When it comes to uniforms – even Olympic uniforms – swimming lacks glamor and aesthetics. That’s the truth, and as a former competitive swimmer, I can testify to this. Race suits are typically a solid color (usually black) with your team name or logo sprayed across the front, and that’s about it. The same can be said about swimmers’ fleece-lined coats, often called “parkas” in the swimming community.

Parkas are far from fashionable, but they are a swimmer’s best friend, especially before a race. Like other winter jackets, the swimming parka is fleece-lined, zippered coats with a hoodie and pockets. Most parkas fall below the knee, although some athletes choose to wear coats down to the mid-calf.

Olympic swimmers rely on the warmth of a parka to help them get much closer to securing a spot on the podium. Call it superstition, but there is science behind it. Heat leads to looser muscles, which can translate into cleaner strokes and a smoother glide in the water as well as a faster time. Muscles that are not heated are stiff and can feel heavier in the water. This can limit an athlete’s range of motion and flexibility and increase traction, a swimmer’s worst enemy. In essence, without a parka or some form of thermal warm-up clothing, a swimmer may not be able to perform their best.