March 28, 2013

The Wonder of Wetsuits

Unless all your races are going to take place in tropical waters, such as in Hawaii, then a wetsuit is an essential piece of race equipment.This holds true whether you come from a competitive swimming background or not.


Free speed is the most significant performance benefit of a wetsuit.  The reason is simple:  the benefit of wetsuit buoyancy improves your body position so you “ride” higher in the water.  This translates into less resistance which directly correlates with faster times.  This advantage is certainly greater for less experienced swimmers than for experienced ones that already have good body position but the advantage is still real.

A second big benefit is insulation against frigid water temps.  Wetsuits make more races possible, particularly the longer ones.  The danger of extended exposure to cold water would be just too great for these events to take place without the added warmth of a wetsuit.

The third aspect is safety.  While your wetsuit is not a flotation device, it will keep you on top of the water in case you need to swim to the side, roll over on your back and stop for a moment to collect yourself.  If you want to want to see how this works, the next time you take your wetsuit out for a test ride try swimming under water. You won’t be under very long before you pop back up to the surface like perfectly cooked ravioli!

The Possibilities Are Endless

There are lots of wetsuits to choose from so ask yourself some questions first tothink through your needs.

  • What’s your goal?  Is triathlon a bucket list item you’ll be done with after a race or two.  Do you see triathlon as a lifestyle that you’re in for the long haul?  Do you plan to race frequently or just enoughto justify your passion. Take some time to noodle on this because if you don’t plan on racing much or you’re not sure, renting or borrowing a wetsuit may be the better option for you.
  • What’s your budget? Most wetsuit companies have entry level, mid-range, and high-end offerings that range in price from $200 to $800 or more. The key benefit to the more expensive suits is that they’re made of more flexible material that gives you improved range of motion during your swim.  For competitive triathletes and experienced swimmers better flexibility is often a deciding factor. The bottom line here is that it’s a relatively expensive piece of gear that you might not use very often.
  • What’s the right sleeve length? If you do decide to buy then a long sleeve suit is probably best.  A full suit is slightly faster because the extra material makes you more buoyant and it will give you that little extra warmth.

Go For Comfort

Whether you rent, borrow, or buy the golden rule is comfort.  When it comes to wetsuits, this can be a tricky thing.  If you feel like you’ve slipped into a sausage casing then you’re probably on the right track but, if possible, get a professional fit just to be sure.Here are a few guidelines to consider when choosing:

  • The wetsuit should feel snug when you’re out of the water because it expands about half a size in the water.
  • If water bubbles up more than a quarter of an inch (according to Xterra wetsuit website) or the material bunches up you need to go down a size.
  • If it feels like it’s pulling up in the groin every time you take a stroke then it’s probably just a little too short in the torso.
  • If you’re going to wear your tri-clothes under your wetsuit in the race try it on this way before you buy it.
  • Try different brands to find the one that’s right for you since wetsuit sizing varies by company.

For That Girlish Figure

It took a while but most wetsuit companies now offer women-specific wetsuits that are built for the female form.

  • Women typically have wider hips so if this sounds like you look for a wetsuit with a longer zipper to make it easier to get on and off.
  • Women have less upper body muscle mass and in general higher arm turnover so the sleeves should be thinner than the men’s to accommodate this difference.
  • The wrists and ankles should be narrow to prevent water from entering the suit.

Some Quick Tips

  1. Lube Inside and Out:  Be generous with nonpetroleum-based lubricant when you put on your wetsuit. Areas that most often chafe are going to be around your neck and in the front of your armpits, the latter being one that often gets overlooked.For fast transitions be sure to use lubricant in key areas:  around your wrists and lower legs both inside and out so the wetsuit slips off much faster.
  2. The Plastic Bag Solution:  If you have trouble getting into the arms and legs of your wetsuit, put a plastic grocery bag on your foot or hand before slipping on your wetsuit to speed up the process.
  3. Beware of Long Fingernails:  If you have long fingernails pinch the material up or try wearing a thin pair of gloves to avoid poking small tears in your wetsuit.
  4. Avoid Chlorine:  Chlorine can degrade the glue that binds the seams so unless your pool is filled with saltwater you may want to avoid wearing your suit while pool swimming. One additional word of caution here:  Swimming in chlorinated water may likely void your manufacturer’s warranty.

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