Should you use a wetsuit in your next triathlon? The answer is, as usual, “it depends”.
My very personal preference is not to wear one if I can get away with it not being too cold. Wetsuits provide a variable amount of buoyancy. For someone like me, who floats pretty well to start with, adding any additional buoyancy makes me bob like a cork and I feel like I cant get any traction in the water and just find it uncomfortable.
How Buoyant Are Your Legs?
Other people however who tend to “float lower” in the water will find that a properly balanced wetsuit helps them sit higher in the water, creating less overall drag. Even already fast swimmers can benefit from this added buoyancy because reducing drag even further will result in more efficiency and more speed.
There is a big category of triathlon swimmers who may benefit from a wetsuit…those who tend to have sinking feet no matter what they do! I know that this describes a lot of you reading this article. Two things to encourage you. First of all, spend most of your time in the pool practicing good balance in the water [ed note: we will link to a good balance article here]. This will pay off in overall better swimming, faster pool times and more fun in the water when you swim. However the second thing is that come race day, the wetsuit can create that last little piece of bouyancy you need to get your hips up in the water a little bit higher and improve your swimming.
A few warnings however…
Don’t Rely on your Wetsuit to Save Your Swim
First, don’t rely on the wetsuit to “save your swim”. You MUST be comfortable and confident swimming the distance of your triathlon, with distance and energy to spare, without relying on your wetsuit.. The swim is potentially a dangerous part of a triathlon and the better prepared you are, the more confidence you’ll have. Look to the wetsuit as more of an aid for warmth than to allow you to finish the swim.
Practice With Your Suit Before Raceday
Second, practice with your wetsuit several times before the race. If you have never swim with great balance (hips near the surface), adding a wetsuit that gets your hips UP is going to feel very different. You could end up fighting the water more than you need to until you get comfortable with the new position of the wetsuit.
In summary, you should view the wetsuit as either a warmth aid or a super speed boosting aid…but not as a crutch for poor swimming technique. A great swim stroke, plus a wetsuit can help create a fantastic race day swim.
Thank you for putting all of this together and out there. Some of us don’t have alot of money. Buying the books or guides can be difficult. It’s amasing that you share your knowledge so freely and enthusiastically! I loved getting your emails last year and was surprised and delighted that I was included again this year. Im going through a nasty divorce and child custody issue so I am not sure if I will get to ‘the race’ this summer but my goal is to never give! up so if not this year … definatly next. Finances are a huge struggle for me right now. In the meantime, I keep up the run and bike work! Thank you for your inspiration! I love that you are a doctor too! You must be busy but you find the time! I have 5 kids and I found the time too! It was worth it!
Alex, thanks for writing, really glad you got so much out of it. (I edited out your last name in case you didn’t want this public and can take down the whole reply if you want).
Should I wear a wet suit this weekend for my sprint? The water is 75 degrees, will it slow me down or speed me up?
For most people it speeds them up, but it depends! You should practice with the wetsuit you’ll wear prior to race day and see how it feels.