Wetsuit Knowledge and Experience

Posted on July 29, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Wetsuits are expensive and fall apart really easily if you don't take care of them properly. With that said, they're not going to just fall into pieces as soon as you pick them up, but you just need to handle with care. A couple things to note with them:


1- most importantly, don't let your fingernails get too close to them when you're putting them on. They will scratch holes in the suit.

2- don't let it hang out outside to dry too long as the sun is harsh on them. (Hang to dry in your shower instead)

3- don't let cleaning chemicals or soaps that are not wetsuit approved come in contact with the suit as they have a tendency to break down the rubber. If it stinks- rinse it really well in the shower and hang dry. You can clean it with a wetsuit shampoo that any Multisport triathlon or scuba store will have.


Ok, now that that's out of the way, you have a decision to make: rent or purchase? Is triathlon or open water swimming something you want to get into permanently? If so it's worth purchasing an inexpensive suit now and upgrading in a few years once you have proper care and practice putting the suit on and taking off down to a science. If you're not certain then just rent: you will thank yourself later because now you don't have to take care of the suit, you can beat up on it as much as you want without ruining your chance of getting your deposit back, and you don't have to store it or sell it. The only real down side to renting is that you know someone else has used it before and has probably also peed in the suit. Just try to remember that urine is sanitary. Renting usually costs around $15 per day and $20-25 for a weekend. At least that's how much it is at the shop I work at part time: MOX Multisport in Chicago. The cost of a new suit? Anywhere from $200 for a decent one to $650 for a really nice one.


Sleeveless or full sleeve? Full sleeve, hands down. You are losing out on some powerful advantages by losing the sleeve, mainly drag in the water being reduced, the extra pull from your forearm region (that bumpy area), and the suits ability to help regulate your body temperature. When the suits were first used for swimming in triathlon they were made of a less flexible rubber that would restrict your arms from freely moving into a streamline position. Now-a-days this problem has been fixed. The only time you would want a sleeveless wetsuit is when the race itself restricts full suits... And in this case just rent one for the day of the race.


Sizing is probably the most difficult part about a wetsuit. Some of them will ask you your height, weight, and body build and spit out a size. Well you honestly could go in a suit one size larger or with that size. Larger is more comfortable and easier to put on, and smaller is very difficult to put on, but will stretch out once in the water and will be a lot faster in the water, and also a lot warmer because water won't be as likely to be sloshing throughout your suit.


There is a product called suit juice that you can spray the inside of the suit near the bottom of the legs and your feet an ankles with. This will help tremendously to make it easier for the suit to go on. Pull the suit up to your ankles first and always try to pull from the inside of the suit by folding the suit down and then pulling up. Again I stress not to use your fingernails on the outside of the suit. Get the suit to your knees first, then extremely tight up into your crotch. I stress extremely tight because it's hugely important to make sure it's up in there or else it won't fit over your shoulders or neck properly. Once it's around your waist then spray the suit on the inside of the arm ends and your wrists with suit juice, and insert your hands all the way to your wrists. Then work to get any wrinkles out of the suit through your legs and arms. Lift your arms straight into the air and squeeze your shoulder blades together to help zip it up. Depending on the suit it might zip up or down, and when in doubt at any point during the process of putting it on, it's ok to ask a friend or stranger for help. Once it's on then make sure that it's not too tight on your neck, that the material at the back of your neck is flush to your skin, and that it's not too tight on your chest. You should feel a little bit of discomfort in your chest , but not a lot - Not restricting breathing. Then bend over at the waist and make sure it's not wrinkling near your lower abdomen too much. If it is, grab the wrinkle and pull up your stomach. Then again at your upper stomach and all the way up till it's looser in your neck and shoulder region.

Instead of Suit Juice you can try a plastic grocery bag.  This works great in a pinch by wrapping it around your foot or hand and then pushing through the suit arms/legs.  I like to tear off the handles so they don't get stuck inside the suit.


