Tell people you begin the day with a swim and they’re bound to reply with a look that’s equal parts envy, bewilderment and awe. Who swims, for exercise, in the morning? Who risks certain athlete’s foot and doesn’t mind going to work with goggle eyes? How many people pee in the pool? Old people and triathletes, that’s who. And everyone. But the reality is that swimming is the perfect impact-free sport for long-term fitness and short-term ripped abs, and while you can do it with nothing but a pair of Speedos and a smile, having a stocked duffel can make the experience more fulfilling than a philosophical conversation with Ryan Lochte — much more.
Speedo Endurance+ Square Leg
The boxers or briefs debate is a timeless one, a question that digs down through the underwear drawer all the way to a person’s id. The same debate exists for swimmers — except you’ve got jammers, briefs and square trunks (not to mention body skins and drag suits). The idea of jammers for racing is nice, but they’re expensive and frankly a little too conservative. Briefs? Talk to the Italian guy doing squats between sets. We’re firmly in the square trunks corner. Speedo’s Square Leg suit is a solid answer to the debate, and with a chlorine-resistant polyester construction should remain intact for the entire swim season. Maybe more.
Arena Swedix Mirror
Elsewhere we’ve praised the soft gaskets and overall quality of TYR Special Ops goggles, but it’s important to acknowledge that with most goggles, including the TYR option, the swimmer exchanges a little bit of customizability for this comfort. These Swedish-style goggles are the ideal alternative — based on user-assembled, gasket-free Malmsten goggles launched in the 1970s and consisting of two eye cups attached with a string over the nose bridge and a rubber strap in back (both adjustable). If you don’t mind the feeling of your eyes popping out, the Malmstens are great; otherwise, the Swedish-style goggle from Arena provides elite cred with a little bit of comfort for us aquatic mortals.
Finis’s line of underwater MP3 players has just gotten an update with the new Duo. Replacing the old Neptune, the design goes from three pieces to two, with controls moved from the back of the head to the side, making it easier to use. The Duo still uses the Neptune’s Bone Conduction audio transmission for clear audio under the water and has 4GB of memory along with a battery life of seven hours, and it’s compatible with iTunes.
Finis Agility Paddles
Hand paddles are a surprisingly controversial tool among swimmers, mainly because there’s potential for shoulder strain or injury in people with mechanically unsound strokes. But appropriately sized paddles can help encourage a longer stroke, correct palm position and potentially increase strength. What sets these paddles apart is their lack of a strap: swim with correct palm position and they stay attached to your hands, swim with incorrect form and they don’t, pissing off whoever’s been sneaking your draft the last few laps.
Aqua Sphere AlphaFin
Kicking your feet for swimming seems like a pretty intuitive motion; in fact, it takes a lot of practice to build the muscle memory for a good kick, and one way to do that is by using fins. The AlphaFin is light and flexible, as it’s made of closed-cell EVA foam — thus it requires a bit of extra work on the down kick and encourages ankle flexibility. Because the fins are right- and left-foot specific, the fit is comfortable and secure.
Osmo Active Hydration Singles
Staying hydrated during exercise is a no brainer, and it’s easy enough with most sports because you can carry a bottle or a hydration pack. Swimming laps is different: There’s no place to stash a bottle, and we don’t always feel the effects of dehydration while submerged in cool water — but it’s happening, and you’ll notice when you wrap practice and your pee is the color of egg yolks. So what to drink? That stash of carbonated All Sport? No. Consider Osmo, which is all the hype right now among endurance athletes. Developed by nutrition scientist and exercise physiologist Dr. Stacy Sims and backed by peer-reviewed science, Osmo claims to have the ideal sugar and sodium formula for optimal fluid absorption, warding off cramping and increasing power. Throw a single in your bag, mix with water, drink between sets. For a lesson in osmolality, thermoregulation and hydration potential, check out the company’s website.
Looking to upgrade your swim game from casual workout to performance sport? One way to get there is by crunching data. We’ve talked at length about the Suunto Ambit2 S, which is ideal for triathletes, but for swimming alone, the Gamin Swim is at the top of the heap. It’s GPS-free (laps only) and tracks how long you swim, how far, pace, strokes per length, calories burned, plus details about specific intervals. After the workout, upload the data to Garmin Connect to analyze your performance. Actually, after the workout, show off your guns on the pool deck… then crunch the numbers.
Speedo Ventilator Duffel Bag
It’s tempting to jam all your swimming gear in that old Jansport from college you don’t care about anymore, but if your swim bag isn’t properly ventilated it’ll quickly turn into a biohazard. The Speedo Ventilator duffel bag is made from a hydrophobic mesh that keeps it from getting saturated and it and allows air cycle through to help your gear dry, aired out and keeping it from developing and nasty mildew smells throughout the day.
Hurley Phantom Free
There is a guy who walks from the locker room to the pool to the shower — barefoot. We respect his brashness, but we like a little distance between our feet and the rec center floor. For flip flips, it doesn’t get much more swank than the Hurley Phantom Free, equipped with Nike’s lightweight and flexible Free 5.0 sole, a mesh thong and an EVA footbed that molds to the foot. For a more affordable option, grab a pair of Havaianas or scour the discount rack at Ron Jon.
Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three
Since swimming is a low-impact sport, risks to injury are fairly minimal, but spending every morning in an environment full of chlorine can be a risk to your dignity. Shampooing your hair post-swim will help keep it from turning brittle and green, but if chlorine is still sticking to your mop, get something specifically formulated for chlorine removal like Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three should help. It’s almost otherworldly in it’s ability to remove chlorine and minerals from your hair.
TRISWIM Body Wash
As with your hair, chlorine will do a number on your skin if you’re a regular swimmer, drying it out and making it itch (this goes double in the winter months). TRISWIM’s body wash uses aloe and vitamin E, that helps moisturize skin damaged by chlorine, and will neutralize chlorine odors to boot.
Packtowel Personal Towel
It’s said that the best towel is one snapped at an unsuspecting fellow. A fine play, certainly. Second to that is the Packtowel. A product well known to hikers and campers, the Packtowel (size S) is portable, antimicrobial and dries quickly, perfect for attaching to a small backpack and bringing to the local pool. For those with towel service at the pool, good on you, but remember, you’ll still need something to wipe the wheatgrass juice dribbling down your chin.
Total Immersion Perpetual Motion Freestyle
You’ve got the Funky Trunks on, the Swedish-style goggles around your neck, Phish’s “Lawn Boy” album blasting on the Duo… now if you only knew how to swim. It’s fairly common, actually: most of us (including this author) learned to swim as kids and then basically forgot how to do it after 20 years of landlubbing. Total Immersion swimming is a system developed by long-time coach Terry Laughlin that prioritizes drag reduction, teaching students to slip through the water efficiently. There are workshops and self-coached videos, like this one, which is ideal for first-time triathletes or people who just want to be more comfortable in the water.
Additional Contribution by Andrew Connor