There are many decisions a female swimmer might grapple with when deciding whether to purchase a technical swimming suit, and what kind. What's my price point? Traditional or kneeskin? What brand should I opt for?
Whether you've done your research when it comes to technical suits or you're investing in one for the first time, here's another question you might inevitably have: What are the benefits of open back technical suits versus closed-back tech suits?
Technical suits are superior to the practice suit in that they are made up of sleek, hydrophobic materials that reduce drag and repel water. The compression of the suit increases blood circulation, which can boost performance. And the smooth feel they bring to racing give swimmers a mental edge that shouldn't be discounted.
Tech suits, which swimmers rely on for a performance edge in competition, come in all kinds of fabrics, compression qualities and styles. Some suits are designed for certain stroke specialties, while others are made for distance or sprint-length performance.
Like many practice suits, open back tech suits sport the same wide straps that typically cross in an X-shape above a circular cut-out. In closed back suits, the back is solid fabric.
TYR representative Brandon Reed says there are two components to consider when choosing an open back vs. closed back technical suit.
The first is personal preference. "There are some that prefer one over the other simple from a comfort perspective or what they are used to," he says.
The second comes down to speed and performance, he says. The fabric and the technology that make up technical suits offers compression as well as a more hydrophobic performance in the pool.
When it comes to speed, most brands feel that more compression is key. "While they both have the same fabric, more is better in the case of a closed-back suit," he says. "The idea is that with more coverage you are getting more of the benefits that the suit has to offer."
That doesn't necessarily mean a closed-back suit is right for you, especially if you aren’t an ultra-competitive swimmer. Though all tech suits require time and care to put on, closed-back suits can be more difficult for swimmers to get into. Your own preference for compression will determine whether you enjoy the extra support or find the extra fabric restrictive.
Whether you ultimately opt for an open-back or closed-back suit, keep this in mind before making a purchase: Tech suits won't fix your stroke or produce personal record miracles. Add in the cost, and the fact that tech suits have a short shelf life, and it becomes all the more important to invest in the style and brand that's right for you.
Try on a suit before purchasing if a vendor will let you, or order suits from companies with strong return policies. Read up on sizing—there's a good chance sizing will differ from your practice suit. And remember, unless you have Olympic or elite swimming aspirations, it's okay to prioritize comfort in your suit.