What wetsuit?

Mike Tumilty posed the latest Coaches Corner – What wetsuit and is there a difference between a budget £100 & a top end wetsuit?

Well, with the season fast approaching and the lakes soon to open up. It could be time to dust off that wetsuit. However, if you have had that suit for years & years or it’s got more holes than a string vest, it could be time to open up ya wallet.

All brands look to cover the three common swimmer types. Beginner / Novice. Improved then the advanced HOWEVER they look to overlap this with their price tags going from cheap to the more expensive. Furthermore they overlap this again with the three different needs of an athlete – see below

I’ve been fitting wetsuits now for around 5 years. During this time I always ask a few key questions. Although I’m sponsored by a brand, I always tell those I fit to try on other brands in a similar price bracket to compare. They have different cuts around the neck, different panels on the suit so it’s like finding a pair of shoes.

What type of swimmer are you? If you are novice / beginner / first time triathlete. Someone who needs support from the suit, the you should be looking at a brands entry level suit. If you are a competent swimmer, looking to improve, get faster then you should be looking at the middle to top end suit as the structure of the suit will aid you. See below for further details.

How often will you be racing? If you are doing a couple of sprints and some lake swims, then i would suggest a entry to maybe middle range suit. No point paying loads for something which you will not be getting a return from. If you are will doing a number of races 6+ in a season and will be swimming most weekends, then you will get value from your purchase. Buy cheap & you might be buying twice if you out grown / perform that budget suit.

What distance will you be swimming? This is my third key question. If you are doing a sprint to olympic then generally I would steer someone towards entry to middle range suit depending on their answer from above. If you are looking to excel at olympic or go long, such as 70.3 to IM then I would encourage you to go middle to top end. See below for further details.

What are the common differences of wetsuits? All brands look to cover the overlapping key areas, budget, experience and type of swimmers. If we look at the basic structure of the suits you will be able to understand what suit would suit you more.

Entry: the structure of these suits will be fairly basic however they have over the past few years greatly improve. The bouncy is set more towards the middle to help the less effective swimmer by levelling in the water. This means a large panel of thinker neoprene so flexibility will be reduced. Further more the flexibility around the chest & shoulders is limited due to the larger thicker panels. Top suits will go for 1-2mm. Entry suits will be 3-4mm. Doesn’t sound much but I often get people to rotate their shoulders. If you are swimming a long distance, then the resistance against your shoulders will take its toil and fatigue you. Finally the quality of the neoprene and lining is of a lower quality. Not all neoprene is the same.

Middle: a suit geared towards the improver but maybe someone who would like be coming from a running or cycling background. So more muscle in the legs and therefore more weight which would need lifting. So the brands look to raise this through the thickness there. However the benefit is that the design features from brands top suits get filtered down the the middle range,so you will get a huge increase in flexibility around the chest & shoulders. Aiding to reduce fatigue and aid for a more natural fee when swimming. 1.5 -2mm. The panels of the suit will support this and so too will the quality of the neoprene. These suits are alway amazing value and one never to miss as they are commonly the brands old top end suit in a redesigned way.

Top end: geared towards the stronger swimmer or someone going longer distance. The best neoprene, cutting edge design in terms of panel, neoprene thickness and forward thinking designed to make you as efficient in the water as possible. Yes, support of the chest and legs but the suit will be so supple you won’t notice you are wearing it.

If you wear a entry suit then wear a top end suit, you will know where the money goes and why they are sort after. But I always stick to my guns and ask my three key questions before steering anyone towards a suit.

£100 vs. Mid to top range. What are the benefits? simple. An entry suit will be stiff and basic. This will over a period of time fatigue you and reduce your energy to swim quickly & efficiently. Mid to top range suits will help you perform to you best and with great flexibility, super smooth neoprene to reduce drag. Improved body position in the water will also reduce drag so you will be able to swim through the water quicker. Hard to provide a time benefit without a controlled swim test over a set distance wearing two different suits but you will save closer to minutes than seconds. I compared the Blueseventy Helix to the top end Huub over 750m at shepperton and i was 20seconds quicker in the Helix.