Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jammin' Fast In The Open Water

In the Marathon Swimmers Forum, Evan Morrison of the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association analyzed the opinions of 175 former, current or aspiring marathon swimmers from around the world. His comprehensive analyses are posted here.

Those 175 opinions present a very interesting snapshot of the community that includes at least 710 channel swimmers and 6,500 marathon swimmers in size. Morrison did an excellent job analyzing and presenting the information.

One of the non-controversial items among the myriad survey results was the use of jammers in the sport of marathon swimming. Unlike the old-fashioned wool swimsuits that admittedly felt warmer than today's swimsuits made out of synthetic materials, jammers are widely used and sworn by men in both pool and open water swimming competitions, solo channel attempts and open water relays.

Although the jammers are overwhelmingly popular and accepted by nearly every governing body with the exception of the Channel Swimming Association, on the face of it, it appears - at least to us - that use of jammers run counter to the marathon swimming and channel swimming ethos to not use anything that offers an extra edge or that enhances performance. As Morrison points out in his analyses of the collective opinions in the marathon swimming community, "...In marathon swimming, if you’re flirting with this line – trying to find loopholes for some extra edge – quite simply, you’re doing it wrong."

Our initiation in the open water swimming world began in 1968 so we are an alumnus of the old school of open water swimming, so admittedly our perspective is biased towards traditional men's swimming briefs. In our own test of jammers at the Open Water Swim Club, we definitely felt faster and "tighter and leaner" while wearing two different pairs of jammers manufactured by Speedo and TYR. Our personal findings seem to reflect the global choice of the world's fastest swimmers simply by a view of the Olympic and world championship finalists in various pool and open water races. Because the Olympic pool finalists and world open water championship swimmers are all about speed, there must be some element of truth that jammers enhance performance.

Jammers are generally made of water repellent fibers in a form fitting design with carefully lock stitching technology to reduce water resistance. The fibers - not used in traditional swim brieds - reduce friction drag and are supported by a special compression fit that are specifically utilized to reduce muscle oscillation and skin vibration which reportedly promotes muscle oxygenation and reduces fatigue.

So, at least on the face of it, use of jammers by male swimmers - and their equivalents in female swimsuits that extend down to the knee - seem to be an advantage used by contemporary marathon swimmers that were not made available to swimmers in the previous centuries (unlike bubble caps that have been around nearly 100 years). We wonder how much faster Greta Andersen or Penny Dean would have been with a compression fitting swimsuit since they utilized a 6-beat kick? We wonder what kind of time Ted Erikson or Philip Rush would have done on their multiple channel crossings aided by jammers?

Photo shows world record performance of Petar Stoychev on his one-way English Channel crossing in a jammer.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association