In every experienced swimmer’s gear bag, you will likely find a swim cap and a pair of goggles. Although these pieces of equipment are largely considered swimming essentials, there’s still controversy about how swimmers should wear these items.
Recreational swimmers typically put their goggles on over their swim cap for ease of adjustment and added comfort. Competitive swimmers put their goggles under their swim cap to hold the straps in place and reduce drag. Ultimately, how you wear your goggles and cap comes down to personal preference.
Each style offers its own distinct set of advantages in swimming. We will delve into each of these advantages in the sections below. Read until the end to learn how to best decide which sort of style is optimal for you and your swimming aspirations.
Why Recreational Swimmers Wear Goggles Over Their Swim Cap
Generally, casual swimmers tend to put on their swim cap first and their goggles second. Since most pool-goers are not participating in formal competition, this style is largely considered the norm. There are a few reasons why swimmers wear their swim caps and goggles in this manner. We will discuss the most prominent of these reasons below.
Can Quickly Remove or Adjust Goggles as Necessary
For one, it’s much easier for a swimmer to take off or reposition their goggles when it’s not trapped underneath the swim cap. Since the goggle straps are completely free of cap material, there’s no need for a swimmer to take off their swim cap just for the sake of rearranging their goggles.
Certain swimmers have a habit of shifting around their goggles in between sets. This might be the case for a swimmer that:
- experiences discomfort when wearing goggles for extended durations
- has lenses that fog up rather quickly
- wears goggles that are too small
Whatever the case may be, it’s far more convenient to make such adjustments when the goggles are placed over the top of the swim cap. It’s simply not worth the extra effort to wear the goggles underneath.
Feels More Comfortable & Less Restrictive
Aside from the flexibility of adjustment, recreational swimmers typically believe that wearing their goggles over their swim cap feels better.
Ultimately, when positioning your goggles beneath a swim cap, your goggles are bound to be locked in place by the tightness of the material. With your goggles held rigidly in place, it can feel quite constricting. This is especially true if the goggle straps have been over-tightened.
If the goggles aren’t comfortably oriented to begin with, it can be somewhat frustrating to have your goggles sealed in this way. As opposed to quickly readjusting your goggle straps, you may be tempted to swim through the discomfort. Taking both your swim cap and goggles off, readjusting, and putting everything back on may seem like too much of a hassle.
Plus, goggle straps—particularly the rubber ones—can aggressively tug or pull on your hair since there’s no protective layer in between. It may even reach a point where the straps pull out strands of your hair. Obviously, this can be extremely uncomfortable. For this reason, long-haired swimmers have a natural tendency to put their swim cap on first to avoid such problems.
Why Competitive Swimmers Wear Goggles Under Their Swim Cap
Competitive swimmers take an alternative approach. They opt to wear their swim cap over their goggles. Even top-tier swimmers—like the decorated Olympian Michael Phelps—favor this style. They do this for a few important reasons, which we will discuss next.
Holds Goggle Straps Firmly In Place
As aforementioned, positioning the swim cap over the goggle straps locks the goggles into place. While this might limit your adjustment capabilities, it also prevents the goggles from shifting around involuntarily. This is a major benefit for competitive swimmers because they cannot afford to waste precious time tinkering with their goggles while racing.
When the goggles are positioned over the swim cap, they’re at a far greater risk of moving around and potentially even falling off. For example, goggle straps tend to shift when a swimmer dives off the blocks. Surprisingly, the force of the water rushing over the swimmer’s head is sufficient enough to disorient the straps and lenses.
This also applies to competitive swimmers in open water races, like triathletes, for example. With the waves continually crashing and nearby swimmers flailing about their limbs, goggle straps can take a beating if they’re left exposed. The last thing these competitors want to deal with is a lost pair of goggles, so they tuck their straps beneath their swim cap.
In short, competitive swimmers do not want to be distracted by the placement of their goggles during a race. They have enough on their mind already. For this reason, they’re willing to sacrifice comfort to a certain degree in favor of stability. If that means having to pull their swim cap over their goggle straps, that’s the price they’re willing to pay.
Reduces Frictional Drag Underwater
Aside from the benefits in goggle placement, putting your swim goggles underneath the swim cap also cuts down on the amount of water drag experienced underwater.
