Swimming laps in a string bikini meant for lounging on the beach would basically be like jogging in jeans and a sweater. Technically you could do it, but you’d be much more comfortable in a swimsuit specifically designed for exercise. “For training, the most important factor is fit,” says Hailey Hewitt, a coach for the Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics swim team. “If a suit is too tight, it can jeopardize your ability to swim with proper technique and full range of motion. If it is too big, the suit can slow you down and have a similar effect.”
A properly fitting suit is also important to prevent painful chafing, according to Christine Frietchen, a two-time Ironman triathlete and former president of the Brooklyn Tri Club. “Chafing happens when fabric rubs your skin repeatedly as you move,” she says. “So for training and racing, you need a suit that’s tight, so it won’t move around and rub your skin.” Frietchen generally suggests looking for suits with narrow-set straps or straps that crisscross in the back “so they don’t move around or impede shoulder rotation,” and with backsides that offer “enough coverage that it’s not going to ride up.” Below, she and six other experts (including swimmers, coaches, and swimwear buyers) share their picks for the best training and racing women’s suits (including some that are fashionable enough to hang poolside in).
Best solid women’s training bathing suits
Swimmers love this minimal style for a durable everyday training suit. “The TYR Cutoutfits are a go-to for training because of the design and fit of their straps,” according to Hewitt, who says her top swimmers wear TYR. “They are comfortable and allow you to train without worrying about your suit getting in the way.” This suit is also a favorite of Kasia Sawicz, an assistant coach of the Chelsea Piers Masters Swim Team, who likes its thin, flexible straps. “When the straps are too constricting, it affects your overall swim,” she says.
Like the TYR suit, the streamlined design of this Nike cutout style allows serious swimmers to focus on their stroke — not their suit. “It is not only comfortable, but very durable,” says Julie Stupp, a 2012 Olympic trials finalist swimmer and in-house product reviewer for SwimOutlet. “The Nike Cut-Out also has thin straps that don’t dig into your shoulders and back. These suits will last through hours and hours of training.”
Best patterned women’s training bathing suits
“Speedo is the iconic swimming brand for a reason,” according to Stupp. “Their suits fit impeccably and they always have the best designs.” Kristina Parsons, another assistant coach of the Chelsea Piers team, says she often chooses Speedo “because the fit is consistent; I know what I’m getting and [that] it will work before I get in the water.” Elaina Cuoci, senior manager of the aquatics category at SwimOutlet, agrees that Speedo is “an iconic brand” and says that this printed training suit combines a “best-selling back style fit with an on-trend conversational print.” The cheery lemon pattern offers a just-kitschy-enough departure from your standard solid suit.
TYR fans needn’t ditch their preferred brand to get in on the print action, according to Frietchen, who likes this abstract-patterned suit. “The rear coverage is generous, and these suits last me a good year of swimming [as many as] 9,000 or 10,000 yards per week before they start to stretch out,” she says. A suit’s durability is often proportionate to its polyester content, explains Cuoci. “The more polyester content a suit has the longer it will last in the water.” Most suits are a blend of polyester and spandex, but this one boasts 94 percent polyester (which is more than many).
They might be branded as “Uglies,” but there’s something fun (in a Lisa Frank way) about these ’90s-inspired printed suits. Frietchen says: “They come in some seriously zany colors,” she says. “I always get compliments on them.”
Best women’s training bathing suit for larger breasts
Like bras, swimsuits for women with larger breasts are a little harder to find. Frietchen recommends looking for a suit designed for water polo, which are generally more supportive. “These have a higher neckline and a back zipper that can hold the ‘girls’ in place,” she explains. “I also think these suits look great and provide a bit more sun coverage.”
Best two-piece women’s training bathing suits
There’s nothing wrong with training in a two-piece bathing suit if that’s more your style, and lots of athletic brands offer bikinis that are just as supportive and durable as their one-pieces. “There are so many different brands today that have expanded their swim lines to include fashionable bikinis that are also great for training,” says Stupp. “TYR always has bright colors, fun designs, and very flattering cuts.”
Stupp pointed us to Arena — and its two-piece training suits in particular — as an example of another brand with tons of options for women. “I love that they have triangle, bandeau, and crop tops, as well as boy short, bikini, and tie bottoms,” she says. “Their suits fit super-well.”
For two-pieces that are very supportive and provide plenty of coverage, Athleta suits come highly recommended by Frietchen. “Mine is great for pool laps or casual open-water swimming on vacation, then hanging on the beach afterwards,” she says. With lots of color and print options to choose from, Athleta’s bathing suits are an appealing option because they’ll look (and perform) just as good whether your perfecting your freestyle or relaxing poolside on a non-training day.
Best women’s training bathing suits that don’t look like training suits
If you’re looking for better-looking alternatives to traditional athletic suits that still perform well, Sweaty Betty suits generally “fit well, and they’re a little bit more comfortable and more flattering,” according to Alison Kreideweis, co-founder and coach at the Empire Tri Club. She says this style is supportive and stays put while you’re moving through the water — and she’s noticed it is more resilient to chemicals like chlorine, which can quickly eat away at other suits. “I don’t have to replace my suit every month; I can get a full season of training out of it.”
Another one of Kreideweis’s top picks, this suit comes from a line founded by competitive swimmer (and former backstroke world-record holder) Leila Vaziri, who once coached for Empire Tri Club. “She designed these to be more of a fashion suit for competitive athletes,” says Kreideweis, who’s a fan of this “cool-looking” style with mesh panels. “They’re supportive, so even though they look like they’re a little bit of a nicer suit, they’re not going to fall off of you if you’re swimming laps.”
Also designed with swimmers’ bodies in mind, Jolyn suits are a top choice of collegiate athletes and lifeguards, according to Frietchen. “Those with more of a swimmer’s build — wide back [and] shoulders, narrow hips — swear by Jolyn suits,” she says. Parsons is a fan, too: “Jolyn is my new favorite, and most of what I wear now.” She loves that the brand makes two-piece styles for training, as well as swimsuits with adjustable tie backs for a customized fit. Sawicz also likes Jolyn, but prefers its fixed back styles like this one.
Best racing-style women’s bathing suits
If you’re planning to compete in a race or swim meet, you’ll want to look into buying a racing suit. “It’s much tighter, and covers more of your body to compress the muscles during a race, to help you glide through the water effortlessly,” explains Stupp. But these tend to be more expensive than training suits, so it’s important to find one that works for you. This Speedo model is Parsons’s race suit of choice. “For most of my competitive swim career, I have worn a Speedo LZR to race. They fit my body type, and have always worked for me.”
Racing suits were once pricey styles only worn by elite athletes, but Cuoci says “there has been a growing segment of midrange suits that are good for racing but also comfortable for training.” This suit by Finis is one that bridges the racing-training gap, making it ideal for amateur swimmers who want to try out racing. “[Finis] has actually become my preferred brand for racing suits,” says Sawicz. “I have two of their tech suits — each is a different model — and love them both. The price is affordable as well.”