A well-fitted wetsuit can significantly improve your swim, reducing drag and improving your buoyancy. On the other hand, a badly fitted wetsuit will do the opposite – filling with water, creating drag and slowing you down – so it pays to get it right.
A well-fitted wetsuit can significantly improve your swim, reducing drag and improving your buoyancy. On the other hand, a badly fitted wetsuit will do the opposite – filling with water, creating drag and slowing you down – so it pays to get it right. A wetsuit should never work against your swimming (which can happen if it doesn’t fit well). In fact, although you may have to change the mechanics of your stroke slightly in rougher water, for average conditions the wetsuit will help enhance your swim.
Practice makes perfect
Getting your wetsuit on and getting it fitted correctly is the key to staying comfortable, which will lead to your fastest swim. More than anything else, practice is the key: practice swimming in your wetsuit, practice putting it on, and practice taking it off. From March onwards, long before the (UK) season starts, I suggest one pool-based wetsuit swim each week. Or, even better, try an outdoor Lido swim in cooler temperatures.
Putting on your wetsuit
A suit that goes on well, with care and patience, fully pulled up into all the correct areas, should be quite easy to zip up. This should be your final reassurance that it has gone on well. A gentle, tugging motion, rolling one inch of wetsuit at a time, slowly, is the best approach when putting your wetsuit on. Taking the material slowly up the leg is going to preserve the integrity of the suit for far longer compared to putting the foot through and then pulling at the hip, expecting the suit to ‘flow’ on like a trouser leg.
Avoid the two-handed tug of the cord from the base of the spine to try to zip up the suit. Zips are attached securely to the rubber material but constant pulling at the zip from an odd angle, rather than easing into position, will weaken the join over time, requiring a repair that no doubt will happen at the most inconvenient time.
Other areas of concern when putting your wetsuit on are:
Lubricate before you put on your wetsuit
Lubricate the shins and calves, forearms and neck before the suit goes on. Even using some lube on the calf and forearm area outside the wetsuit may help when taking it off. The idea is that when pulling the wetsuit off, it turns inside out, so lubricating the material on the outside of the wrists and ankles will help it come off more smoothly. How long lube stays on the outside of a suit during a swim is open to debate, but some swear by it; personal experimentation is always a good idea.
In terms of lubricant, it really does what is says on the tin. The latest suits from Speedo are nicely cut low at the base of the neck, making it very hard for rubbing to occur, so some people find lubricant is no longer necessary. However, the base of the neck is highly mobile and rubbing of the wetsuit against the neck is possible. Add to this the extra material of the suit that gathers at the base of the neck where the zip either starts or ends, the salt from a sea swim and the 2000-plus repeated movements of breathing and sighting in an Ironman swim, and you will regret forgetting your lubricant. There are now a wide choice of non-petroleum based and non-embarrassing options for lubricant. Baby Oil is a popular, cheaper option and while some manufacturers will frown upon it, I have yet to witness a suit degrade due to its use. On the downside, it’s not particularly viscous, so I doubt its lubricating qualities would continue during a long swim.
Step-by-step: Fitting your wetsuit
For more wetsuit tips and advice, read the second part of my wetsuit feature, coming next week to the news, tips and techniques section. In part two, I explain how to recognise a good wetsuit fit, provide tips on making your wetsuit more comfortable, and run through how to take off your wetsuit efficiently.