Ask the Coach – What About Wetsuits?
In this week’s Ask the Coach column, Dean has a question of finding the right wetsuit. He asks,
“How do I pick a wetsuit?”
For us who live in the cooler climates, triathlons are almost guaranteed to be wetsuit legal all year long. Wetsuit legal in USA Triathlon sanctioned races means water temperature 78 degrees or lower. (For more specifics you can read the USAT Rules.) So how does one go about finding the right wetsuit? In this post we’ll discuss function, fit, and selection.
Function – the wetsuit’s primary purpose is to keep you warm in cooler water. The wetsuit allows a small amount of water between you and the suit, your body heats this water and it keeps you at a more comfortable temperature than if you were in the water without the suit. An added function of the wetsuit is that it keeps you bouyant, improving your body’s position in the water. When fit properly, it can also reduce drag in the water. These two factors can make you faster.
Fit – in order for a wetsuit to function properly, it needs to fit properly. This means it is snug and fitted across your entire body, your arms, torso, hips, and legs. There should not be gaps of extra rubber, as water can collect here and weigh you down, in addition to causing extra turbulence in the water. That will slow you down. If the wetsuit is too tight, it will be uncomfortable and restrict your range of motion, which will slow you down as well. So when trying on wetsuits, it should be snug and smooth, but you should be able to walk and swing your arms without difficulty. Think of a superhero suit.
Selection – there are many brands of triathlon wetsuits out there. And many types of wetsuits: long sleeves, no sleeves, two piece suits. $99 wetsuit and $600 wetsuits. So first know your budget and needs. The more expensive suit is going to be of higher quality, but are you they type of swimmer that needs to worry about fractions of seconds to stay with the pack? Long or short sleeve? This is your preference, though the long sleeves are faster (less drag, improves bouyancy), some swimmers prefer the “feel” of the water with the sleeveless. And the most important questions – does it fit?
If you have the opportunity to try on different brands you will be able to compare fit. You can also shop online using the company’s sizing guide. If you buy online, be honest with your true size (use your actual weight, not what you think you might be in a few months!) So once you’ve got one that fits, happy swimming!
Here are a few extra resources regarding triathlon wetsuits:
Trifuel.com maintains a list of wetsuits containing member reviews.
Dan Empfield wrote this article for slowtwitch.com on the chararteristics of good tri wetsuits.
Sara McLarty, the most successful female triathlon swimmer (I’m not sure if she’s ever not been first out of the water) wrote a nice article for Triathlete magazine on triathlon wetsuits.
Please leave comments or questions in the comment section about this topic. If you have other questions that you would like to see answered in the ‘Ask the Coach’ column you can post them there as well. You can also contact Coach Nicole on facebook, twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coach Nicole is the founder and head coach for NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, a Colorado-based endurance sport coaching company. She is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and also coaches triathlon for Team In Training. Learn more at http://neoendurancesports.com/.
Disclaimer: NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness is sponsored by XTERRA Wetsuits and Coach Nicole wears the Vector Pro X2 Sleeveless model. If you are interested in purchasing an XTERRA Wetsuit, Coach Nicole can provide you with a special discount code. Just email her for more information.