Swimming specific wetsuits are made for the express purpose of surface swimming. They were originally introduced to maintain warmth when swimming in cold open water and to provide additional buoyancy for safety purposes. Unlike our swimskins where the focus is on reducing passive drag, the primary focus of a swimming specific wetsuit is to also provide additional buoyancy, which has the added advantage of significantly enhancing speed. This has resulted in swimming specific wetsuits becoming a highly technical, performance component of ocean swimming.
How do they work?
Swimming specific wetsuits provide greatly enhanced buoyancy for the swimmer. This buoyancy brings the body higher out the water providing better water displacement, lower surface friction resulting in a swimskin that cuts through the water. However, varying designs and materials provide varying levels of performance enhancement. Some important factors to consider when buying a wetsuit are;
- Surface friction: Most (but not all) swimming specific wetsuits are now manufactured with hydrophobic outer skin. This rubber has a silicon type surface treatment, which has much the same effect as Teflon in a pan. This slippery surface improves the glide benefit of the wetsuit by reducing surface resistance.
- Design: Design is vitally important. In addition to limiting water entry, design fit can make for a comfortable, or chaffing swim. Water entry is normal in a wetsuit, but too much water will add to the weight of your suit and reduce your buoyancy and speed.
- Flexibility: Flexibility, freedom of movement, and stroke rotation are crucial factors. This is extremely important when choosing a Fullsuit (full sleeve).
- Breathing: Sustained performance will be compromised if the wetsuit is too restrictive around the torso or throat. This reduces the breathing capacity of the lungs, which reduces the level of O2 in the bloodstream and the resulting power output of the muscles. Wetsuits that do not restrict these areas will provide greater performance enhancements. However, it is important that the suit is not too loose as this will incur water entry and water pockets. Always go for a firm but comfortable fit.
Why wear an open water wetsuit?
Wearing a wetsuit keeps our body temperature significantly warmer and reduces the cold shock response. In addition, Open water swims take place in lakes, rivers and in the sea, so wetsuits help to protect your body from debris, birds (swans) and other swimmers too! Finally, Swimming technology has kept pace with the increasing popularity of open water swimming and triathlons. More expensive wetsuits have a golf ball effect built into them, designed to trap air and further aid buoyancy, whilst others have foam strips inserted. Buoyancy usually reduces swim times.
|Take away tip
Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in the water using the combination of the foamed neoprene thermal properties and the thin layer of water. But out of water, and in particular if it’s cold and windy, a wetsuit will have the opposite effect out of water. Once you have finished your water activity in your wetsuit, you are far better to take your wetsuit off out of the water. Then dry-off and put your clothes back on to keep warm out of the water.
Q&A: Give one important factor to consider when buying a wetsuit.
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