Choosing the Right Swim Gear: Caps and Goggles


If you’re new to swimming, one of the questions you might have is how to pick out the proper swim gear. It can be overwhelming to browse the various swim equipment websites and try to decide on the perfect pair of goggles or the right style swim cap, and the added pressure to make sure you’re making a “good investment” can push some swimmers to buy outrageously expensive gear that doesn’t meet their needs.


Never fear, there’s a method to managing the madness!

Aside from choosing your suit (which will be addressed in a forthcoming blog entry), choosing your goggles is the most important decision you’ll make. A good pair of comfortable goggles won’t necessarily improve your swim times, but a bad pair will seriously hamper your ability to make it from one end of the pool to the other without stopping to empty your goggles.


After having bought more than my fair share of goggles that didn’t work, I have three recommendations for picking out your own pair.


  1. Try them on. Buy your goggles somewhere that you can try them on before you buy them. If you can’t do that, then make sure that the online site you buy from has a fair return policy.
  2. Choose comfort. When you try on the goggles make sure they are comfortable. Check the eye area by pushing them against your eye sockets (where the padding will rest when you’re wearing them) and letting go. The padding should feel soft and pliable, and good goggles will have a mild bit of suction that keeps them in place for a few seconds. If your goggles don’t have this quality, they will leak. Also, make sure the nose piece is comfortable and not cutting into the bridge of your nose.
  3. Check the adjustments. Make sure the straps and nose piece are easily adjustable, and that they stay in place once you’ve adjusted them. Straps that slip and/or slide out of their clasps can ruin your workout.


Another choice involves lens color (dark or clear) and is mostly personal preference unless you’re swimming outdoors, in which case you might want to consider a darker lens to cut down on the brightness. You’ll probably also have the choice between anti-fog and non-anti-fog lenses, but most experts (swimmers themselves) agree that there’s really no fool-proof way of keeping goggles from fogging up (as a kid I, and my teammates, swore by the spit-cleaning method, but as an adult I consider it, at best, questionable), so this also comes down to a personal preference.


After the goggles, comes the choice of a swim cap. Swim caps reduce drag and protect your hair from chlorine (though, it’s important to note that no cap will keep hair dry). Many view swim caps as optional, but these days, many swimming facilities are enforcing the mandatory cap rule in order to save the drains and filters, so it would be wise to carry one just in case.


Choosing a cap boils down to fabric and function, and the three choices are:

  1. Rubber/latex. These durable caps are fairly inexpensive, easy to print logos on or write on (for those who participate in triathlons). The drawback is that they can be difficult to put on and they won’t work for swimmers with a latex allergy.
  2. These caps are the most popular with competitive swimmers because they’re easy to put on and offer a great alternative to latex caps. They come in a wide variety of colors, but they’re more expensive than latex caps and have a tendency to slip off the head more easily.
  3. Many swimmers prefer Lycra caps simply for the comfort factor. Since these caps are made of the same material that swimsuits are made of, they’re more flexible and easier to get on and off. However, Lycra caps are also more expensive, won’t protect hair from chlorine and have a tendency to slip off more frequently than latex or silicone caps.


Choosing the right gear should help you focus on your workout and improving your times, rather than on making adjustments once you’re in the water. Just keep in mind that whichever goggles and cap you choose, you should take your time to make sure they are the right ones for you!



Eliminating the S Pull


I’m an advocate of teaching skills the correct way from the get-go, so it does my head in when I see or hear young swimmers being taught a technique that will undoubtedly need to be undone in the future. We’ve all overheard instructors who encourage kids to keep their hair dry during breaststroke, or to lift their head and look at their toes during backstroke, but one instruction that often goes unnoticed is the S pull in freestyle.

Because it happens underwater, it can take a long time to notice and even longer to fix. Young swimmers are told to “draw a big letter S” with their hand during every stroke, but that instruction goes against one of the fundamental rules of competitive swimming: Always take the path of least resistance!

Why waste time, energy, and streamline just to trace an arbitrary path through the water? 20 years ago we thought the S pull was beneficial because it added an outsweep and an insweep, supposedly increasing momentum by allowing for a “longer” pull. Luckily, physiology and biomechanics have taught us that the S pull actually causes more problems than advantages. Early vertical forearm, high elbow recovery, and straight-line pulls are scientifically more advantageous than the S pull, so we should all be taking steps to move to this method. Here are some suggestions for eliminating the S pull:



This one is simple. When you wear a snorkel, you can watch the path of your pull. Your hands should never be under your chest, and they should never cross over the midline of your body. Instead, the fingertips should plunge into the water in alignment with your shoulder and draw a straight line along the bottom of the pool until they reach past your hips. For young swimmers, it helps to use some fun imagery, like “paint the pool bottom with your hand.”



Have swimmers lie on the deck parallel to the pool edge with one arm in the water. They can then do repeated single arm pulls, aiming not to touch the wall with their working hand. This drill is great because it allows for constant feedback, and swimmers get a bit of a rest while they focus their attention on the drill.


Black line

If space allows, another good option is to swim down the middle of the lane while making sure your arms stay on their respective sides of the black line. Swim teams can even turn this into a game by pairing up the athletes and having one partner in the water while the other is on deck deducting points each time a hand crosses onto the black line!


The easiest way to eliminate the S pull is by not teaching it in the first place. I realize that this advice will not reach the majority of swimming instructors and coaches, but little by little, I have faith that we can improve this skill on a grand scale. Do not teach any skill that you or another coach will have to change in the future – teach little swimmers to pull in a straight line and eliminate the need to undo a future bad habit! Spread the word to other coaches, or offer to run a clinic for your facility’s lesson instructors! There are countless ways to affect change in this sport. I’ve done my part by relaying this information to you, now it’s your turn to pass it along to other swimming professionals!



Sarah MacDonald