Swimsuit Fit for the Ladies

I am frequently asked by women about bathing suits. I don’t know if it is because the moon is aligned with Mars or it’s high tide, but for some reason the number of women asking me about getting a suit that fits better or just differently has tripled. So, gentleman readers, I am going to dedicate today to the ladies in the audience.

Maybe the number of questions has tripled because the variations in suits has increased by more than triple. I am going to limit today’s conversation to practice suits and not discuss racing suits, commonly referred to as tech suits.

Two main factors dictate fit and wear for suits. Fabric and Cut.  Here are the secrets you need to know about each:


Most popular brand training suits are made of nylon or polyester blended with spandex (Lycra, is probably one of the most common brands of spandex in use by swimsuit manufacturers). The percentage of each fabric determines the stretch and durability of the suit.

Suits with a high percentage of nylon or polyester, up to 94%, will have the longest life, while suits with higher spandex content will have the greatest stretch. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. High nylon or polyester content will have the far longer wear life. Higher spandex will make a lighter fabric with increased stretch for comfort and help compress the chest for reduced motion.

Each manufacturer makes different models of suits with varying ratios of polyester or nylon to spandex, so when shopping be sure you check the suits fabric combination. Most of the major swimming web sites list this information on the suits they sell in the details area.

There is also a brand of spandex fabric that is marketed as chlorine resistant, to have a longer life then regular spandex. While I admit it does last longer than other spandex products the life expectancy still does not approach the fabrics higher in nylon or polyester.

Cut: (slipped back cut out one words or two)

The number of cuts of suits has grown over the years. I remember when I first started swimming on a team we had the same scoop back, panel front suits.  We all used shoe laces to tie the straps together in the back or they would slip down our shoulder when we tried to swim. I remember our excitement when they came out with the first crossback suits to solve the problem.

There is no right or wrong answer on cut. It’s personal preference, but I can give you a few hints on what certain cuts are good, or not so good at doing.

Cutout suits:

Cutout suits are distinguished primarily by their wide-open backs, thin straps, low cut in the seat, and generally narrow cut.  These suits are incredibly easy to move in and give a great sense of freedom in the shoulders. These suits are very popular with current college and younger swimmers.

The objection many more mature swimmers have is that they feel to exposed in this wide-open cut. Luckily, at least two manufacturers make cutout suits that are a bit more generous in the seat and torso giving a more modest silhouette with the same open back feel. For these more modest versions check out the TYR Crosscut fit (only the solid color Crosscut fit is more modest), and even a little more modest, the Dolfin Uglies String back suits

Closed back suits:

These suits generally have fabric as part of the suit that spans the back. Suits like the Speedo Flyback, are very common and help keep the chest from moving during your swim. Many people wear them without any feeling of confinement and prefer this extra support.

Tie-back suits:

Tie-back suits allow you to customize the backstrap length for best fit.  The unfortunate drawback is that tying the suit often takes assistance. It can be hard to tie them tight enough by yourself and they are prone to wardrobe malfunction as they can come untied while you are swimming.

Two-piece training suits:

Often popular during the outdoor swim season these two-piece training suits are more secure then you might think.  Be sure your bottom is securely tied (but in this case you can at least do it yourself), and pick a top that is cut high enough to not allow for water to create drag by rushing down the suit through cleavage.


Strap configuration

Again, so many options and they are all personal preference.  Here are two thoughts that will help you with selecting suit:

  • Thin straps vs thick straps. No right or wrong, but in my experience most of my swimmers prefer thin.
  • There is no getting around the fact that straps put strain on the shoulder. To help my shoulders I try to vary my suit cuts around to keep from having the strain always be in the same spot.


Overall suit fit

The most common mistake I see in the pool is suits that are too big.  When you first put on a suit, it should feel just a bit too tight.  All suits will stretch out during the first three to five times you wear the suit. After this initial small stretch (how much depends on the amount of spandex in the suit) the suit will be at a stable size until the inevitable fade and loss of shape as it nears the end of its life.


I do not recommend training in suits with built in bras or cups.  The padding in these suits retains water, increasing the drag of suit.  If you want the support, try the following strategies:

  • Try a Dolfin Uglies V2 back. They are cut more generously through the side of the chest and give you better coverage.
  • Wear two suits. Wear a high spandex content, two-piece training suit top under your one-piece suit of choice. This will provide both compression and support for your chest, minimizing motion under the one-piece.

Wrap Up

Have I covered every option out there? Heck no! But this primer covers the most popular suits and issues for most swimmers.  Look on your favorite websites or swim shops for your preferred cut and then look at the polyester or nylon and spandex percentage.  Decide if you want more stretch and compression (higher spandex) or longer life, and I mean much longer life (higher nylon or polyester).

It goes without saying that I only have one body and don’t know what will work for every body and preference. So, I am asking you to comment here about what you like, or don’t like in fit and wear.  What solutions have you found for your fit issues. Share here and help others get the right suit.

Up next:  Choosing and Using Paddles


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