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Wetsuits – The Long and Short Of It

Until the early 1980’s, wetsuits were used by people such as surfers and scuba divers to avoid hypothermia in cold waters. That changed when wetsuits became the great swim equalizer in triathlons. Wetsuits are more buoyant than just the human fat cells we carry around. The buoyancy allows poorer swimmers to swim more on top of the water which typically means someone will swim faster. This buoyancy affects poorer swimmers more than swimmers with good technique and thus closes the gap between the two in efficiency. Triathlon wetsuits or “speedsuits” come in a variety of cuts and lengths. Originally, the triathlon wetsuits were 5mm thick, maximum thickness allowed, throughout the wetsuit. Even though buoyant, this didn’t allow for flexibility.

Designs changed to sleeveless and shortened leg lengths to negate the flexibility issue. Now, with advances in rubber and stretch material, I think the full body suit is the best wetsuit for speed. It may be warmer than other wetsuit versions, but I will sacrifice comfort in warmer waters for speed. Full body suits are flexible enough that you can have full range of motion with your stroke. If this is the case, then why would you want a sleeveless or a short legged suit if there is less rubber for buoyancy?

No matter what wetsuit you use, make sure you swim with it at least once before you race. If you have no open water in your area, then go to a pool. The first time you wear a wetsuit for the season, you may get a claustrophobic sensation. This is also where visualization can help ease any anxiety.

In race situation, removing your wetsuit can be aided by putting Vaseline around the ankle areas. This helps the rubber slide off easier. I also use it around the neck, crotch and near the armpits to prevent chaffing. Wetsuit companies say Vaseline is bad for the rubber. Although this may be true, I haven’t found anything that works better. I wipe away the Vaseline soon after the race. Vaseline is also great around the ankles because it is harder for a competitor, planned or unplanned, to grab your ankles in the swim.

© Wes Hobson Performance Inc.