You may have seen swimmers training and competing in both swim briefs (Speedos) or jammers. However, at the highest levels of swimming, all athletes compete in jammers. Why is that? What do jammers provide that briefs don’t?
Olympic swimmers wear jammers because they increase one’s speed more than swim briefs do. Jammers are designed to compress the swimmers’ body, streamlining their shape and reducing drag. The compression is also said to improve circulation and help athletes recover faster. Generally, Olympic swimmers will train in Speedos but compete in jammers.
That’s not to say that swim briefs are obsolete; they have their own pros and cons, and jammers have their downsides as well. In this article, I will go over how briefs compare to jammers as well as the rationale behind why jammers are favored at the highest levels of competition.
What are Speedos and jammers?
Just so I’m clear on what swimwear are being compared, Speedos are like tight-fitting underwear you can wear while swimming, and jammers are like knee-length compression tights you can wear while swimming.
Check out the pictures below for a visual of what I mean. It may help you better understand the explanations that I give about their pros and cons.
Speedos (swim briefs)
Advantages of Speedos
Let’s start with the reasons why you might want to wear Speedos instead of jammers.
Speedos are generally considered to be more comfortable to wear than jammers. Of course this is a subjective answer so some people feel otherwise, however the consensus is in agreement that Speedos are more comfy than jammers.
One of the reasons for that is due to how little your legs are covered up by the fabric. This allows you to move without restriction so you can have full range of motion of your legs.
As you’ll learn in the sections talking about jammers, jammers can feel restrictive because they not only have more fabric, but they are designed to compress your body tightly to streamline your shape and reduce drag.
This compression and feeling of tightness can make some swimmers feel claustrophobic and restricted in their movements.
Speedo briefs require less fabric to make than jammers, and often are made with cheaper material that absorbs more water, so it’s not surprising that it is cheaper.
Since it’s cheaper, it won’t last as long but it’s also easy to replace. You won’t feel as bad if you end up losing it or having it stretch out on you due to wear and tear.
Speedos are much more versatile than jammers. Whereas jammers are typically only worn for competitions if you’re a swimmer, you can wear Speedos for more occasions.
Most swimmers train in Speedos but compete in jammers. Diving and water polo athletes also wear Speedos in competitions. You can also just wear Speedos recreationally to the pool or beach.
Since there are more uses for Speedo, it gets the win here over jammers.
Disadvantages of Speedos
Let’s talk about some of the downsides of Speedos compared to jammers.
The opinion on how a Speedo swim brief looks is divided depending on where you are in the world.
For example, in the UK, Speedos are the most reviled item of clothing according to a poll conducted by YouGov.
Common complaints are that it’s too small, revealing, immodest, and embarrassing to wear.
However, in countries like France and Australia, it is totally natural and perhaps even weird if you aren’t wearing briefs.
In North America, public opinions are divided. Some people think it’s fine, some ridicule it, and some are okay with it.
I think a lot of it has to do with how attractive or unattractive your physique is. Since Speedos are so revealing, if you show off a flabby, saggy body, then people don’t want to see it.
Conversely, if you happen to look like British diver and Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley, then I think few people would complain (except the more conservative/religious folks).
If you are self-conscious about how you look, Speedos reveal all and leave little to the imagination.
Can ride up in the crotch area
Wedgies – nobody likes them, but if you’re wearing Speedos, you can get them if your Speedo is the incorrect size.
Speedos are designed to fit a more narrow body shape, and if you have a more shapely body, then it may potentially ride up into your crotch area.
There is more fabric in the back to cover up your cheeks, but if you get a wedgie and it starts to ride up into your crack, then you’re going to give anyone nearby an eyeful.
Does not last as long
As mentioned, swim briefs are cheaper, made with cheaper materials, and therefore are not as long-lasting as jammers.
Advantages of jammers
Helps you swim faster
If this wasn’t true, then why does every single Olympic swimmer compete in jammers instead of Speedos?
Clearly a lot of effort went into the design of jammers to provide maximum performance. You can read about the results of their testing here, but I will also summarize it below.
In a nutshell, at the highest levels of competitions, jammers are more like “tech-suits”. They are made with hydrophobic (water-repelling) fabric to prevent water from being absorbed which would increase drag.
They are also designed to be highly compressive. They fit so tight on an athlete’s body that it literally squeezes the muscles so that it streamlines their shape.
Theoretically, the compression can also improve circulation which can help aid recovery, power, and endurance, though there is little evidence to support these claims.
Lastly, tech swimsuits are seamless to further decrease drag by allowing the water to flow around one’s body as they move through the water.
Covers more skin
I bet a lot of swimmers are happy that the sport has shifted towards athletes competing in jammers/tech-suits instead of Speedos.
Jammers and tech-suits cover up more of their body so they are not showing so much skin compared to Speedos.
From the audience’s perspective this may be a negative, because swimmers are covering up their beautiful, hard-earned physiques. However, swimmers can feel like they are dressed more modestly and not be as easily objectified.
Jammers tend to last longer than Speedos, but any discussion on how long something lasts for can vary wildly depending on quality of material, how well you take care of it, and how often you swim.
Generally speaking, both Speedos and jammers should fit tight, and when they start becoming loose and introducing drag is when you should replace them. Again, jammers tend to last longer than Speedos.
Disadvantages of jammers
More fabric = higher cost than Speedos per pair. At least they tend to last longer, but I think the affordability of Speedos and how easy they are to replace means that the answer is not so clear-cut.
Not as comfortable to wear
Jammers are designed to compress your body to streamline your shape. Wearing a tech suit can feel like wearing a corset; you’re not really intended to leave it on all day.
Thankfully that is why swimmers tend to practice wearing Speedos and only wear jammers/tech suits for competitions.
Not as versatile
There are more uses for a Speedo than jammers. Especially with regards to tech suits, they are highly specialized pieces of gear that are designed for a specific purpose, whereas the simplicity of Speedos allows them to be multipurpose.
Speedo swim briefs vs. jammers – which one prevails?
Between swim briefs vs jammers, is there a clear winner? Clearly it depends on what your goals are.
At the end of the day, the major reasons for wearing Speedos/swim briefs are comfort and price. For jammers, it’s maximum performance.
If you are a competitive swimmer, it’s not even up for debate: jammers are the swimwear of choice because it helps you swim faster than Speedos. Even an improvement of a fraction of a second can make a difference in the rankings.
That said, even Olympic swimmers can be seen training in Speedos. You just cannot beat the comfort and freedom it provides, especially if you’re going to be wearing it for hours at a time.
So clearly there is a time and place to wear both swim briefs and jammers. Don’t be a purist; use both to your advantage to achieve your goals.