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How Do I know if my Swimwear is Legal?

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Article 102.12 covers the rules for swimwear in USMS competition. This article contains several provisions, so this month's blog post breaks down each provision, including type of suit, coverage, and other things that can or cannot be worn in competition. Note that article 303.7 covers the rules for long distance and open water which are very similar to pool competition, but contain a couple of key differences.

102.12.1A says that the swimsuits worn for competition shall be nontransparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate. The referee shall have authority to bar offenders from competition until they comply with this rule.

Well, this one should be self-explanatory - no see-through suits!

102.12.1B says that swimwear shall include only a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles (a nose clip and ear plugs are allowed). Armbands or legbands shall not be regarded as parts of the swimsuit and are not allowed.

A common question from swimmers is "can I wear something to help with an injury?" Typical questions include things like elastic bandages, knee braces, therapeutic bands, etc. The answer is generally "no" since these are considered an advantage in competition and not permitted under this rule.

Article 102.12.1C has several rules:

In swimming competitions, the competitor must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces. Does this mean that women can wear two-piece suits? Yes, but see below for some restrictions on coverage and fasteners.

The rule also says that for men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knees, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder nor extend below the knees. (See below for the difference that applies to open water competitions.)

All swimsuits must be made from textile materials. How would I know if my suit has a material that is not permitted? Well, we also say in 102.12.1D that only swimwear complying with FINA specifications may be worn in any USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. FINA evaluates and maintains a list of approved swimwear. If you purchase a suit that has been approved by FINA, it will have a sticker on it that says "FINA Approved Swimwear". All of these suits are approved for use in USMS competition and a complete searchable list is maintained by FINA here:

USMS policy is to also accept "legacy" suits that comply with FINA specifications even if they do not appear on the FINA approved list. Generally, suits that are made out of materials such as lycra, nylon, polyester, or other traditional materials are acceptable. Suits made from neoprene or other buoyant materials are not acceptable because they violate 102.12.1E regarding the use of devices or substances that enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance. Any type of surface treatment that closes the mesh structure of the material (suach as a coating) is subject to scrutiny, so it is the technical suits that we need to look at. A pair of "board shorts" or a beach suit for women made out of traditional materials will generally comply with the rule.

General tip: If a suit is marketed specifically for triathletes or strictly for training, you may want to check the specifications further. Triathlons dont follow the same rules and we have found some suits marketed to improve buoyancy that would not comply with the rule. Anything marketed with a thermal insulation material (e.g., a wetsuit) is likely not permitted.

FINA also has a prohibition against zippers or any other fastening system, including ties. A waist tie is the only exception. For women, this means that a two-piece suit with a top piece that ties in the back is not permitted.

The FINA approval process will also look at the thickness and permeability of the material used in the swimwear construction. If you really want to understand all of the technical specifications, you can find them here:

Now we go to article 102.12.1E which says that no swimmer is permitted to wear or use any device or substance to enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, snorkels, neoprene caps, etc.).

All of these great training devices that we use in workouts to help us train more effectively either by improving stroke technique, dealing with injuries, or making it easier to train are not meant for competition.

What about watches? The interpretation on watches is that watches could be considered pacing devices, but only if they are used for this purpose. It is not necessarily illegal to wear a watch in competition, but if an official observes a swimmer using a watch during a race, the swimmer is subject to disqualification.

Rule 102.12.1E also explicitly says that medical identification items may be worn. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, for example, you are not required to remove it for competition. Doing so could compromise safety and the ability to respond to a medical emergency.

Rule 102.12.1E also addresses the use of tape. The rule says that any kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee. We get many questions regarding the application of the rule and an official interpretation, consistent with FINA and USA Swimming, was issued in 2016.

The use of tape in competition is limited to situations involving verified medical conditions. The application of tape is intended to be for situations such as wound closure, taping of fingers or toes (no more than two), taping to secure medical devices, or other limited uses that would not provide any competitive advantage. The use of any kind of tape that purports to provide muscle compression; muscle, joint, or ligament stabilization; or other physical benefits, including therapeutic elastic tape or similar products, is never permitted in USMS competition.

Finally, we have the following provision in article 102.12.1C(1): Exemptions to the foregoing restrictions may be granted to a swimmer, on a case-by-case basis, by the chair of the Rules Committee or designee. Exemptions will be granted for conflicts due to the swimmers verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee.

Medical exemptions are generally intended for permanent medical conditions that would preclude someone from complying with the swimwear rules and being able to participate in competition altogether. If you feel that you have a medical condition, a religious belief, or other circumstance that would merit an exemption, please contact the USMS Rules Committee Chair at:

Article 102.12 describes the rules for pool competition, but the same rules generally apply for "category I swimwear in open water competition (i.e., not wetsuits) as described in article 303.7. The coverage rules for open water competition are different - both men and women are permitted to wear a suit that does not extend past the shoulder or past the ankles. For medical exceptions that cover open water competition, swimmers should contact the chair of the USMS Long Distance Committee at:

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