As a coach, I’m often asked questions about wetsuits. In the early days of triathlon, a wetsuit truly was an optional piece of equipment. More and more, it is becoming a required piece of equipment.
To the most basic questions: Do I really need a wetsuit? Will a wetsuit make me faster? I respond: it depends. Overall, when the water is cold and you want to be competitive, the answer is a resounding yes. Novice swimmers to open water conditions may struggle with a wetsuit, potentially causing more problems than they solve.
Certain body types will benefit more from a wetsuit than others. Some athletes’ bodies naturally sink and some bodies naturally float in the water. For those who struggle to stay on the top of the water, a wetsuit is an angel from heaven. For those who have a high body position, the wetsuit can potentially put them too high on the water, making it difficult to get propulsion.
Here are 9 (#1-3 are part 1, 4-6 part 2, 7-9 part 3) guidelines to help you find the right wetsuit for you and your race conditions:
- Pricing: Are the more expensive suits worth the higher cost?
Not all wetsuits are created equal. The reality is that mid to high price range suits have more benefits and features to help you swim better and faster. Higher quality rubber and a range of thicknesses throughout the body are main features in higher priced suits.
Buoyancy comes from a combination of thickness and type of rubber. USAT, ITU and WTC (Ironman) have rules restricting the thickness of the wetsuit to no more than 5mm. Most brands will put the thickest rubber on the front torso and legs to give the heaviest areas of your body the most support and lift making it easier to swim. Thinner rubber (1.5-2mm) at the shoulders allows for greater flexibility and arm speed.
If you’re just getting started in the sport, watching your budget or just want a suit to get you through training and racing, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Lower priced suits will fulfill the basic requirements needed to help you with your swim and protect you from cold temperatures.
If you come from a competitive swim background or are looking for improved performance, a mid-price range suit will work best. You can enhance your speed and comfort in the water without breaking the bank.
High-end wetsuits feature the newest technology, high quality buoyant rubber and offer a high degree of efficiency, flexibility, buoyancy and performance. At the highest end, there are suits that feature every new innovation and the latest technology to help those looking for every edge they can find to improve performance.
- Try before you buy
One option when you don’t own a wetsuit is to rent one. You can rent them easily and at a much lower cost than buying one. This is also a good way to test out a wetsuit before buying one. The only down side is that it is not yours and you need to plan ahead for when you want to use one for both training and racing. On big race weekends, shops can sell out.
Wetsuits are available to rent at your local tri, bike, run or swimming shop. Online retailers offer rental options throughout the country. Wetsuit companies or retail stores will often offer a test day at your local open water venue throughout the summer. You can test out different brands, styles and sizes to determine which suits you and your budget best.
- Train in your wetsuit
Training in your wetsuit in the open water is the best way to optimize return on your investment. The more you acclimate to the suit and the open water, the greater your comfort and the better your performance. If you can’t get to the open water before your race, try it out a couple of times in the pool. I know this goes against manufacturer’s recommendations as the pool chemicals can compromise the integrity of the rubber. But, feeling confident and comfortable in your wetsuit will be worth the very minor impact one or two pool swims will have.
Train in your wetsuit, even if it’s just once or twice in the pool. Work towards being 100% comfortable and confident in that wetsuit in training before your race. I guarantee you will be glad you did!