The most important part of open water swimming is before you even get in...
As open water coaches we are asked "what's the most important thing regarding open water swimming" and the answer is simple. Firstly get a suit which fits you correctly, generally a correct fitting suit feels too tight to most people and as a consequence they get one which is too big. The second most important thing is putting it on correctly, if the suit isn't worn correctly, you are significantly increasing the resistance on your shoulders which very quickly leads to fatigue.
People may tell you "it's easier when you swim in a wetsuit" and this is wrong. The resistance of the neoprene means that each time you move your arm, your muscles are working much harder. That said, the buoyancy of the wetsuit means that for many people, despite the added resistance, they still swim faster than without a wetsuit. Don't confuse the 2 things, it's faster, but it's not easier. Putting the suit on correctly has a huge impact on your performance, far more than most people realise.
Follow these simple steps before each swim:
- Start at your ankles, step into the suit and pull the lower legs of your suit until the lower border of the legs are approximately 2 inches above your ankle bones (your knees should still be visible). If the bottom of the leg is resting on the top of your foot, it's too low... it needs to be above the ankle bone.
- Once you have the lower legs in then correct position pull the remainder of the legs up over your knees and then your thighs until the suit is up to your waist. At this point there should be no ‘saggy crotch’ and the neoprene should fit tightly against your nether regions. If it's saggy in your crotch, work the neoprene up the thighs until it's snug.
- If you haven't managed the 2 steps below, start again and don't try to put the upper body in place.
- Place your arms into the wetsuit so you are covering your lower arms only, do not allow the wetsuit to cover your upper arms and shoulders. The end of the wetsuit arms found at your wrist should be pulled up until they are 1-2 inches above your actual wrist or watch position. If the end of the sleeve is on your hand, it's too low, work it up until it's above the wrist bone.
- Once the wetsuit wrists are correct, pull the wetsuit sleeve to cover the remainder of your arms and shoulders, smooth out any wrinkles by moving them upwards towards your shoulders, DO NOT smooth out wrinkles by pushing them downwards towards your wrist, maintain the 2 inch gap between the wetsuit border and your actual wrist or watch.
- All of the previous steps are to ensure that the wetsuit is as high as possible and sat on top of your shoulders. If you have 'wings' under your armpits, the suit is too low. The material should be snug into your armpit.
- Ask your partner to zip up your suit (note that if you can zip it up yourself its probably too big). Be sure that the excess material at the neck is folded into the correct position so it does not rub your neck. Pull up the zip, there will be a piece of neoprene which fastens across the zip, ensure that the zip tether is above this before fastening to ensure that the zip will not come down if someone grabs it during the swim.
- Secure the end of the tether so it does not get in the way when swimming. the easiest thing is to tuck the end of the tether under your swim cap at the rear, this ensures that you always know where it is as you enter transition and can easily grab it to unzip your suit.
What are the most common errors when purchasing a wetsuit?
1. Generally the most common mistake are people buying wetsuits which are too big for them. A correct fitting wetsuit can feel a little oppressive at times and you may feel 'vacuum packed' into it. The fit must be snug and the flexibility of the neoprene will allow you to move. don't make the common mistake that you 'need some room' for movement, it'll fill with water and drag.
2. Be careful buying online... (of course we're going to say that). As we've stated above, people often buy too big because they haven't tried them on in store. "But you can send them back and change them" .... That may well be true, but the issue is, most people don't even know what the correct size actually is. They try a suit on which is too big and they think it's fine.
3. If you've never swam open water before, you can often feel as though you are out of breath. This is the reaction to cold water and wearing a wetsuit, it doesn't mean your suit is too small. We get people visiting our store as they think their suit is too tight, more often than not it fits them fine, it's just their reaction to open water and this is something they need to become accustomed to.
4. A common mistake is buying by brand. People have a pre-set idea that they want a 2XU or a Zone3 suit before they enter the shop. Each manufacturer has a slightly different fit and each person is different. it's common for certain brands on certain people to be tight or baggy around the waist, shoulders and the neck area. The fastest wetsuit for you is the one which fits you the best, irrelevant of the brand. If you wanted a 2XU but the Aquasphere fits better, you should buy the Aquasphere, it's simple logic.
5. Don't get hung up on buoyancy and wetsuit thickness. This is something which wetsuit companies use as a selling point. A thick wetsuit will be buoyant but the flexibility and resistance to movement is poor, resulting in fatigue very quickly. Buying the most buoyant wetsuit, won't necessarily make you swim faster. Bad backs are common from buoyant suits as they lift your legs and chest, thereby arching your lower back. 95% of wetsuits will have 5mm thighs and chest panels, the buoyancy is the same.
6. We're commonly asked 'what's the difference with expensive suits'. The simple answer is that the neoprene is more flexible so there's less resistance and therefore less fatigue. As above, you should have a tight fitting suit which is extremely supple. The more expensive the suit, the more supple. Unfortunately, supple suits are also more fragile and less resilient.
7. Wetsuit sizing is generally a 'range'. For example, a medium may be for someone who weighs 75-83Kg. The medium will therefore fit differently for a 75Kg person, compared to a 83Kg person. Every person ha their own shape, so you have to be realistic when buying a suit, it may never fit perfectly on every part of the body.
8. Wetsuits are not designed for breast stroke and make the stroke even more difficult as the legs sit too high. You should know this before you buy, if you are a breast stroke swimmer.
9. Finally, you should be prepared for wetsuit damage. Modern wetsuits are made from very soft material to enhance flexibility. Catching it with your finger nails is enough to put a small tear in the outer fabric (won't go all the way through). Prepare yourself for this, as your shiny new suit will accumulate small tears within a matter of weeks, all manufacturers are the same. It won't affect the performance of the suit so don't get too hung up on superficial marks and damage.
If you're need more advice, come and visit our store. We’re based in Wrightington near Wigan, just off junction 27 M6
We have a range of suits in stock and if you're buying the suit from us, you're welcome to try them on for size. We also organise a regular open water swim session every Wednesday and Saturday, you can read more HERE.
The Endurance Store