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Learn Survival Swimming in Clothes

Swimming in clothes may be an obvious training element, but is often ignored by many swimming clubs, leaving members unprepared.

It is usually one of the most popular sessions among advanced swim teams, intended for competent swimmers. If regularly practised it adds variety and fun.

The teacher leads by example and demonstrates how different clothes influence your swimming ability. You'll learn how heavy wet clothes really get and how that affects your swimming skills, a key to aquatic survival. The more clothing layers you wear in the water, the harder your training gets. This adds realism, builds strength, and prepares you for an actual emergency situation.


Be it sailing, canoeing, kite surfing or adventure racing, you wouldn't do it only in swim briefs or bikini. Swimming in clothes is an essential skill for most water sports because a good soaking is often part of their appeal.

When your boat capsizes, or you fall in, or you decide to go for a spontaneous swim, voluntarily or not, you want to be prepared. While safety precautions should be taken, the nature of adventure sports recommends that you wear attire that reduces the possibility of mishap.

Choose Your Kit

Sportswear is best for advanced swimming lessons because it is robust and designed to get wet. You want quick drying clothes that feel good both wet or dry. This means you can get in and out of the water quickly and follow the lesson without distraction.

A good choice are three unlined clothing layers. Start swimming in the base layer, then add middle and outer layer over time. For this training you wear all the clothes for your watersports, even socks and shoes where applicable. The point is to make the training as realistic as possible.

Some clothing can be hard to put on or take off when it is wet. This can be frustrating during the lesson. We recommend comfortable clothes which are meant to get wet and fit well in the water. Try them on in your bathtub or shower first. Below you find a detailed list of kit for each stage of the swimming course.

Beginners: T-shirt and Shorts

Tee-shirt and shorts in bright colours is best for beginners, very easy to swim in. This is the basic swimwear you will need for all lessons. More will be worn on top later in the course.

You can wear your usual T-shirt and shorts in the pool. Nylon shorts and a swim shirt are easy to swim in and look great. They come in many colours and styles to make up stylish outfits.

Sportswear is best as it can cope with frequent immersions and is robust enough. Made from nylon or polyester it doesn't soak up much water and dries quickly. Any sports or footy kit will do as long as it is comfy and doesn't chafe. No need to buy special swimwear.

Put aside a few shirts and shorts as part of your swimming kit. Always keep them in your swim bag when dry. Wet kit should be hung up to dry as soon as possible, otherwise it starts to rot and smell.

Intermediate: Long-Sleeve Top and Long Pants

Sportswear or tracksuits are often thicker and take more swimming effort (resistance training) because they soak up more water.

This additional clothing layer is deliberately used to slow your down and make swimming harder. It is worn on top of the shirt and shorts from the beginner lessons.

Long trousers, jeans or tracksuit bottoms are combined with a sweatshirt or hoodie for more the demanding lessons. Cotton soaks up much more water and gets heavy, but it takes longer to dry out.

Advanced: Waterproof Clothes

Unlined anoraks and rain pants are best for water safety training and splash sports. Waterproof clothes are worn on top of the beginner or intermediate outfits for survival swim training or adventure swimming preparation.

These clothes cause some considerable drag when swimming and are thus useful for strength and endurance training. They are also ideal for any fun splash sports in the pool, like canoe and kayak lessons, or wild water games with frequent immersion.

Although they don't soak up much water, they hold pockets of air and water that swimmers should learn how to handle. Special techniques can quickly vent any air and drain water away.

Finally, students will learn how to make a buoyancy aid using their pants. It is important to get the right pants for it to easily inflate like a balloon. Some pants just do not inflate as the air escapes from the tiny pores in the fabric. Waterproof pants work best.

Now that you're properly dressed for your swimming experience, choose a safe and shallow area to begin with, maybe chest deep. This can be a beach, lake, or swimming pool. As you gain strength and fitness, increase your training level.

Keep Warm

Your clothing protects you from wind, sunburn, cuts and bruises. Which clothes you'll need depends on the weather and what sport you're training for, unless you swim in clothes just for fun.

Dress for immersion, not the air temperature. Clothes are meant to keep you warm. This also holds true in the water, up to a point. T-shirt, jeans and hoodie might be fun for resistance swim training, but cotton can seriously chill you out over time. It holds on to a lot of water which cools you as it evaporates.

Functional fibres like fleece keep you warm even when wet. You're more comfortable in the water when you dress warm enough in comfy clothes.

It may be quite a challenge to swim several lengths fully clothed, but it is healthy fun and gets you strong over time. Try a variety of outfits to gain confidence in the water. Once you're good at swimming in your adventure clothes and have achieved an adequate level of confidence, keep it up to stay fit.

Are Clothes Heavy in Water?

Not really. Clothes weigh very little in water. Throw an item of clothing into a swimming pool and notice how slowly it sinks, if at all. Pull it out of the pool and it gets heavy with all the water it soaked up. Cotton and fleece soaks up more than unlined nylon rainwear.

Don't Confuse Slow Down with Weigh Down

Many people who haven't tried swimming fully clothed, wrongly think they get pulled down by the weight of wet clothes. But that only happens when you come OUT of the water.

When you wear your clothes in the water, they just float around you. The soaked up water only displaces water which would have been there anyway. Water weighs nothing in water, so they only weigh you down by their DRY weight, minus the weight of water displaced by the fabric.

However, the water which is soaked up by the fabric, or collects inside your clothes, will slow down your movements. This makes it harder on your muscles to move you forward and thus improves training results.

Weigh and Measure Wet and Dry

This experiment will show you how clothes affect your movements and weight in the water. Although your clothes won't pull you down, they will resist your movements and give you a hard workout. One litre of water weighs one kilogram.
  1. First weigh yourself without any clothes on. Write it down.

  2. Next get fully dressed in jeans or sweatpants, T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, and possibly a pair of lightweight sports shoes and socks. The difference in weight with clothes on should be 2 or 3 kg. Write it down.

  3. Now hop into the water. Stay in for a while to make sure you get everything fully soaked, so we can check the weight difference. Cotton garments soak up a lot of water.

  4. As soon as you come out of the water, weigh yourself again while still shiny wet.

    The difference in weight compared to wearing no clothes should be about 4 to 8 kg, depending on your size.

    So the water in your clothes weighs between 2 and 5 kg, about 2 and 5 litres. About half of it runs off in a few minutes.

  5. Now that you have an idea how much weight is involved you can start your power training.

    Do a few push-ups or sit-ups on the pool side.

    Next climb out and jump in as often as you can in one minute. This may sound trivial, but you'll soon find out that it can be quite tough.

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