Swimming and triathlon wetsuits are different to wetsuits made for water sports and have a different fit using different material. A water sports wetsuit will certainly get you in the water and help to keep you warm and I have coached lots of swimmers who started out with one of these. However, they are likely to be baggy, heavy and tire you out quickly so it is a good idea to invest in a swimming wetsuit.
Swimming and Triathlon Wetsuits cost from around £100-£500. More expensive wetsuits are likely to be more comfortable to wear and be made from more technical material.
Typical swimming/triathlon wetsuits have more buoyancy in the hips and legs. These are aimed at swimmers with lower body position or sinking legs and the thickness of the material helps to correct this. Typically they may be 5mm thick on the hips and legs, and 3mm thick on the arms/shoulders. These type of wetsuits are the most common amongst triathletes, and are also great for people still learning to swim front crawl.
Neutral buoyancy wetsuits have the same thickness on the legs and hips and are aimed at swimmers that sit higher in the water and have great balance. Often these are more experienced swimmers with great technique, but they can also be people who have naturally good balance in the water.
Thin and Sleeveless – these are less common especially in the UK but are great for people with superb technique and balance and who are not concerned with the cold. This is the type of wetsuit I eventually bought for myself as I found that even a neutral buoyancy wetsuit upset my balance, and raised my hips so high that it hurt my lower back and my neck. I also do a lot of swimming without a wetsuit so I’m not concerned with the cold.
Thick and warm – with the growth of winter swimming some companies are now making extra thick swimming wetsuits so swimmers and triathletes can extend their season.
Fitting – it’s really important to get a good fit, and to get help and advice with this. If the wetsuit is too big then it’s liable to fill with water around the shoulders and chest so that you’re carrying around an extra balloon of water. (I once borrowed a wetsuit that was too big for me without realising….and was exhausted after just 1 lap).
If the wetsuit is too small then you may well feel restricted around the neck, chest and shoulders. This also makes you tire quickly but I’ve also seen it lead to swimmers feeling panicky and out of breath. This can also be caused by not fitting the wetsuit properly, so take your time putting it on, and make sure that you’ve pulled it up all the way to the crotch area and properly up your shoulders. This may mean that the trousers of the wetsuit are several inches up your shins.
If you still feel restricted around the shoulders and neck then look for wetsuits with thinner material in the arms and shoulders although these are usually more expensive.
Try before you buy: Ideally the best thing to do is to swim in the wetsuit before you buy one and lots of open water venues offer a try before you buy service. I tried this and was surprised to discover that a wetsuit I thought would work well didn’t suit me when I swam in it. Another tip is to find a wetsuit hire service. Some companies will hire them for a few days, a week or a whole season. And this is something else I did at the start of my triathlon career and also more recently in my search to find a suitable wetsuit.