open water swimming wetsuits     Open water swimming without a wetsuit  open water swimming training

If you’re just getting into open water swimming you might be wondering if you need a wetsuit and what the benefits of swimming in one would be.  If you’re getting into triathlon and trying to learn efficient front crawl you might be curious about the benefits of open water swim training without a wetsuit.

I regularly get asked about the pro’s and cons of wetsuits versus just a swimming costume. Is it dangerous to swim without a wetsuit because of the cold? If you do use a wetsuit is that even proper swimming?  There’s lots of different opinions and the discussion can get quite polarised. I swim both with and without a wetsuit all year round depending on what I’m doing and there are benefits of both.

No Judgement – Wetsuit Neutral

In our group Swim and Tonic, we like to say we’re wetsuit neutral. That’s to say there’s no judgement. Swimming with a wetsuit isn’t better than swimming in a costume.  What’s right for one person in one situation won’t be right for another person. Being non judgemental about it helps to keep swimming inclusive and acknowledging difference makes for a more welcoming and open environment.

Benefits of a Wetsuit

There are benefits to be had from open water swim training both with and without a wetsuit. And I encourage you to swim regularly with both. But here are some thoughts on the benefits of a wetsuit.

1. Keep Warm

It keeps you warm and reduces the risk of hypothermia.

2. Stay Happy

Being warm helps you to stay happy! There’s no getting round it when I get cold, I start to get miserable. Swimming is meant to be fun so why make myself miserable! There have been times when I’ve been so intimidated by the cold, I’ve started to dread the idea of going for a swim and then stopped going. A wetsuit can keep you warmer and help you to enjoy it more.

3. Make Brain Space

Being warm gives you brain space! If you’re new to open water swimming or just learning front crawl, then wearing a wetsuit to start with can really help.  It will give you some space to learn some skills and build your experience. If you’re so focussed on staying warm and feeling intimidated by the cold, it can be hard to learn anything.

4. Swim longer

If you’re warm you can swim longer. When I was training for a channel relay swim, I needed to build up my endurance as well as my tolerance for the cold. If I didn’t wear my wetsuit, I got cold and tired and had to get out the water after 40minutes. If I wore my wetsuit, I could keep going for 90minutes and get a decent training session completed.

5. Extend your season

It keeps you warm so you can swim for longer throughout the year meaning you can extend your swim season or even swim all year round. Last winter we had a lockdown because of the covid pandemic which meant that swimming pools were closed for several months. Many of my triathlon clients put their wetsuits on and got some decent 20-30min swims completed at open water venues which they wouldn’t have manged without their wetsuits.

6. Buoyancy and Balance

It helps you float and lift your legs up making it easier to learn how to swim front crawl,  Most people find it easier to swim front crawl in a wetsuit because the neoprene gives you extra buoyancy improving your balance and streamlining. If you’re just starting out then wearing a wetsuit can really help you to learn good front crawl technique. You’ll find it much easier and be able to swim further without getting so tired.

7. Triathlon

In a triathlon wetsuits are compulsory when temperatures are below 14 degrees and are banned when temperatures are above 22 degrees. In the UK its quite rare for a race to be non-wetsuit. Therefore, if you’re taking part in a triathlon, it will most likely be a wetsuit swim and it’ll be useful to learn how to swim front crawl wearing one. Most people swim faster with a wetsuit on so if they’re optional it usually makes sense to still put one on.

8. Faster Swimming

Because of the improved buoyancy, balance and streamlining you swim faster in a wetsuit! This feels amazing and gives you different sensations in the water which will help you learn about the principles of efficient front crawl! It could also give you options if you have friends who swim faster than you and don’t wear wetsuits.

9. Protection

Being covered up with neoprene can give you some protection from jellyfish stings, swimmers itch, horrible weed stuff and any other monsters that might attack you in the water.

Swim with AND without

  • I swim both with and without my wetsuit all year round because it gives me different sensations which helps me to keep learning about the principles of efficient swimming.
  • Sometimes I wear one because I’m cold!
  • Sometimes I wear one because I want to do an open water swim training set with my friend, and I can’t keep up without it.
  • Of course, I wear one because I’m a triathlete!
  • But then I also like swimming the channel and that requires swimming without a wetsuit.
  • I like a wild swim as well as an adventure both of which happen with and without wetsuits.
  • I like the thrill of a winter swim for 10 minutes and I do this without my wetsuit.
  • Sometimes I feel tired and miserable, and I haven’t got the energy and the courage to deal with the cold, so I like the protection of my wetsuit.

Open water swimming with and without a wetsuit has benefits and experiencing both will widen your skills and awareness making you a better swimmer.

It also makes it more varied and more fun! 

In the next blog I’ll be looking at the benefits of open water swimming without a wetsuit and how that will help your to learn front crawl.

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I’m Penny and I’m a triathlete and wild swimmer with a passion for outdoor adventures. I’m a triathlon coach and Total Immersion Swimming Teacher and I help people feel more comfortable in the water so they can swim further, discover the joy of swimming or finish a triathlon without feeling exhausted.