By Life Time Endurance coach, Randy McElwain
Wetsuits are a fantastic aid in triathlon open water swimming. Even the most advanced swimmers recognize the benefit of wearing a wetsuit, when permissible, in swim distances longer than 750 meters (benefit minimized at the shorter distance due to transition time to remove). USAT Competitive Rules permit the use of wetsuits for water temperatures below 78 degrees for non-elite athletes and lower than 84 degrees for a participant waiving eligibility for awards. Elite athlete standards mandate lower water temperatures for usage.
Why wear a wetsuit?
Wetsuits are constructed of buoyant Neoprene that works to help swimmers establish, or decrease the effort needed to maintain a better body position or leg and midsection support in the water. Wetsuits have been continuously improved over the years as the once-stiff wetsuit is now made from materials that are able to provide amazing comfort and free range of motion.
Should I buy a sleeveless or sleeved wetsuit?
Tests have proven a sleeved wetsuit is faster than sleeveless, but the tests don’t take the individual into consideration. Open water swimming tends to create a high level of anxiety for many athletes. Combine that anxiety with a suit compressing your body, more specifically, the base of your neck, and some athletes feel quite restricted and an inability to breathe. This is where many find greater comfort using a sleeveless wetsuit during their early years in the sport as the openness of the shoulder area helps relieve the constrictive feeling of a full wetsuit.
How do I pick out a wetsuit?
Wetsuit fit is the key to wetsuit selection. Frequently, you will see a new athlete having borrowed or using a wetsuit not designed for swimming. WARNING: They don’t work! They permit large amounts of water to penetrate the neck creating a very dangerous situation as the suit fills up like a balloon. Complementary to wetsuit fit, different wetsuits can provide various benefits supporting an individual’s unique shape or swim ability. For example, the TYR Hurricane creates a feeling of leg and core inflexibility, while a Synergy Hybrid creates a sensation of superior buoyancy. Other models can cater to the type of swimmer you are or you’re specific body type.
Given it being very hard to compare multiple suits at one time, I suggest doing some research before selecting your wetsuit. Understand what you believe are your personal strengths, weaknesses and body type, then combine that evaluation with the unique attributes of a particular wetsuit to help create a winning combination for you.
How do I get it on?
In the old days, we use to spray ourselves with PAM! Today, many people place a small, plastic grocery bag over their feet to help slide legs and feet into the suit. REMINDER: Don’t forget to put Body Glide around your neck and underarm area to avoid chaffing. Also, remember that although the material is soft and stretchable, it can still tear. It is always best to pull holding the suit by the inner liner using your hands as a flat surface without using your fingertips. If you do happen to put a small tear in the material, manufacturers make wetsuit repair kits that can fill the tear and maintain the suits integrity.
Should I rent or buy?
If you are just beginning to try out the sport, a rental might be the best choice for you. Rentals are fairly inexpensive, but can quickly add up to the cost of a suit of your own. Aside from having a limited brand selection, as long as the suit fits properly you are better off renting a suit than using nothing if buying may not be an option.