle Bands

Ankle bands are light resistance bands worn during kick drills. Advantages:

  • Add moderate load to kick sets to increase leg strength
  • Boost explosiveness by challenging ankles on up and down kicks
  • Help maintain high feet and toes throughout dolphin kick
  • Strengthen kick while swimming with other equipment by increasing drag forces

Varying levels of ankle band resistance allows for gradual progression in kicking workloads.

Nose Clips

Plastic clips worn over the nose serve a single purpose:

  • Plug the nostrils lightly to prevent water from entering nose inadvertently on strokes

Some swimmers simply deal with periodic sniffs of chlorine water. But nose clips provide insurance against nasal burning or water inhalation, providing peace of mind.

Swim Parachutes

Drag parachutes attach to the swimmer’s waist or legs, adding substantial resistance. Uses:

  • Build strength by swimming against added load
  • Improve explosiveness and power against the resistance
  • Teach swimming with optimal form and efficiency to overcome drag
  • Increase caloric burn by elevating swimming intensity

Parachutes challenge swimmers to generate more power with each stroke. They quickly reveal flaws in technique.

Competition Swimming Equipment FAQs

Which stroke requires swimmers to touch the wall for turns?

Backstroke, because swimmers remain face-up and cannot see the wall approach. Touching with their hand ensures no misses on turns.

What are common materials for competitive swim caps?

Most are latex or silicone. The stretchiness contours tightly to the head. Materials must be durable to withstand high-speed pressure.

How tight should competitive swim goggles fit?

Snug enough to create a seal and prevent leaks, but not so tight as to cause discomfort or headaches. Testing fit in practice is key.

Are tech suits allowed in high school and college meets?

Yes, all suits complying with FINA regulations are legal. But many high school and college swimmers opt for more modest team suits until championship meets.

Why do elite swimmers shave their entire bodies before major meets?

Shaving all hair off the arms, legs, and torso reduces drag by providing the ultimate smoothness through the water to gain fractional time advantages.

How are fins used strategically in swim training plans?

Most effectively in short burst sets targeting speed. Longer lower-intensity sets with fins risk overloading muscles. Brief explosive fin drills enhance power.

Why do swimmers wear two caps sometimes?

For extra warmth and insulation in cold pools. The layer of water between the caps retains body heat. Or to secure loose-fitting latex caps over hair.

How tight should ankle bands and parachutes be?

Resistance tools should fit snugly to avoid slipping but not cut off circulation fully. Some moderate tightness improves proprioception. The tension should limit mobility without preventing movement.

A tailored “equipment toolbox” allows competitive swimmers to strategically use technology and tools in training for improved performance, efficiency, and racing psychology. Proper fitting and progressive incorporation of equipment optimizes benefits.


Categories: Swimming


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


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