Choosing the best wetsuit for you can go a long way toward avoiding problems in the open water.
There are several things to consider then it comes to choosing a wetsuit that will help you conquer the triathlon swim.
For many people the swim is a necessary evil if they want to reach the finish line, and making the wrong choice of wetsuits can easily add to the degree of difficulty.
The over-all weight, aerodynamics, and comfort of today’s wetsuit have certainly come a long way from what was available when triathlon was in it’s infancy.
There was basically only a “dry” suit that scuba-divers wore and they were far too hot and heavy for open water swimming. There was also a “Farmer John” style wetsuit that had no arms and stopped short just above the knees. These wetsuits did no good at all as far as warmth or aerodynamics and were actually more for water-skiers.
I’m sure many people in the early days who experienced their first triathlon in frigid waters with no protection from the cold had second thoughts about the sport. The cold will sap your strength very quickly and it’s impact is even more devastating for those who are not the best of swimmers to begin with.
That in turn makes the bike even more difficult and energy levels are pretty low and sometimes non-existent once it’s time for the run.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A WETSUIT
First and foremost you need a wetsuit that is thick enough to provide protection from the cold. The thickness of the rubber might be anywhere from 1.5mm to 5mm. The thinner the rubber the more flexible it is and the thicker it is, the warmer and more buoyant it is.
For the most part, 5mm is as thick as you will find a wetsuit as this conforms to the maximum thickness regulations for most triathlon governing bodies.
As a rule, wetsuits will be thinner around the shoulder and arm area where most of the movement and stretching takes place and thicker around the chest and leg area. The added thickness creates more buoyancy and this is an important consideration for those who are not that confident or efficient when it comes to open-water swimming.
For example there will be wetsuits that are 3mm thick in all the high stretch and movement areas and 5mm everywhere else.
As a general rule, the more expensive wetsuits have better quality rubber and are more buoyant than the less expensive models. However most wetsuits these days will provide a certain amount of buoyancy and warmth and often it comes down to swimming ability.
Many people new to the sport who are just learning how to open-water swim will buy the most expensive wetsuits for the added “sense of security” they provide. Good wetsuits by their very nature will automatically give you better form and aerodynamics in the water and that’s where most beginner swimmers struggle.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Once you have figured out how much you are prepared to pay for a wetsuit, it’s time to narrow down your choice by trying on several different brands.
Normally the manufactuer’s sizing suggestions are a good place to start, but at the same time everyone has a different body type and actually trying on the suit is crucial.
The wetsuit fit should be snug between the crotch and shoulder with no sagging, yet not so tight around your neck that your breathing is constricted.
A full-length wetsuit that covers your arms is preferable for cold water swims as opposed to today’s version of the “Farmer John” that is cut off at the shoulders. The seal around your ankles and wrists should also be snug as this will cut down on water seeping into the suit.
Try doing a swim stroke motion and make sure you have full range of movement in your arms and shoulders.
A suit that is too tight will restrict your movements and one that is too lose could cause chafing. It’s important to remember that a wetsuit will “loosen” over time as neoprene stretches and at first it may feel a bit tight and uncomfortable.
A loose wetsuit will most likely create more drag in the water and is not as efficient as a snug, tight-fitting wetsuit.
Once again it comes down to what is most important to the individual. A looser fit means more comfort and a tighter fit means more speed.
The best option by far for the new triathlete is to be fitted for a wetsuit by an expert who will provide a variety of options that best suit your body-type and personal goals.
Do you have a story to share about a bad wetsuit experience?