Wetsuit Tips For Open Water Swimming

Most triathletes LOVE their wetsuits. Many love them so much they will only enter races that will have wetsuit legal swims!

But swimming in a wetsuit can feel very different to swimming without one. So the first time time you put yours on (ever or after a long break) it may feel a little weird.

If you use your wetsuit correctly it can cut minutes off your time on race day. The modern wetsuit will lift your hips up and get your body floating much higher in the water. This lift and alignment reduces your resistance and will help you swim way faster.

But they can also limit your shoulder rotation and make it hard for you to breathe. If you’re not used to a wetsuit or yours doesn’t fit, you may have a problem. It could end up causing your technique to change and affect your breathing rhythm. Both of which will lead to a slower swim!

Let’s look at how to make sure your wetsuit helps you swim faster, not slower than you do in the pool!

5 Wetsuit Tips To Make Sure You Swim Faster & More Comfortably in Open Water

1. Make Sure Your Suit Fits Before You Buy

Your highest priority with a wetsuit is comfort and fit… Wetsuits need to fit just right! If the suit is uncomfortable/too tight/too loose in any place it’s going to affect your swim. A poor fit could change your stroke mechanics, put extra stress on your shoulders and restrict your breathing.

You must find one that is comfortable and fits your body well.

It’s important that you make sure your suit fits before you buy. I would never buy a wetsuit that I haven’t been able to swim in and fully test first. There are retailers/distributers that will allow try before you buy. See if you can either try out a showroom model for free or rent a suit for a swim before you buy it!

You’re looking for something that is comfortable.

  • It should allow good range of motion in your shoulders.
  • You want the ability to stretch through your lats without feeling restricted.
  • Breathing deeply shouldn’t alter or restrict the movement of your chest.
  • It should fit like a glove, nice and snug but not too tight.

The brand or suit is a minor detail in comparison to fit. Most of the suits in the mid to upper end offer roughly the same benefits. Finding what works best for your body and stroke should be your highest priority.

2. Soak Your Suit Before You Wear It

Has your wetsuit has been sitting in your closet for a couple months during the off season?

There is a chance it will have shrunk or lost it’s stretch.

Soaking your suit in warm water before you wear it for the first swim of the season will help make sure it fits like it used to… that’s provided you haven’t changed in shape and size during the off season 🙂

wetsuit tips for open water swimming

3. Practice with it Before Race Day

We never want to be using new equipment on race day. You definitely want to have tested and feel comfortable in your suit with before you show up to the start line.

Ideally you’d test it in open water conditions similar to the ones you’ll be racing in. If that isn’t possible, at least test it out in the pool. Keep the swim in the pool short, so you don’t overheat and be sure to rinse the suit in fresh water after you’re done. Chlorine tends to erode neoprene!

4. Lube Up

There’s nothing more annoying than chafe. An annoying burning sensation on your neck or under your armpits is the last thing you want to deal with as you race.

Make sure you lube yourself up before race start!

5. Warm Up Before Your Race

It’s critical that you get in and warm up in your wetsuit before your race starts. The cold water can be uninviting early on race morning, I get it. But you are more likely to have a panic attacks if you haven’t acclimatized to the cold water or the tightness of your wetsuit.

During the warm up, open up the wetsuit at the neck and let a little bit of cold water in. That cold water will sit close to your warm body and heat up – that’s what keeps you warm through the race!

If you’re struggling with making a wetsuit decision or getting comfortable swimming in your wetsuit, leave me a comment below, I’d be happy to help you out.
~ Rory

Related Advice & Tips:

I wrote this post as part of a series on swimming well in open water. Read the rest of the posts in the series here:

Part 1: The Six Culprits Of Slow Open Water Times
Part 2: How To Prevent An Open Water Swim Panic Attack Before Race Day
Part 3: How To Stop A Triathlon Swim Panic Attack On Race Day
Part 4: How To Swim Straight In Open Water
Part 5: Wetsuit Tips For Open Water Swimming

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4 thoughts on “Wetsuit Tips For Open Water Swimming”

  1. I have just bought an entry level wet suit (Aqua Sphere, Pursuit). Been out twice with it, and it seems that my first length of the lake (0.5miles) is very uncomfortable. I cant get my rhythm down, minor panic, and just overall feeling very uncomfortable. The length back seem to go a bit better. Just curious if this overwhelming feeling will subside over time?? Thanks very much!!!

    1. Hey Mike, thanks for the question.

      There could be a couple factors at play outside of your wetsuit causing you to feel uncomfortable for the first 1/2 mile. The colder water may cause shallow breathing which will immediately throw off your rhythm, your overall comfort level in the open water may play a role as well. After 1/2 mile your body might be better adjusted to the cold and retracing your path back to shore (safety) might ease your mind which helps you relax and settle in.

      Try swimming 1/4 mile out, then back to shore, up the beach and then swim out again. Do you have the same level of discomfort for the first mile?

      If this is your first wetsuit (and it fits correctly), the feeling should subside as your confidence grows and you spend more time in the suit. If your suit doesn’t fit correctly it may not be such a smooth ride. Hope that helps you!
      ~ Rory

  2. I’ve been competing in triathlons for a few years now, it’s never bothered me before. This year I’ve only done 2 Open events so far, one was last weekend in Cardiff my time is quite good. but I hate swimming in open water now. I feel so restricted around my chest (I do suffer from asthma). I’ve been panicking in the water. I do have a new wetsuit

    1. Hey Louise,
      Sorry to hear about your trouble breathing in the open water… Tough to make an exact cause without speaking to you a little more and learning your background/personality and training but reading between the lines I suspect the cold water (Cardiff 😱) along with the new suit will be directly influencing the restriction around your chest.
      I’d suggest giving the wetsuit a go in the pool during your next swim workout. Do some hard swimming (so you are breathing hard) and see how it affects your breathing. If you are all good in the pool then it’s unlikely your suit and is linked to something else.
      Email me and let me know how the pool session goes!
      ~ Rory

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