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Can Activewear Be Used for Swimming?

August 11, 2020

There’s nothing like a day at the beach. Sun, blue water, and waves are part of almost every guy’s idea of a perfect way to kick back. But what to wear?

It’s tempting to just dig through your drawers when it’s time to go to the beach or pool and grab what you’ve got handy. And you could get away with it. But you’ve got to ask yourself if “just getting by” is the way you want to do things. If you take care to do things right in all the other things you do, why shouldn’t you do the same when it comes time to equip yourself for a fun day in the water? 

Similar, But Not the Same

At first glance, your favorite running shorts may look pretty similar to a pair of swim trunks. And, now that you mention it, what exactly is the difference between a rash guard and your run-of-the-mill workout short sleeve tee shirt, anyway? You can be excused for asking questions and being a bit skeptical.

But makers of quality activewear, loungewear, sportswear, and athleisure understand that their reputation is built on making clothing that excels at the specific purposes they're designed for. They’ll approach crafting swimwear with the same care and attention to detail that you’ll find with the other sport-specific clothing they feature in their lineup ranging from leggings and yoga pants, to hoodies and sweatshirts, to joggers and sweatpants, to tank tops and v-neck t-shirts.   

Swimwear Features You Probably Won’t Find in Activewear

Need some examples of how swimwear differs from regular activewear? Here are some features that you’ll almost always find in gear designed with the water in mind. 

  • Water-repellency. Purpose-built swimwear uses fabric-based and add-on water repellency mixes to shed water and dry quickly, so you’ll stay comfortable when you get out of the water. This is different from moisture-wicking material that you see in dri fit workout clothes. 
  • UV protection. Makers of high-quality swimwear understand that you’ll be spending a lot of time in the sun, so they ensure that their garments incorporate UV protection to protect your skin during a long day at the beach. 
  • Anti-microbial properties. Wet swimwear can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other things you’d probably rather avoid. While quality activewear often has these features, it’s not a given. You’re a lot more likely to find them in purpose-built swimwear. 
  • Details that make a difference. Small things, like side pockets that drain in swim trunks, and flat-lock seams in rash guards, can make the difference between clothing that’s OK for swimming and clothing that’s great for swimming. 

Case Studies

Let’s examine a pair of case studies that demonstrate how regular activewear compares with well-designed swimwear. 

Swim Shorts vs. Workout Shorts

A good pair of biker shorts certainly looks a lot like a swimsuit. And you’d be excused for thinking that they’re going to work just as well. After all, they’re both made of synthetic materials, and they’re both probably cut about the same, too. But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Swim-Specific Design

The fabrics employed for swim trunks are more porous than what you’ll find with workout shorts. That’s by necessity. If water can’t move easily through the suit, air will get trapped in the suit and cause it to balloon out. That can be a problem when you wear regular workout shorts in the pool. 

Made for Modesty 

Swimsuit designers understand that a certain degree of concealment will be necessary with a swimsuit once it’s wet and clinging to your skin. They keep the important parts undercover by using built-in liners or extra panels of fabric in strategic locations. You may also need something a bit more high rise than you're used to in order to combat the heaviness of the water in the shorts. Your running shorts and bike shorts aren’t made to do that. That’s OK if you’re an exhibitionist, I suppose, but that’s probably not your style (I hope).

Colorfastness

If you spend a lot of time in chlorinated pools you know how much of a problem this can be. Over the course of a season the harsh chemicals in pools, or the effects of sun and saltwater, can sap the fun color from tie dye or logo workout shorts that aren’t designed for swim use.  

Rash Guards vs. Workout Tops

For protection from the sun and to prevent chafing when on a surfboard or boogie board, more and more guys are slipping on a rash guard when they’re at the beach or pool. You may wonder why your workout shirt can’t do just as good a job. It’s a fair question, so let’s dive in and see what distinguishes a well-built rash guard, like those from brands like Willy California, from your old running tee shirts.

Built for Tough Conditions

From a distance, a long-sleeve performance tee and a rash guard will look pretty much the same. Take a closer look and you’ll see some significant differences. In the choice of fabric, a rash guard will go with somewhat thicker fabric to better hold up against abrasion. Some rash guards, like the best seller Willy California 801 The Rash Guard also boast a higher concentration of spandex in the fabric blend to ensure easy movement even when the fabric is wet making it way better than other crew neck or sleeveless workout shirts. 

Sun Protection

High-quality rash guards will incorporate built-in UV protection to save your skin from the effects of the harsh pool- and ocean-side sun. That’s not a given with the average long-sleeve graphic tee. 

Flat-Lock Seams

Since the primary function of a rash guard is to, well, prevent rashes, details like flat-lock seams matter. Flat-lock seams present a smooth surface to the skin, so the shirt’s seams don’t present an extra irritation to your skin. 

Choose the Right Gear for the Occasion

If you had to answer our title question with a simple yes or no, the answer is “yes.” You can certainly wear quality activewear for swimming and other activities in and around the water.  But the bigger question is why you would want to when the alternative is to enjoy wearing activewear that’s specifically crafted for fun in the water. High-quality swimwear is made from fabrics that will hold up in the water, incorporating technology that will keep you comfortable and protect you from the harmful side effects of sun and salt. If you care about what you wear, make sure that you’ve got the best gear available for your body when you hit the beach.