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Micheal Phelps wearing the FASTSKIN II swim suit

One area of sport where technology is making a difference is swimming. Modern swimsuits have a design based on the structure of sharkskin. Careful studies in test pools showed that sharks can slip though the water with about 10 per cent less energy expenditure than a fish with a perfectly smooth skin. These tests have allowed manufactures to design swimsuits made of artificial sharkskin. The sportswear company, Speedo, have developed a material called ‘Fastskin’.

Success in the Pool

Michael Phelps wore the new suit at the 2004 Athens Olympics and went on to win six gold and two bronze medals, making him the first swimmer in history to win eight medals at one Olympic Games.

At the same Games, 18 out of 26 Olympic records were broken by athletes wearing Speedo swimsuits. In all, swimmers wearing Speedos won 18 gold, 18 silver and 14 bronze medals.

Micheal Phelps, Grant Hackett and Amanda Beard

Aquatic Design

Speedo examined the texture of a shark’s skin and its movement through water. They found that its skin is covered in dentciles which are tiny teeth-like columns. There are more denticles covering some of its body and in some places the denticles are much longer or much shorter.

The denticles are slanted toward its tail, directing the flow of water around the shark's body. This reduces drag so that it can swim faster and with less effort. This helps the shark cruise the waters silently, ready to pounce upon unsuspecting prey.

Denticles covering a sharks body Similarities between sharks and swimmers

How Does it Work?

Speedo took these findings and recreated the function of the denticles through the use of different fabrics on key areas of its swimwear.

The swimsuit is made of a knitted super-stretch nylon/elastane/polyester fabric (flexskin) that has V-shaped ridges and a denticle surface print. In water this means that water is sucked closer to the body and then passes over the swimmer far more effectively.

The fabric also compresses the body to stop skin vibration and muscle fatigue to save energy and reduce drag by up to 4 per cent.

Speedo Suit Arms

Upper Body Design

The flexskin fabric provides a greater range of motion for the upper body. Its surface is smoother and allows greater flexibility while also reducing drag.

Neutraliser / 3D titanium silicon scale

Speedo also developed a neutraliser for the inner forearm panel on its full body suits. The smooth surface reduces drag but during the swimming phase it is a disadvantage as a swimmer loses 'grip' of the water. This unique 3D titanium silicon scale neutralizes the effect.


Panels and Seams

The panels and seams mimic the muscular system. The panels act like muscles, stretching and returning to shape while allowing a full range of movement. The seams act like tendons providing tension in the suit.

Each seam has an incredible 26 stitches per three centimeters. The seams are also flat-locked which eliminates drag. The super-stretch thread also allows for greater comfort and freedom of movement.

Turbulence Management System

Since 1996 Speedo has used a Turbulence Management System (TMS) on the chest of competition swimwear. Through Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis and testing, Speedo has identified new locations to apply TMS to reduce drag caused by the human form as it travels through water.

Speedo Suit


Research and development has demonstrated that male and female bodies require different shaped patterns to fit like a second skin. The female bodyskin uses 'Flexskin' in the side panels. Test results showed this combination gave the fastest result.


For the male body shape Speedo has used the 'Fastskin' fabric in all the panels except the underarm panel. Here 'Flexskin' is used to allow freedom of movement. In addition there is a rubber groin seam for ultimate comfort and support.


The Development of FASTSKIN II

The development of the FASTSKIN FSII involved a team of top experts. CyberFX, the Hollywood-based body scanning and special effects company who also worked on the Spiderman movie, was involved in the development process from the beginning. Its unique body scanning technology allowed Speedo to create anatomically correct ‘virtual’ and ‘actual’ models of the average male and female swimmer.

Speedo suit for women

Digital images of the athletes were taken from eight positions allowing CyberFX to create a 3-D body map. The swimmers’ bodies are scanned to create the best fit for a variety of swimming positions.

A biomechanist was used to study the co-ordination of muscle groups specific to swimming.

The CyberFX ‘virtual’ models were used to create sophisticated Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models to analyse the drag and flow of water around swimmers – in effect, Speedo created a virtual swimmer. Fluent, the world’s leading CFD software program (also used by Formula One teams and the aerospace industry), was used to perform the analyses.

CFD Model

The CFD model allowed Speedo to mathematically build a water flume inside a computer. This produced highly accurate results. The CFD analyses, combined with the flume testing, enabled Speedo to evaluate a huge number of swimsuit design variables and eventually obtain a highly efficient design.

The ‘actual’ models were used in over 1,000 flume tests carried out at the most accurate water flume on the planet in Otago, New Zealand. The results supported CFD findings that the new FASTSKIN FSII full Bodyskin is the most advanced performance swimwear in the world.


Speedo design and make a range of Fastskin styles to suit individual swimmers and specific strokes including the full bodysuit (bodyskin), the sleeveless bodysuit (Hi-Neck Bodyskin), the neck to knee length (Kneeskin), the waist to ankle length legsuit (Legskin) and the waist to knee length short legsuit (Jammer).