Connect with Us:  

Interference With Natural Sensory Perception

Nov 16, 2009  - Cecil Colwin

SwimNews writer and prolific author of swimming bibles down the years, Cecil Colwin explains why it is good that the shiny suits are going, why they should never come back, and in what way they make a good training tool

Apart from the polemics and legalistic arguments, we cannot escape the fact that the shiny suits threatened to change the whole character of competitive swimming.

From a natural sport, in which the human body interfaced directly with the water, and despite what FINA's wiseacres have said, the sport had changed undeniably into an implement sport, in which body suits intervened between the body and its natural contact with the water. Could this really be called "swimming", in the truest sense of the word? 

Under normal circumstances, human swimming movements are modified by sensory stimuli received from the skin, muscles, and joints, and these sensory impulses act to guide muscular contractions. The sense of balance in the water and the pressure of the water against the sensory surfaces of the hands, legs, and other parts of the body aid tremendously in regulating a smooth and effective stroke. The development of this sensitivity to the proprioceptive and afferent nerve currents is largely the difference between an expert and a mediocre swimmer.

Not to belabour the point, and neither to lose one's sense of humour, one has only to look at FINA's decision, made ten years ago almost to the month, to discern the sorry state of the sport after entering the much-vaunted 'new space age".  At the Rome world championships, many hitherto unknown swimmers, used the shiny suits as virtual implements to set marks that, in the normal course of events, would have needed ten strong men pulling them through the water on a rope, to replicate their recent "world-record-breaking" feats.

Many swimmers and coaches have commented that the shiny suit is an aberration and that if you can't feel the water on your body, then you're not really swimming. 

However, there may be one real plus to wearing a body suit: when the swimmer reverts to swimming in a normal, traditional swimsuit, he or she finds that their feel of the water has been almost miraculously enhanced. 

When worn as a practice suit, the suit in effect blinds the sensory nerve endings to the feel of the water. Thus, when the suit is taken off, the nerve endings overcompensate by becoming extra sensitive to the feel of the transient (moving) pressure of the water on the limbs.