It doesn’t matter if you’re a competitive swimmer, a competitive triathlete or someone who is new to either one of these sports, a wetsuit can be an essential piece of your staple race gear. There are many different brands with many different features, and as soon as you start researching them you will likely get a wide range of options for future wetsuit purchases, but overall the following are some basic facts and bits of information about wetsuits that you should know before you buy.
Flexibility – Overall, wetsuits made specifically for swimming (as opposed to surfing) are made with a different level of thickness and rubber to give athletes maximum flexibility. The more flexible the suit, the more freely you are able to move, which ultimately results in less fatigue.
Hydrodynamics – The majority of triathlon wetsuits are made with a silicon surface treatment which makes them slippery to the touch, and more importantly, in the water. This helps reduce the amount of drag.
Buoyancy – Wetsuits are made out of rubber; naturally, rubber floats in water. If you already have a good form and the bottom half of your body does not sink when you swim, a wetsuit will make you even more efficient. This is because the higher you float, the easier and faster you will swim. Admittedly for many, this is the main reason to buy a wetsuit.
Warmth – It goes without saying that swimming in cold water is miserable. This is where a wetsuit can help you. As you immerse yourself into the water, it will flow into the suit, and while at first this seems bad, it really isn’t. This is because part of the basic design of a wetsuit is a built-in capability that allows a small amount of water to seep into the suit and stay there. When this happens, your body warms the water, and inherently, this creates a barrier between you and the cold water.
So, now that you know why wetsuits can be essential and how they work, the next area of focus is making sure when you buy one that it is properly fitted.
This is something a lot of people do not invest enough time in assessing, and it’s a shame because an ill fitted wetsuit cancels itself out. On the flip side, a properly fitted wetsuit allows a good range of motion and enhances your swim. It also reduces extra water from seeping into your suit, which is an essential feature as extra water will eliminate the buoyancy and hydrodynamics the wetsuit is designed to give you. In simple terms, a wetsuit should fit like a glove or basically as if it was molded to your skin. A good wetsuit should also allow a full range of motion, especially in your shoulders.
PUTTING IT ON
In theory it seems easy, but putting on a wetsuit definitely takes patience. The key here is to take your time; do NOT excessively or forcefully pull it with your fingernails! Doing so can damage the suit. The first time you try on your suit you want to be in a room with cool, comfortable temperature and you should also be 100% dry. In short, here are some pointers on how to effectively put on a wetsuit.
- Telling the outside and inside of the suit should be easy – the logos are typically on the outside of the suit and the zipper on the back is always on the outside.
- Putting on the suit is akin to putting on stockings or compression gear: you put each foot in, one at a time, and slowly work (or rather, “roll”) the rest of the suit, inch by inch, up your legs.
- Once both of your legs are completely in the suit, work the suit up as high into your crotch as possible. I find doing some slow body-weight squats helps with this.
- If you have a full sleeve suit, put the arms on just like you did with the legs.
- Now, pull on the upper body portion of the suit and zip. Most zippers on suits have a long strand/band attached to them so that you can reach around to your lower back, grab the strand and zip it up with ease.
Now that you have the suit on, ask yourself the following questions:
- How does it fit? Does it feel like second skin, or is it too baggy or loose?
- Extend your arms in front and in back of you: How is your range of motion? Is it limited? Do your arms feel constrained?
Once you have found a suit that fits you well and you invest in purchasing one, it’s important to learn how to take care of it. In truth, wetsuits really do not require that much care but here are some things you need to do.
- Wash your suit with cool water after every swim. Yes, every single one – no matter where you swim it should be washed after every swim. Doing so helps get rid of all sorts of nasty things you’d rather not know about.
- After washing your suit, make sure to completely dry it. Hang it out for one day, and on the next day turn it inside out and hang it out for another day. NEVER EVER PUT IT IN THE DRYER or in any area that gets really hot (i.e., your deck in 100 degree weather)
- Once dry, store it on a hanger somewhere dry and cool. I keep mine hanging up in my basement laundry room.
- If you ever tear your wetsuit, fix it as soon as possible because small tears can eventually turn into large tears if not mitigated as soon as possible. I suggest using AquaSeal Wetsuit Repair Adhesive for this.
- You can sometimes develop chaffing with wetsuits. A common place for this is in and around the armpits, and I can attest to this because it has happened to me in the past. To prevent this, I personally use BodyGlide. I also know people who use Pam cooking spray… yes really! Whatever you do, never use Vaseline because it contains petroleum which destroys the adhesive of the wetsuit’s seams, and also penetrates the core of the neoprene, making the suit impossible to repair.
What wetsuit do you own? Tell us how it enhanced your swim!
Image Sources: WikiHow.com and Outside Online by