The new millennium brought with it another landmark development in racing swimwear, as full-body suits broke onto the scene. Released in anticipation of the Olympic games in Sydney, Arena’s Powerskin® set the standard, the product of more than two years’ research yielding a suit that was 30% lighter, with 15% less water absorption compared to other polyamide-elastane competition suits, and with a water friction coefficient of almost zero.
The outcome of the research revealed four important areas of focus in the construction of a racing swimsuit – speed, muscle compression, freedom of knee movement, and adherence to the body. The biggest breakthrough came in the form of small ribs (or riblets) applied to the surface of the fabric, enabling it to trap microscopic water molecules, thereby reducing drag by around 9% (compared with the best existing racing swimsuits) and increasing speed by up to 3%.
The final product to emerge in 2004 after four years of research was Powerskin Xtreme®, the fastest and the most technologically advanced swimsuit ever made. Built around the Arena Balancing System – a set of principles developed in order for a swimsuit’s design to match the ergonomic characteristics and bio-mechanics of a human body in movement – the swimsuit went beyond pure speed, checking all the key boxes.
As impressive as this achievement was, Arena’s research continued – a team of scientists from the MOX Institute (Milan Polytechnic University) and the University of Reims conducted mathematical simulations and fluid dynamics tests at the University of Liege’s Water Tank and the Berlin High Performance Olympic Centre’s Flume, validating results and taking input at each step from an Arena Elite Team consisting of the world’s best swimmers. Their efforts came to fruition in 2008 with the unveiling of the Powerskin R-evolution. The new swimsuit had two distinguishing features – its unique woven fabric and its breakthrough design and construction.
The state of the art Stealth® fabric was made with half the amount of yarn typically used in standard woven fabrics, and since its fibres were so thin, it offered greater density and consequently a 50% improvement in muscle compression. The result was an incredibly light fabric at only 99 g/m2 that offered swimmers improved body balance and stability in the water. In addition, the Powerskin R-evolution® had no stitches – drag’s number one enemy – and was made with a single piece of fabric. The absence of seams on the front and just 2 low-profile, thermo-fused seams strategically placed between the legs and on the back resulted in a 20% reduction in drag, and overall provided a projected 24% longer peak swimming time with a 0,54-second advantage in a 50m freestyle race.
In 2009 the state of the art shifted once again with the development of Arena’s Powerskin X-Glide®, a multi-layered full body suit with an SCS/biorubber coating that trapped air, increased buoyancy, and reduced drag even more than its predecessors. Utilizing Arena’s patented one-piece design and the ultra-light Stealth® fabric inside for optimum muscle compression and comfort, the X-Glide® also employed a titanium alloy between the inner and outer layers to stabilize body temperature, along with Arena’s Hoop Kompressor® to deliver superior body stability during the stroke.
Such was the innovation and impact of the X-Glide® – Paul Biedermann wore it at the 2009 World Championships in Rome and handed Michael Phelps his first major 200m freestyle defeat in four years– it was named among Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009.
However, after the 2009 World Championships in Rome, at which 43 world records were broken – more than any previous Championships or Olympics – the swimming world’s governing body FINA imposed a ban on the composite, hi-tech suits as of January 2010, including the following requirements: swimsuit material limited to breathable fabrics, men's suits cannot extend above the waist or below the knee (jammers), women's suits cannot extend above the neck (shoulder straps) or below the knee material thickness limited to 1mm, swimsuit buoyancy limited to defined levels, suits prohibited from providing any type of stimulation or pain reduction, suits prohibited from having more than 50% of their surface area covered in non-permeable materials or no more than 25% each of the upper or lower portion of a suit, air trapping effects through the application of different materials prohibited. After a decade of dramatic developments in swimsuit technology, the swimming world was once again subjected to a major change.
POWERSKIN POST-COMPOSITE ERA
While the new FINA rules mandated a shift in direction for the swimming world, Arena ‘s R&D team were able to build on the foundations previously established, and come up with yet another range of superior FINA-compliant racing wear: Powerskin ST (X-Raptor), XP (Z-Raptor+), R-Evo+ (Z-Raptor+), and X-Glide. Including knitted and woven fabrics with a weight as low as 125 g/m2, the range offers hydro-repellent surface treatment, optimal compression, minimum surface drag, and low-profile bonded seams offering superb stability, body alignment, and the smoothest glide through the water. With a new order established by FINA, and well-defined parameters to work within, one might think that the options for advancement in the swimsuit field would be limited. Perhaps they would be … if Arena’s R&D team wasn’t involved. (Stay tuned for more developments in swimsuit excellence from Arena.)
In 2012, Arena’s unique and innovative approach to swimwear once again came up with a new cutting-edge design. The name of the suit was Powerskin Carbon-Pro, the name of the game was “Smart Compression”. The adoption of this new technology saw the company's best results in recent history, with Carbon-Pro proving a firm favourite among the world's finest athletes.