On their own, wetsuits are not propulsive. Throw one into a lake and regardless of price it will not move. You need to make it work for you and the wetsuits needs to allow you to work within it. I have swum fast in $80 suits and more expensive suits. The common theme was that they were all well fitted well. Here are some tips to help you find and fit the right suit for you!
Before you buy
When choosing a wetsuit, buoyancy levels are what a lot of people rush to consider, but you need to think about your swimming ability. The better swimmer you are, the less buoyancy you will need. In fact too much can actually be a hindrance. If you are buying a new suit for this season then keep the following in mind:
Wetsuits become a lot more pliable once wet.
Try to swim in a suit before buying to get a true idea of your size.
There are very few slow suits out there, just badly fitted suits.
Manufacturers can be quite conservative with their sizing guides.
Fitting a Wetsuit
Putting on a wetsuit is quite an art. Following these simple steps will make help make race day preparation a little easier:
1. Roll the upper body down exposing the large openings to the legs (practically turn it inside out but leave the arms.) This folding down of the upper section doubles the thickness around the hip. This presents a better ‘handle’ for a stronger pulling action. Lead with the toes through the large opening, enclosed in socks or plastic bags to easily glide through.
2. As mentioned above, small pulling actions, an inch at a time rather then large handfuls stretching the material, will preserve the flex of the suit. Work on the very lowest sections to start with and do not move up the leg until the suit fully fits over the ankles, onto the calves and up to the knees. At this point then we can move up the thighs.
3. If there is loose material in the legs the material will not fit the torso well. Check this is not the case by examining for loose material around the crotch area. If your suit finishes a few inches above the ankles then that is going to be better than air pockets in the crotch area.
4. If you are happy with the fit under the crotch then one more pull with the doubled up material should have the lower section of the Torso move up and over the hips and glutes. As the suit moves up and over the chest, you can carefully insert an arm. Take care with the fingers or use more plastic bags to guide the fingers through.
5. Work the hands all the way through the sleeves. Once the hands are free, either you or a partner can start the trickier process of sliding the arm material up towards the shoulders. If you are on your own you can use the bent elbow trick to free up material in the forearm to take into the upper arm. A small bunching around the shoulders is considered ok as this leaves room for the arms to maneuver.
6. At this stage if you have successfully pulled all loose material up out of the extremities then it should not be too tough to zip up. Just before this it is worth taking some of the material up out of the stomach and rolling it up towards the Chest.
7. Lay the material that protects the zip flat, check that the cord is not in the way and then you should have a relatively easy job of fastening the zip. Pulling on the cord to zip up even for the most flexible is something that should be avoided as it stresses the join where the zip meets neoprene and tugs at the stitching. Hold the bottom of the suit if you must attempt this on your own.
8. Seal the join around the neck with the velcro once the zip has fastened. If this is done in a hurry without checking that all paneling is flat then chaffing can occur.
Before you race!
If possible enter the water before the race start, and once submerged allow the suit to fill with water by pulling the collar out. Once filled with a substantial amount exit the water, stand up and start to push the water inside the suit down towards your ankles. Once the water is out from the inside of the suit it should be completely wet, this will help ‘vacuum seal’ the suit and remove any pockets of air that could later fill with water during the race and upset the balance of your stroke.
Tip: Try swimming in your wetsuit every 2 weeks, all year round to get used to the shoulders being surrounded by material.
Dan Bullock is the Speedo Open water Advisory Coach and a Masters Open Water Champion.
Qualifications in ASA, BTW and ASCA.