Tips & Advice

Wetsuits: A triathlete’s guide – Part 2


Your wetsuit should fit like a second skin, practically vacuum-sealed. The manufacturers are not exaggerating when they suggest allowing at least 15-minutes to put on a suit whilst staying relaxed (heart rate less than 30 beats below maximum). If I observe someone at one of our open-water sessions putting on their wetsuit in just a few minutes, I know they could be in a smaller suit.

What constitutes a good wetsuit fit?

The suit should be verging on uncomfortable when you’re standing in it when dry. If you stand up straight and give the rubber at the stomach a tug away from your belly, this should feel difficult due to the vacuum.  If it pulls away with little effort, you could possibly be in something smaller.

Check whether it’s too big

With the suit on, hold one arm out horizontal to the ground. Check the area under the arm – if there are folds of rubber or an air pocket, this suggests there’s not enough of you to fill up this size of suit. Try the next size down, but first check to make sure the suit is fully fitted in the rest of the body, otherwise you might mistake a large suit for a less-than-well-fitted suit.

Check whether it’s too small

With the suit on, carefully and slowly squat down – this movement will elongate the length of your back, stretching the suit. If it’s too small you’ll feel a sharp tugging around the neck and shoulders as, once zipped up, it won’t have enough material to fit your torso comfortably. If you were racing Ironman, I’d suggest you give some consideration to a larger-sized suit, as comfort should be the overriding factor for longer distance races. If you’re sprinting around 1500m in under 20 minutes however, you have less time to tolerate a closer-fitting suit. Above an hour (for Ironman or some of the 5K+ races), things can go horribly wrong if you’re not perfectly at ease in your suit. But don’t go to the extreme that you actually feel like you’re swimming around inside your suit with too much water flooding in – you don’t want to slow your swim down by carrying gallons of water around with you!

Tips for making your wetsuit more comfortable

Here are a few tricks we’ve picked up over the years that make a tight wetsuit fit a little better. Keep in mind it will be more pliable once wet, so regardless of a slight discomfort on dry land it will get easier. What feels immediately like the wrong size suit can, with some clever little tweaks, suddenly become a whole lot more comfortable and well-fitting.

• Pull as much material up out of the legs and into the body as possible, to stop any sagging around the crotch. Pivot at the knee to assist and more easily create ‘loose material’.

• Roll from the stomach and bring the newly-created material from the legs further up into the torso. Pivot at the waist to again create excess material. Roll this surplus material up, one roll at a time towards the chest.

• In an attempt to take the thin panels up to the shoulders and have them sit more closely to where they should be, repeat the pivot idea at the elbows. This manoeuvre will again create folds of material. Pivot at the elbows to create excess material, roll this surplus up one roll at a time towards the shoulder.

Taking your wetsuit off

If your wetsuit was slowly and patiently put on and remained well-fitted during the swim, it will slide off your body without too much stress. Practice finding the Velcro collar during your open-water swim practices. If you left the dangling cord looped over the Velcro collar for protection during your race, this will need to be released before undoing the zip. If your range of flexibility doesn’t allow a direct reach behind the head and down the neck, you can always try to go around the neck with the help of your non-reaching arm. Treat the collar with care, as it’s somewhat delicate.

If you get to the swim exit and it’s congested you can use this extra time to open up the neck of the suit a little and allow some water in. As you unzip, the weight of the extra water will help the suit peel off more quickly and easily. Depending on race conditions most people like to get the top half of the suit down to the waist during the run to T1. Keep the elbows high and use the movement of your arms to naturally turn the suit inside out as you pull the hands away from the body.

A common reaction is often to pull the cap and goggles off immediately at the swim exit. The downside is that you’ll have one more thing to carry in your hands, and the bunching of cap and goggles can snare the hand once the wetsuit arm attempts to go over the wrist. So, best to leave cap and goggles on, then take them off in your transition area.

The suit needs to come off inside out – there’s no chance of a fast exit if you bunch the suit down to the ankles, keeping it the correct way round. Take the suit down the legs as far as possible in one smooth movement. As tempting as it might be, do not bunch the suit all the way down to the ankles; down to the thighs should give you sufficient mobility to get your legs up and out. With the upper body panels falling down to your feet, stand on the chest area of the wetsuit with one foot. Lift the other leg high off the ground and use this movement to further unpeel the suit off the leg. When that leg has reached its highest point, put the foot back down, standing on the material of the opposite leg and lifting the other leg up as high as you can. Keep repeating this two to three times quickly and you should see the suit flick off and over the feet.

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