Each spring, when I put on my wetsuit for the first time in several months, I wonder whether the rubber has shrunk a bit or if I've expanded over the winter months. It's probably a little bit of both.
The time to take your wetsuit out of storage, or buy a new one, isn't the day or week before your first race of the season. You need time to reacquaint yourself with your suit before you put it to the test in competition. With a few simple steps, you can get your suit ready for action and get yourself swimming comfortably before you strap on the timing chip for the season's first hit out.
Inspection and Repair
Your first task (actually, this should've been your last chore before packing the wetsuit away for the winter last year) is to inspect the suit for cuts, tears or worn seams that need repair. These can occur from fingernails, transition frenzy or just plain old wear and tear.
If your wetsuit needs repair, you can send it out for professional mending or do minor repairs yourself. There are many wetsuit-repair kits on the market. These will allow you to make small repairs, and most wetsuit manufacturers will undertake major repairs to their own products. Contact the manufacturer for details.
Fit and Comfort
After spending the winter swimming in the pool, you'll need to gradually get used to the unique characteristics of swimming in a wetsuit. Not only is it often psychologically challenging to get used to being in open water, but a wetsuit can also make you feel like your breathing is restricted and inhibit shoulder flexibility during the recovery phase of the stroke.
Start short and gradually increase the duration of your swims with a wetsuit. This will give you the confidence to complete the swim without undue fatigue. You'll also get more comfortable with the tightness of the wetsuit around your torso. Neglecting to reorient yourself to the feeling of the wetsuit increases your chances of experiencing a less-than-optimal swim or even an anxiety or panic attack on race day.
If you cannot get in the open water to test and adapt to your wetsuit, you can use the pool. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Be prepared for some strange looks.
- Flip turns can be an adventure due to increased buoyancy.
- To prevent overheating, frequently flush the suit with pool water, or bring a jug of cold water to pour through the neck of the suit. It is very easy to overheat in the pool with a wetsuit on.
- After you come out, rinse the suit thoroughly to remove the pool chemicals.
- Hydrate before, during and after your swim session.
You may need to adjust the recovery phase of your stroke when you swim in a full suit. Use a straighter arm and less elbow bend to reduce shoulder fatigue, and, to condition the shoulders for the added strain, include a few higher-repetition shoulder exercises in the gym, such as lateral dumbbell raises with relatively a light weight. This will build local muscle endurance to make your transition to wetsuit swimming smoother.
Practice Makes Perfect
The key to a good race is proper preparation. Practicing running in your wetsuit and removing it quickly can save you valuable time in races. During or after your wetsuit swim training, include several short runs to get used to moving in the suit. This will usually require shorter and quicker strides. In addition, learn to unzip and strip your suit when you're a bit wobbly after the swim. This will save you time and boost your confidence on race day.
Start getting reacquainted (or acquainted) with your wetsuit four to six weeks before your first race. Begin with a full inspection of your wetsuit, and then integrate specific wetsuit-practice and drills once or twice a week. By doing so you will hit the early season fully prepared physically and mentally for great swim splits.
Tim Crowley has been guiding beginners and elite triathletes to success for several years. He was named USA Triathlon's 2009 National Coach of the Year. Learn more about him and his coaching services at TimCrowley.biz.