While you can always head to the pool with just your suit, your workout will be that much more effective and comfortable if you buy a few pieces of equipment. Swimming equipment isn't as expensive as cycling gear, but it is just as helpful. For example, you might consider getting a wetsuit ($100–$200), bathing cap ($2–$12), goggles ($4–$27), earplugs ($2), noseplugs ($5), a kickboard ($15–$20), a pull-buoy ($15–$20), hand paddles ($15), and fins ($15–$40).
While you can usually try on goggles before you buy them, earplugs and noseplugs are, thankfully, not returnable. So you will have to risk a few dollars (they are inexpensive) to find the right fit. But having gear that fits well is worth it.
Swimsuits are functionally designed for performance and allow for reduced drag and ease of movement in the water. With the many designs available, you can certainly find one that is attractive, supportive, and comfortable. When trying on a swimsuit, make sure the seams are comfortable around the legs (and for women, around the upper area, too). If the body of the suit is made of Lycra or spandex (as most are), it should feel slightly snug when you try it on because it is designed to expand slightly in the water for a comfortable fit. However, the seams and joints will not expand, even when wet, so make sure they are comfortable when dry.
Some of the best-looking suits can be literal pains in the rear (or front) if they don't fit you properly. So go for comfort, and if it does not feel good, try a different suit. Unless you are open to the idea of skinny-dipping and performing a bathing-suit-recovery exercise, save your skimpiest, least functional bathing briefs or bikini for leisurely water activities, and swim in your swimsuit. To enhance the lifespan of your swimsuit, rinse it out thoroughly in tap water after each use, and let it drip dry without wringing the life out of it. Chlorine, salt water, and lake residue can wear the fibers out prematurely. While you are at it, rinse your goggles too.
Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, and the colder the water you swim in, the faster your body temperature is lowered. If the water temperature feels uncomfortably cool, consider using a wetsuit — not a scuba diver's wetsuit, but the type worn by triathletes. These kinds of wetsuits are made of a thinner, lighter, sleeker neoprene than those used for diving, and are designed to allow a full range of motion in the shoulders, as well as greater all-around unrestricted movement. Their effectiveness comes from capturing and reflecting your body temperature back to you, which keeps you warm. They also give you a slight feeling of buoyancy, which can be comforting.
If you're swimming outside, remember the sun's reflection off the water is powerful, so use waterproof and sweatproof sunscreen (without these two capabilities, it won't stay on for long) on your face and all exposed parts of your body.
Wetsuits come in many styles. The warmest style has full-length arms and legs, and the coolest version is sleeveless and runs calf length. When trying on a wetsuit on dry land, it should fit very snugly; it will give just a bit once in the water. A definite must when using a wetsuit is to apply a lubricant around your neck so that turning and breathing doesn't cause your skin to chafe. Nonpetroleum lubricants such as BodyGlide are recommended, rather than petroleum-based products (petroleum jellies or gels) because the petroleum-based products can damage a wetsuit.
You don't kick a kickboard; you kick
These thin hand-sized hard plastic sheets with thick rubber semicircles through which you insert your fingers exaggerate awareness of your hand and shoulder positions and motions so that you get a feel for how your hands should be in the water. They keep you from slicing through the water and reinforce the correct technique of grabbing, or pulling and pushing, the water. They are also used to strengthen the arm and shoulder muscles by creating a larger surface area of resistance. The hand slips entirely through the larger rubber band, the middle finger slips under the smaller rubber band, and the paddle and the hand are as one unit.
The Swim Cap
The little swim cap does more than you might think. A swim cap protects your hair from total chlorine immersion, keeps your hair from clogging up the pool filters, helps keep your goggles in place, keeps your hair out of your face, and keeps your head warm. If your hair gets stuck in your regular latex swim cap, use a silicone cap. It is softer, and easier to put on and remove, and your hair will stay on your head, where it belongs. If regulating your temperature is a concern, use a latex cap in warmer environments, and silicone in colder ones.
Placed between your thighs, the pull-buoy, a Styrofoam device, keeps your legs afloat, keeps your body in a horizontal position, and isolates your upper body so that you can practice your arm stroke technique.
Your feet slip inside fins. Kicking with fins will make you feel turbo powered in the water. It is hard to kick inefficiently with fins, but it is easy to kick too hard, so be careful. They put greater resistance on the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles, all of which strengthens your legs. They also create greater flexibility in the ankles, which makes for a better kicking motion.
Goggles are used for seeing underwater and for keeping your eyes dry and out of the chlorine. The fit is very individual; however, even good goggles can fog up occasionally, so check that they are snug against your face but not so much that you get a headache or temporary tattoo. Try them on and see which ones cover your eye sockets best. Most goggles have an adjustable head strap, and some also have an adjustable nose bridge, which you can use to tailor the distance between the eyes. Occasionally, it is good to clean your goggles with soap and water. This removes the gradual buildup of facial oils that can cause the goggles to fog.
Earplugs and Noseplugs
Many people do not like putting their head in the water because the water seeps into their ears quicker than a mosquito slips into their house on a hot night. If you are one of them, a cheap pair of swimmer's earplugs is a quick fix. Some earplugs are made from plastic, and others from silicone, which, when warmed by your body heat, form to your ears. And if water up the nose and sinuses is irritating, use a noseplug. Once again, the fit and comfort is very individual.