Not all triathlon wetsuits are the same. Swim Smooth’s Paul Newsome tells you how to choose one that matches the way you swim.
When choosing a wetsuit, most triathletes understand the importance of trying it on first to check that it that fits their body shape well. But there are several other factors that you should consider that can make a big difference to your speed and feeling of balance in the water. In this feature, we are going to look at four different types of swimmer and how their individual characteristics should affect their choice of wetsuit.
1. Sinky-Legged Swimmers
Many triathletes without a swimming background suffer from low-lying legs in the water. The problem affects more men than women, and those affected are normally good athletes on land but their poor body position creates a huge amount of drag. We call these swimmers ‘Arnies’ on our website (swimtypes.com). Such swimmers should work on their stroke technique to improve their body position but they should also carefully choose their wetsuit to help. Sinky-legged swimmers should look for a suit that has high buoyancy around the hips and legs but low buoyancy in the upper body. This helps readdress the balance between their upper and lower body, pulling their legs up much higher in the water. This works far better than a wetsuit that has high buoyancy all over. We have seen sinky-legged swimmers gain as much as five minutes per kilometre in the right suit!
2. Dominant Leg Kick Swimmers
Many triathletes with a swimming background have quite a strong leg kick when they swim, which they rely on for propulsion. In a wetsuit they often feel very unbalanced as their legs are brought up too high in the water and they lose stability. Swimmers with a dominant leg kick should be looking for a low buoyancy suit all over. They should especially avoid suits with 4mm or 5mm leg and hip panels – these will be too buoyant for you and could bring your legs up out of the water so you start kicking air. A 3mm suit – especially in the legs – is a much better choice for you. One quick stroke tip if you are in this bracket: try using a higher head position and looking further forwards, which can also help balance your buoyancy.
3. Swimmers With A Strong Swimming Background
Most swimmers with a strong swimming background already have excellent body position in the water and require a neutral buoyancy suit with equal thicknesses of upper and lower body panels. This is the traditional design of triathlon wetsuits with 4-5mm panels all over, so choose one of these and avoid the newer balanced buoyancy designs.
4. Naturally Buoyant Swimmers
Many women and some men fall into the ‘naturally buoyant’ bracket of swimmers who have little trouble achieving a high body position in the water. High buoyancy is more common for women than men due to women’s slightly lower musculature and the different distribution of body fat around the body. In a high buoyancy wetsuit, such swimmers feel very uncomfortable as they are brought too high in the water and start to lose stability. If you are nice and floaty then a thin suit – ideally 3mm all over – is perfect for you. Such a suit has enough warmth for cold water swims but is not too buoyant so as to lose stability. As a bonus, a thinner suit is less restricting and easier to get off in T1 too!
Which Suit Suits You?
If any of the above descriptions sound like you, the next step is to make sure you have the right wetsuit to match your swim type. Most triathlon wetsuit manufacturers have two or three different models to complement different types of swimmer. Speak to the staff at some triathlon stores and research the manufacturers’ websites to make sure you choose the right one.
Here at Swim Smooth we’ve been designing and testing wetsuits for a new wetsuit manufacturer called Huub (huubdesign.com) launched in March 2012. These new suits are split into each of the categories above and have many other features that we’ve designed to actually improve your stroke. Choose the right wetsuit and you’ll find there will be a huge difference in how you swim.
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in triradar.com’s Training Zone section.