The crown of your head is the very first part of the body that contacts the water as you swim forward. To maintain optimal speeds, the crown of your head should be kept as smooth as possible so that the water can easily glide off of its surface. The more bumps, folds, and wrinkles there are, the more the surface area there will be for the water to slow you down.
As an analogy, you want to mimic a bullet surging underwater. This way, no excess surface area is left uncovered. You want to slice through the water, not simply move through it.
This is the logic behind why swimmers wear swim caps in the first place. The additional surface area of your hair strands can prevent a swimmer from reaching maximum speeds. It’s worth noting that this not only applies to the hair on your scalp but all over the body. If you ever wondered why swimmers shave their body hair, this is one of the major reasons.
To learn more about the other reasons why swimmers shave off their body hair, click over to Why Do Swimmers Shave Their Bodies? (Easy Explanation).
Leaving the goggle straps over your swim cap creates extra bumps, folds, and wrinkles on the crown of your head that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Consequently, you’re marginally slower as you swim underwater.
To the casual swimmer, this reduction in water drag isn’t very noticeable. At best, it will only cut down a few seconds to a fraction of a second off of your swim times.
It takes a seasoned swimmer to detect this subtle change. Since competitive swimmers spend hours in the water every week, they can quickly tell when they’re experiencing more water drag than they should.
In the swimming community, this is known as the hydrodynamic effect. Ultimately, as a swimmer propels themselves forward, the water exerts a force that’s equal and opposite to that propulsion (source).
Similar to how an airplane must be aerodynamic, competitive swimmers need to be as hydrodynamic as possible. This way, they can move faster in the water without exerting any extra effort. With swimming, energy efficiency is everything. So it would be best if you didn’t expend any more energy than necessary.
Which Swim Cap & Goggles Style Suits You Best?
Now that we have established the various advantages of both styles, it’s time to address the question of which style is optimal for you.
At the end of the day, there’s really no right or wrong answer to this question. We touched on it earlier, but the answer to this boils down to your personal preferences and long-term swimming goals.
If you’re swimming to engage in a different form of recreation or a new kind of workout, do whatever is most comfortable. For most people, wearing goggles over the swim cap is the most convenient. This way, they can take off the goggles as they please. Occasionally, the eyes need a break from being under constant pressure.
Some of you may not even require the use of a swim cap if your hair is short already. If this is the case, you can avoid this whole dilemma completely!
With swimmers in formal competition, it’s a different story. These competitors want to maximize performance as best they can during races. This means doing all of the little things, like shaving off any body hair, wearing a drag-resistant swimsuit, and positioning their goggles beneath the swim cap.
Every fraction of a second counts during these races, so there’s no real margin for error. To most people, the placement of your goggles in relation to the swim cap is fairly trivial. To competitive swimmers, however, it’s yet another area where they can gain an edge.
Put simply, analyze where you stand in terms of where you want to go with swimming. Then, depending upon where your aspirations fall on this competitive spectrum, it should be relatively easy to make an informed decision regarding what style is best for you.
How to Position Your Goggles When Wearing 2 Swim Caps
We have mainly discussed how to position your goggles with a single swim cap on until this point. But do these recommendations change if you choose to wear two swim caps instead?
Of course, you can wear your swim caps and goggles in whichever manner you prefer. When using two swim caps, however, the majority of swimmers wear their swim caps and goggles in the following way:
- First, the first swim cap is put on with all of your hair trapped underneath.
- Next, the goggles are put on. They’re placed over the swim cap, similar to how they would be positioned if you were to wear your goggles over the top of your swim cap normally.
- From here, the second swim cap is placed over the first swim cap and the goggle straps. The second swim cap keeps everything secure and in place for the upcoming pool session.
This is the most prevalent way that competitors wear their swim caps and goggles at open water race events. The method above allows competitors to wear their own personal swim cap, along with the uniform swim cap provided to all race participants.
If you’re at a loss for how to wear your two swim caps and goggles properly, this is a solid place to start. Though, if you experience any discomfort, feel free to experiment and adjust accordingly to feel more at ease in the water. By no means is this method intended to be the end all, be all.