While there have been studies, debate, arguments, and opinions on the "new suits," I figured the best way to create my own opinion was to give one a try. I tend to get along really well with other breaststrokers, so I gave Roque Santos a call to inquire about trying out a Blueseventy suit.
I spoke to Roque (the 1992 Olympic Trials Champion in the 200 breaststroke) and explained that I had a meet coming up, and would love to try one of the suits. After much haggling, he decided to send me a suit. To clarify prior to reading this, I'm not associated with Blueseventy in any way, didn't get paid for this, and won't be selling them any time soon either. I think you'll understand, by reading this, that even if I were working for Blueseventy, it's hard to argue with the results of the suit.
To also be fair to both sides of the argument on these, and because we got SO much discussion the last time I wrote about, and promoted full-body suits, I recently posted probably the most detailed argument against the full body suits. I'm not trying to be the answer, just a messenger of my own experience.
I've also stated that because of my recent swims, and my experience with the full-body suits, I wasn't planning to ever swim an important race in anything except a full-body suit. So all the studies in the world, and arguments for or against, aren't going to sway my own personal feeling on this issue. Everyone has his own opinion... this is mine.
My initial reasoning for wearing the full-body suit was a bit more than performance oriented. I've been pretty open about how overweight I got, and it got to the point where it was embarrassing just hopping onto the blocks. The full-body suit is the savior of male masters swimming, as the jammer has been to high school boys swimming. I was hoping to cover as much as possible in the hope of APPEARING to be a shapely vessel traveling through the water.
Once I started swimming a bit more in them, I realized that it was also having an additional impact to my stroke, specifically my breaststroke. Being a very flat type of breaststroker, with a big powerful kick, the faster I try to go, the larger my kick gets, and the more resistance I create. No matter how much I tried to reduce my kick, my aggression as an athlete was overcoming my goal of minimizing the kick. In other words, my body was winning out over my brain... or... dumb jock syndrome. Once I put on a full-body suit, with everything connected, and a bit constricted, my kick became more narrow simply because the suit held it that way. This was something that was NOT happening with the jammer, or even with the legs. It seemed, for me, the more material, the narrower everything got (including my belly... a welcome side effect).
While I was extremely pleased with how I swam at Masters Nationals in Austin, I really didn't take much of a break. I didn't increase my training, but rather just stayed in the water. Over the past few weeks, we've been under some pretty strict deadlines on a couple projects, so time has been limited. The day prior to the meet where I tested the Blueseventy, I filmed many swimmers under water for nearly 3 hours (myself under water kicking), plus spent 4-1/2 hours on deck, leading the breaststroke day at the Navy Swim Camp in Annapolis. This means a lot of walking, yelling, and no down time. In other words, my legs were getting pretty achy and I wasn't looking forward to swimming the 200 breaststroke the next morning. In fact, the week was so busy that I had time to swim only twice with the longest practice being 1,500 long course.
Needless to say, driving to the University of Maryland on Friday morning, shaking my legs the entire way... I honestly wasn't looking forward to what was to come.
I got in a very long warm-up, probably close to 3,000 yards of slow, smooth swimming. Just trying to shake loose any aches I had and trying to get used to the walls. I listened to Roque and put on the suit a while before my race and headed to the warm-up pool again. He told me I should swim with it before I raced with it. "Get it wet" he said, so I made sure I did. I couldn't resist drying it off again, but I knew I couldn't dry the inside so I figured I was safe. I also felt a bit of water getting into my back. Roque also told me this would happen, so I actually felt better experiencing everything he told me was going to happen (a true sign of a good teacher, thanks Roque).
I also had a plan to try something completely new with my stroke. According to Eddie Reese and Brendan Hansen, who watched at Texas, my kick is good... so stay under longer on each stroke. I figured, what the heck, I won't get as much air, but this race was a test, so use it as such.
I got in and really focused on long walls, and keeping my head down and gliding. I could feel the water slipping into my back, but started counting my strokes during the race. 6 - then 7... and I realized, I was taking equal or fewer strokes than I took in Austin swimming yards, and this was meters. I started to feel my forearms tightening at the 125 wall, and was thankful I only had 3 lengths left.
When I touched the wall on the finish, and glanced up to the clock, I was hoping I would be within a respectable measure of David Guthrie's World Record of 2:26.1, and the time I saw surprised me for the first time since I was 15 in a swim race: 2:22.6. I waited for the clock to reset, or change. I figured there was a missing light because I knew UMD had just ordered a beautiful new scoreboard. The more I looked, the more confused I got. Did I really just go 2:22? No way. I couldn't have gone that fast. The last time I swam this race meters, I went 2:30 in December, and it HURT! The 2:10 yards in Austin was a good race, and I was READY for that one. I didn't do anything for this... except, change my stroke a bit, and put on a Blueseventy suit.
Did I feel "magical" in the suit? No. I actually didn't feel much different than I had in some of the other suits. I wasn't floating on top of the water. I was just going faster than I thought I was.
The rest of the meet went accordingly for a Blueseventy meet. Fast swims in the 200 IM, the 100 breast, the 50 breast and the 100 IM. It seemed that the longer the race, the larger the improvement. I realized that, for me, the longer I'm able to stay under water, the more advantageous the suit is for me.
In my opinion, which is absolutely correct for ME, and no studies in the world can dispute what I feel about my own swimming, this suit has allowed me to swim faster than I'm supposed to. I even felt guilty for a little while about breaking records of people who didn't have the same advantage that I had. Then I remembered that I used to have some records too, that with rule changes, were wiped clean. It almost felt like it was MY turn... then I didn't feel so bad. Also knowing that very soon, all my friends would get their hands on one of these, and break all of my new records... then I'll have more things to shoot for as well.
Many of you know that, other than swimming, my favorite sport is Formula 1 racing. It is arguably, the most technically advanced sport in the world. Each season brings advancements, rule changes, tire-compound changes, so many little things that to the naked eye, we can barely notice, yet they spend MILLIONS on these subtle changes. Swimming equipment technology has made some of these same huge advances in recent years. Even if the scientists claim otherwise, we all know a lot of money has been spent, which we all understand needs to be recouped. OK... we know how the system works. While I'm not a fan of passing these costs on to parents of age-group swimmers, as a Masters swimmer, hey, these things smooth out all my soft edges, so let technology reign supreme. If not for performance, then for vanity.
Finally, yes, it DOES come down to the swimmer, to the training, to the preparation. While I don't feel I should have gone as fast as I did, as a former elite-level swimmer, I do have some knowledge about how my body should be traveling through the water. Whatever adjustments I made while I was wearing the suit were there because I've relearned the feeling of the water over this past year. I did that by swimming almost every day... if even a little.
Even the Blueseventy won't swim for me. However, the 5 times I've used it in a race have been far more successful than I ever would have imagined going into the meet. There's a new world of swimming rising. We'll all witness it this summer in China, only this time, we ALL have the opportunity to take part. We can all swim a little faster than we thought we should, and it's a lot of fun. Of course, the more we use them, the more training we'll have to do to go faster. Ultimately, this cycle will level out, and we'll be back to the usual grind of learning and training for improvement. Until then... you can pry my BLUESEVENTY from my cold, shriveled, pruned fingers... of course, if you can get to the zipper. Lil' help, please?