These Four articles were written to help both the new and veteran athletes understand the triathlon wetsuit. We hope they can be of use in the process of purchasing and getting the most from your suit.
1) Why a Triathlon Wetsuit?
The first and most important reason is for warmth. In the early years, triathlon wetsuits were borrowed from sports like diving and surfing. Triathlon as a new sport has given birth to new products and the triathlon wetsuit is one such brain child. It didn’t take long to realize if a wetsuit was built properly, it would make you faster. Being faster is the most popular reason triathletes are buying triathlon wetsuits. Because of the buoyant qualities of neoprene, putting one on can make you float like a cork (not to be used or mistaken as a PFD). The new triathlon wetsuits were built with aquatic creature-like features, which means less drag. Less drag and more flotation means less energy expended, and all of that means faster swim times.
The speed of these new suits comes from using smooth neoprene, verses the more durable but rough-surfaced rubber of surf or dive suits. The seams in a tri suit are blind-stitched and glued for minimal drag. Pattern materials are chosen for thickness and mobility. The thicker material is used in the chest and legs to provide the greatest buoyancy. Thinner rubber is used in the shoulders and arms to offer ease of movement.
The most important element of a triathlon wetsuit is fit. If it doesn’t fit correctly it can restrict movement or allow water between the swimmer and the suit. Water weight is the last thing a swimmer wants to carry around a lake or along the shores of an ocean. The suit also has to feel good while swimming. A tight fit is important to keep the water out, but freedom to move is also important. When trying a suit on, move the arms like you would while swimming. You should feel free and uninhibited. Restriction results in more effort. Often, first time users don’t put the suit on properly. Please refer to our article “How to use a Triathlon Wetsuit.” Those new to triathlon suits often feel like the suit is too tight, but once in the water a suit tends to loosen. The fit is dependent on how it is put on. If it is not pulled all the way up the legs and into the shoulders it will pull, and create resistance as you move your arms. If the suit fits properly and is worn correctly, the swimmer will enjoy faster and easier times.
Warm, effortless and faster swimming is why triathlon wetsuits have grown in popularity. Today, because of triathlon wetsuits, people are enjoying swimming in environments before considered forbidden by the elements. Now, a new world of swimming is being explored.
2) How to Put On a Triathlon Wetsuit
Fit is an important element of a wetsuit, and to fit properly a wetsuit must be put on properly. If it is not pulled all the way into the crotch and the shoulders it will restrict movement. It will pull down on the shoulders and hinder fast swimming. A suit can feel wrong at first, but when put on properly the same suit can feel like a second skin. That is the way to think of your suit, as a second skin. Any space between you and the suit is water weight. Water weight you carry around while you swim. Water weight is lost energy and slower times.
Note: Zipper goes in back and fabric material is the inside of the suit, smooth material on the outside. It’s not as obvious as you would think. Believe me, roughly 50k wetsuits sold; I’ve seen some funny things come out of the dressing room.
So, when putting on a suit you want to pull the legs up to the middle of the calf. F2R wetsuits are designed with short legs (about mid -alf). Because of the buoyancy of rubber, having full-length lugs woulf make your feet float, and that puts pressure on the lower back. In open water swimming the swimmer is looking forward to sight direction. When the head goes up and the feet are buoyant the lower back feels the bend. This can cause discomfort over long periods of time.
By pulling the suit to mid-calf you will have room to work the material into the crotch. You want the suit to fit snug in the crotch, as in no gap. A snug fit will allow you to pull the suit material towards the neck and shoulders. If not, the material will pull down on your shoulders when you zip it up and not feel comfortable.
When you have your arms, in the suit raise one hand like asking a question in school. Start at the sleeve of your raised hand with your other hand and work the material towards the shoulders. Continue until you feel you can enjoy a full, free range of motion with your arm. At the point you have worked the material far enough towards the shoulder do the same with the other arm.
We recommend you have a friend or bystander zip the suit up. It is common among most brands of wetsuits for participants to report breaking a zipper when pulling it up too aggressively. Most often this happens in the moments before an event for which a person has spent the last year training. In the nervousness of the event and the announcer calling the next wave to the starting line, in a panic the user will aggressively yank the zipper breaking it in the process. F2R has yet to report a broken zipper, but we do recommend the assistance of a friend.
To avoid chafing, make sure the protective flap behind the top of the zipper is flush between your skin and the zipper. You want smooth rubber against your skin. Try swimming with the suit; if you get a little chafing use BodyGlide as a lubricant between your neck and the suit. Avoid using petroleum-based lubricants because the petroleum will eventually break down the glue in the seams of the suit.
Once properly fit and put on you can enjoy swimming fast in the wild with the help of your suit.
