How to Choose a Wetsuit

Uncategorized Jun 01, 2018

How to Choose a Wetsuit

The new triathlete can easily be overwhelmed when it comes to choosing their first wetsuit.  After a bit of research, it can often seem like, “They all seem the same, so why don’t I just get the least expensive suit?”  Let’s explore the topic in depth and help you choose the best suit for you.  Full disclosure: after selling my running & triathlon retail store I went to work for blueseventy wetsuits which is why I am using the blueseventy wetsuits in the blog.

There are several key factors to take into account including:

  • Competitiveness
  • Budget
  • Frequency of Use
  • Swim Distance
  • Water Temperature
  • Swimming Background / Skill Level
  • When to Choose a Sleeveless Suit

All wetsuits are not created equally, that is for sure!  One thing to keep in mind is that every brand has a size chart that is unique to itself.  Let’s dive deeper into the key factors.

Competitiveness

If you are a competitive athlete: going for the podium, aiming to qualify for the Championship race, or looking to set a new personal best then you definitely want to choose a suit at or near the top of the line such as the Reaction or Helix.  In these situations, 30 to 60 seconds are critical to your overall goal.  The Reaction and Helix models have a great deal more flexibility through the shoulders which equates to a greater range of motion in the swim stroke.  This means the swimming motion will be most natural with less restriction in the shoulders resulting in less fatigue and faster swim times.

Budget

It’s important to have a range for your budget so you know where to concentrate your search and make your comparisons.  The athletes I’ve coached have been the most satisfied when they purchased the best performing suit within their budget.  It’s better to buy the best suit your budget allows rather than to get the least expensive suit with the plan to upgrade later.  The reason is that you’ll often end spending more money as the resale value of your wetsuit will not be very strong.  Most people want to spend $100 or less on a used wetsuit.

Frequency of Use

How often you plan to use your suit is a factor worth giving a lot of consideration to.  If you plan to use your suit weekly it would be better to get a suit that is more comfortable to swim in (greater shoulder range of motion and flexibility) than a suit with less flexible neoprene that puts more tension on your shoulders.  If you only plan to use the suit once or twice a year and for shorter races it may make more sense to get a less expensive suit such as the Sprint or Fusion model.  You’d would still want to take the other key factors into consideration as if your one races a year is a longer distance race like IRONMAN and/or you are more competitive then you’ll want a suit with more flexibility.

Swim Distance

The further you swim the more fatigue your swimming muscles will undergo.  Wetsuits naturally place a resistance load on your shoulder and the longer the swim the more you will notice it.  One of the most critical differences in wetsuits is the flexibility of the neoprene and there is a noticeable difference between Yamamoto 38 cell rubber to 39 cell rubber to 40 cell rubber with the higher number being more flexible.  Wetsuits will make a swimmer faster compared to no suit, even with some resistance on the shoulders, due primarily to the improved body position wetsuits provide swimmers.  For swims and races under a mile a swimmer will not notice this difference as much as when the swim extends beyond a mile.  The further the swim the more flexibility through the shoulders will be noticed and appreciated.

Water Temperature

This is a critical factor and is also very much individual as some swimmers are more comfortable in colder water than others.  For water temperatures below 58/60 degrees the Thermal Reaction is strongly recommended especially for water temperatures between 48-55 F.  The suit has a Zirconium (wool) lining for extra warmth.  For me personally as I began to really pay attention to water temperatures for training swims and races I learned about myself that temperatures below 62 and I am too cold unless I am wearing my fullsuit.  Most people have an upper limit, usually between 69-73, where they find a fullsuit to be too warm and prefer a sleeveless suit.

Swimming Background / Skill Level

The more advanced swimmer you are the better “feel for the water” you possess.  With a greater sense of this “feel” swimmers talk about, the more you will understand and appreciate the more flexible neoprene as it will allow you to have the most natural swimming stroke.  If you are new to swimming with less connection to your stroke mechanics you will likely not notice the difference as much as a more experienced swimmer.  The great news is that any wetsuit will exponentially help a beginning swimmer more than an experienced swimmer due to the improvement of body position in the newer swimmer.

When to Choose a Sleeveless Suit

While Fullsuits are considered to deliver faster swim times than Sleeveless suits there are people who prefer a sleeveless suit.  Here are some reasons you may want to consider a sleeveless suit.  Sleeveless suits are less expensive.  Take the Reaction for example the 2018 Reaction Fullsuit is $550 while the 2018 Reaction Sleeveless is $300.  If you are swimming in water temperatures that are warm enough then you don’t need a fullsuit in terms of staying warm.  Fullsuits are warmer than sleeveless suits due to the amount of exposed skin.  Sleeveless suits have the least amount of shoulder restriction since there are no shoulders and arms to content with.

As you can see there are several factors to consider when choosing the best suit for you.  The other critical factor is HOW one puts on a suit.  An ill-fitted wetsuit, especially in the upper body and shoulders, leads to increased fatigue.  Here's a video I made with tips on putting on your wetsuit for an optimal fit: video link.

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