If the suit is wrinkling in a lot of places, namely the shoulders, hips, or thighs it's too big and you need to size down until that problem is eliminated. If it's so tight that it's hard to breathe, feels like it's strangling you at the neck, or you can't reach a streamline position with your arms, then it's too small and you need to size up, but I doubt this will happen because you just won't be able to fit it on. Remember it's supposed to be difficult to put it on, so make sure you're experiencing a little bit of frustration with the suit or else your salesperson is probably not knowledgeable about the product and you just need to tell him/her what's up. The customer is almost always right.


Now you're ready to swim! The advantage of having a suit is so great that it may as well be cheating. You're a lot smoother in the water and a lot more bouyant. Some companies will even put extra rubber thickness near your hips to help hold them higher in the water, this helping to eliminate the "barge effect" that you get when your hips drop too far below the surface of the water.


Taking off the suit you will notice is much easier than putting it on. When you get the suit I would recommend practicing taking it off because that time will count in a race. Literally run out of the water and start unzipping your suit right away. While running to your transition spot use one hand to hold the suit at the point where the suit is fully zipped and the other to pull the zipper in the opposite direction. Doing this will help keep the suit from tearing. Pull the suit off your shoulders and arms and down to your waist. Then take off your cap and goggles and continue to run to your transition spot. Once there take the wetsuit off. I literally will grab the suit by the waist and while pulling it down I will sit on the ground and take it off my ankles. It's easiest to take off the ankles if you insert one or two fingers into the suit at the ankle and use that to pull over your heels.


You are now out of your suit so stand up and hang your wetsuit over the top of the bar holding up your bike. Or if it's a wooden rack on the ground then just let the suit lay down there so it won't get lost while you're out on the bike.


At ironman branded races they will literally have multiple volunteers called a strippers to help take your wetsuit off and place it in your transition bag for you to collect after the race. Other races may also offer this service, just try not to be appalled when you see that the race is looking for volunteers to be strippers. They aren't the ones taking their clothes off. They're taking yours off, and no this isn't amateur hour. Though you might feel like it is when your tri shorts accidentally come off with the suit. Worse things could happen.


One last note on rules when you can and can't wear a suit in a race. CURRENTLY USAT Rules: are that 78 degrees is the cutoff - 78 and below is wetsuit legal as long as you are not a pro or elite athlete. 78.1 and above is no longer wetsuit legal. However, if you still want to wear a wetsuit above 78 degrees, you can all the way up to 84 degrees, but you will be removed from the rankings for age group and awards in the race. 84.1 and above it is mandatory that you do not wear a wetsuit. I was not able to find a rule for a point where wetsuits are REQUIRED because the water temperature is too low, but personally speaking anything below 68 degrees is super cold and not too fun to swim in without a wetsuit. Remember how I said that wearing a wetsuit may as well be cheating? If you CAN wear a wetsuit... WEAR IT! You would be dumb not to, unless your body overheats so much that having it on is too rough for you. You will get warm in the water, but it makes a HUGE difference to have the wetsuit on. If you can wear it... WEAR IT. 78 is your best friend... 78.1 is your worst enemy. If it were me I would wear a wetsuit in any race distance except for a super sprint. 200meters is so short that it's not worth dealing with having a wetsuit on. It will take more time to take it off than it will save you in the race. A sprint distance (400-800 meters) and longer is worth it. I have been to MANY races that have stated how the water temperature is super high and that the chance that they will have wetsuits will be slim, and you get there and suddenly the water is below 78 degrees and wetsuits are allowed for the race. Better safe than sorry. Bring your wetsuit to the race. Don't leave it in your hotel, don't leave it at home, keep it in your transition bag and have it available in case you can us the suit last minute... you never know.

Some race directors may require you to wear a wetsuit.  Be sure you know the rules before you show up on race day.

One other quick note, any suit where the thickness of the suit is greater than 5mm at any point on the suit is illegal by USAT rules as of January 1st, 2013. So don't buy one that is more than that.

Any questions or comments, please post.  And if anyone finds that lower limit on the water temperature, please share.


Go Faster and Keep Smiling!


Coach Larsen

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