I have always been fascinated with speed in the water and what Olympians wear in the pool.
For male swim competitors today, the skimpy speedos are out and the knee-length jammers are in, but what has caused this change?
As a general rule, male Olympic swimmers wear jammers instead of speedos to improve performance. Jammers are more streamlined and compress the body, which can help an Olympian swim and recover faster. Typically Olympians will train in speedos for comfort but compete in jammers.
“Speedos” are actually just regular swim briefs. Speedo is the brand, but, as with so many giant brands, the name “Speedos” has become widely accepted as the general term to describe the traditional swim briefs.
In this article I will cover:
- What is the difference between jammers and speedos?
- Why are Olympic swimmers not wearing Speedos?
- Are jammers better than Speedos?
- Why do Olympic divers wear tiny Speedos?
- Are jammers more streamlined?
What Is The Difference Between Jammers And Speedos?
Speedos refer to short swimming briefs that cover the minimum amount of skin, whereas Jammers refer to long leg, skin-tight swim shorts.
Generally, Speedos are more comfortable and less restrictive than Jammers, hence why Olympians train in Speedos and not in their racing Jammers.
I follow a lot of the most famous Olympians online and love watching their training habits, including Cody Miller, who is a Breaststroke Olympian.
I see Cody in his YouTube videos training in his Speedos every day, and only wearing his racing Jammers for swim meets or competitions.
Surely, it would make sense to train consistently in what you will wear when competing so that when competition day comes around, you are wearing the same suit you have trained in?
But this is not what Olympians do. Why?
Speedos are simply more comfortable. So Olympians will wear Speedos for day-to-day training, then change to Jammers for competition day to give them an edge.
Here are some of the other notable differences between Speedos and Jammers:
- Speedos are generally cheaper. Although you can get more expensive speedos, because of the lack of compression, less material and seamed finish they are usually cheaper.
- Speedos are more comfortable to wear. Because of the high compression, Jammers are more restrictive.
- Jammers are great for speed and competition. High end Jammers are compressive and seamless, giving your body the best streamlined shape for slipping through the water.
- High quality Jammers are long lasting.
Why Are Olympic Swimmers Not Wearing Speedos?
In a nutshell, high performance Jammers are faster than Speedos.
When you reach Olympic standard, a fraction of a second counts and Olympians need to take any slight speed advantage that they can.
It is widely accepted that the transition from Speedos to Jammers happened between the 1996 & 2000 Olympics.
Pre-1996, Olympians were still wearing the traditional swim brief Speedos. The Jammer design was launched (by Speedo!) at the 1996 Olympics.
This started the age of advancement in racing suits and tech-suits for the competitive market. By the time the 2000 Olympics came around, all swimmers were wearing some form of Jammers or tech-suit, leaving the traditional swim brief Speedos behind.
Here are some of the reasons Olympians choose Jammers over Speedos on competition day:
1. Water Repelling Material
Jammers at the top of the swimwear range will be classified as a “tech-suit” and made from water-repelling fabric.
These high end tech-suit Jammers are designed to repel water so they do not absorb water and create drag.
Of course, cheaper Jammers will absorb water. The Jammers you see Olympians wear will be of the high-end tech suit variety.
2. High Compression
Despite how well toned and slender professional swimmers are, they still look squeezed into their Jammers.
This is because these high-end Jammers are designed to compress the body.
Compression has two main purposes:
- Shapes the body to make it streamlined for speed.
- Aids in recovery times.
How well compression actually helps recovery in this instance is still up for debate.
Just like compression socks are designed to improve circulation, Jammers will compress the legs and body to do the same.
Other than the benefits of improved circulation, there is still sparse evidence that compression from Jammers really helps recovery, power, or endurance. Currently, there is a lack of research in this field.
Hopefully, with time, sports science will answer this one for us, but here are some existing research papers on potential benefits (or not) of compression if you are interested in this area. [source 1], [source 2], [source 3], [source 4].
Tech swim suits, including high-end Jammers, are seamless.
This means that the outer face is perfectly smooth, to ensure that water flows effortlessly over your body with no obstacles.
You might think that having a suit with a seam will make no difference to your time, but with Olympians every fraction-of-a-second counts so if an athlete can take any advantage, no matter how small, they will.
Are Jammers Better Than Speedos?
Which option you choose will depend on what is more comfortable for you and your swimming needs.
For competitions, high-end Jammers are by far superior because of their performance enhancing properties. However, trying to fit into a tight tech suit every day is not practical for Olympians, or anyone.
Jammers, because of construction and the materials involved, will generally last longer and are a favourite amongst triathlon swimmers for this reason.
Speedos are widely accepted as being great for comfort. (Full disclosure here, being female I don’t wear speedos so this is not from personal experience, but every single forum and swimmer I follow seems to testify to this.)
Finally, Jammers are a better option for those who want to take their swimming seriously, and hate the minimal feel of Speedos.
According to Swimming World Magazine, for new swimmers getting into the sport, the Jammer is proving to be a popular choice, as so many are just not comfortable with the traditional skimpy Speedos [source]
Here in the UK, the tight swim briefs have been voted “the UK’s most hated clothing”, so it is no surprise that Jammers are on the rise, even outside of competitive swimming [source]
If you choose the Jammer and don’t want the high-end tech suit compressed feel, you can pick a lower level Jammer that will be a lot more comfortable and practical such as the Jammers from the Speedo, “Men’s Essential Endurance Range”.