To wetsuit or not to wetsuit?

16th July 2015

Swimming in a lake can be a scary prospect, particularly if you’re used to chlorined captivity and the nice straight lanes of a swimming pool! The main question we are asked at Human Race regarding open water swimming is about wetsuits – to wetsuit or not to wetsuit?

The purists among the open water swimming community are generally adamant that wetsuits should never be used. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both wearing and not wearing a wetsuit.

The required level of flexibility and ability to contort yourself into weird and wonderful shapes to get out of the wetsuit is the most obvious disadvantage, however the main advantage is the level of warmth that a wetsuit provides in the lake. The weather in the UK even in summer can keep the water temperature in the UK at a low level, so wearing a wetsuit helps to keep you warm which also helps muscles work more effectively in the water. Any wetsuit should be a snug fit which allows a thin layer of water to sit between your skin and the suit; this then warms up with your body heat keeping you insulated from the cold of the lake.

Buoyancy is another key advantage – a wetsuit acts like a pair of kid’s armbands ensuring that you stay on the surface of the lake rather than sinking to the bottom if you stop kicking!

However, if speed in transition is your goal, wearing a wetsuit can slow you down. As they have to be a snug fit to work effectively, they can be difficult to get off once they are wet. Whilst watching someone hop on one leg trying to pull off the other leg of a wetsuit can be hugely entertaining, if you’re a novice wetsuit wearer, it is easier to sit down to pull off a suit.

Wearing a wetsuit can also alter the position of your body in the water which can change the way you swim, and some people claim that the wetsuit restricts the movement of their arms / shoulders through the front crawl. However, this is generally down to an ill-fitting wetsuit rather than an underlying problem with wetsuits.