3) How to Use a Triathlon Wetsuit.
In my article, “Why a Triathlon Wetsuit” I discussed the qualities of neoprene: buoyancy and aquatic creature -ike features. Using this neoprene, properly designed, and fit properly, a triathlon wetsuit can make a swimmer faster. It will make a great swimmer notably faster and it will help a new or challenged swimmer see impressive improvements. Imagine gaining what can take a swimmer ten years to learn by just putting a triathlon wetsuit on! I’m talking about a streamlined body position. The first thing you want to learn in swimming is body position. Without good body position everything you do will be like swimming uphill. Put a wetsuit on and wham-bam-baby you’re faster.
The question is how can you get the most out of your suit? What little secrets learned from 20 years racing in, selling, and designing wetsuits can I share with you?
Freedom of movement allows you to engage those powerful swimmer muscles we all know as the lats. So learn to engage your lats. It’s interesting, but a lot of people are not good at recruiting their lats. That is something I will talk about in future articles. For now know your wetsuit has to allow the whole shoulder to move. Without full range of motion you will not be able to fully recruit those powerful lats.
What is the most effective turn-over (tempo) of the stroke cycle? The basic concept differs from individual to individual. There is no ideal turn over; much of it depends on how well the swimmer holds the water, hand size, effectiveness of the kick and so on. When swimming with a full wetsuit (by the way, the full is fastest versus a sleeveless) you want to slow your tempo down compared to swimming without a wetsuit. Because of the streamlined quality of the suit, and its ability to maintain your body’s position near the surface of the water you can enjoy a longer glide at the entry of the hand.
We have a unique design in our Sockeye model wetsuit. We make a catch panel out of 5mm rubber on the forearm. Not that the texture of the rubber will have an effect on the water, but the increased buoyancy won’t hurt. Not to mention an increased surface area to hold the water. When we swim we press and push against the water with a desired effect to press and push our body up and forward. In combination with powerful lats, adding more surface area, and more buoyancy, the desired result is the body going farther forward with every stroke.
Obviously we want you to keep your elbow high through the catch, the power phase of the stroke cycle, so you don’t let go of the water. But with a wetsuit on we want you to go a little deeper with your stroke. Avoid fighting the rubber and enjoy the slower, deeper strokes.
The kick in freestyle is important to maintain good body position. Fast Olympic swimmers with shoe sizes of 15 can do a six beat kick with a nice slow turn over, maintaining a high body position, while going fast. Swimmers with buoyant neoprene wetsuits can enjoy an effortless two beat kick and comfortable turnover while going fast. So don’t put a lot of effort in the kick, save it for the ride and run. Let the suit do the work.
In the recovery phase of the stroke we coaches like to teach high elbows as it promotes good shoulder rotation. With a wetsuit I say don’t fight the rubber, reach a bit higher over the water with your hand. You will save energy by not resisting the rubber with bent elbows, and you are more likely to clear the waves in choppy water. But don’t forget those shoulders still need to rotate and reach with each stroke for optimum power, and catch.
With a little less energy used by using a slower tempo and less-intense kick you can apply a little more pressure against the water. This will move you farther forward with every stroke and get your body on the bike sooner.
4) Get out Fast for Quicker Transitions
It’s hard not to be biased when talking about wetsuits, but I kid you not F2R wetsuits are the fastest suit to get off I have ever tried. One of the most common bits of feedback I have heard in the years we have been making suits is how fast they are to take off. I believe a lot has to do with the flexibility of the material we choose for our jersey. The jersey is the material on the inside of the suit. It also helps to have a smooth silicone coating on the outside neoprene. Those are some details of what design elements make a suit fast to get off. I could go on and on, but what you should know is what you can do.
Fast wetsuit escapes are made by a person peeling the suit off like a banana. While running from the swim to the bike, undo the velcro on the collar, pull the zipper down, and peel the shoulders down. Grab one arm of the suit and hold it while you pull your free arm out and allow the suit to turn inside out as you pull. Do the same on the other side. Just remember to peel don’t push the suit off. It peels inside out. When you are done the fabric material is what is showing.
Your suit is now at your hips. The most important moment is now. It is a common mistake to push down from the top, like you would a pair of pants. What happens then is the material gets bunched around the knees, making it difficult to pull off. What you want to do is grab the outside material hanging down and peel the suit off. When it is down to your knees, stand on the material close to one leg with your other foot and pull the leg out. Repeat the same with the other foot.
You should be able to exit your suit in seconds with little effort. If you have had much triathlon wetsuit experience try the Sockeye and you will be blown away by how easy it is to get off.
© 2007 Paul Lundgren of F2R - Manufacturer of Triathlon Wetsuits
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