When I lived in Santa Monica from 2012-2014 I trained every day with Tower 26 – the well-known open water swim program that is run by Gerry Rodrigues. He frequently encouraged all of his athletes to TEST WETSUITS before going out to buy one. His rationale? Just like a bike, or a pair of running shoes, or a helmet – everyone is made a little differently, and what is great for one person might not be great for someone else. I have a narrow foot and heel, so I love shoes that hug my foot, whereas someone else with a wide foot won’t want to use the same shoe as me. Wetsuits are no different. How you swim, your shoulder flexibility, the type and level of swimmer you are and how you are shaped will influence how a wetsuit fits.
At the end of 2016 I was approached by Zone3. I was really intrigued by the opportunity to work with them – they have a strong presence and are well-known and respected in the UK and Europe and were looking to make their foray into the U.S. I was excited about the chance to be part of the growth of an up-and-coming brand, but despite this opportunity, and no matter how much money I was offered, if it compromised my performance it wasn’t worth it. We set about doing a series of wetsuit tests and I was shocked by the results. I LOVED the wetsuit. The shoulder flexibility is truly unmatched and it was the closest I have ever felt to being in a wetsuit but feeling like I was swimming without it. But even better was that in testing, it tested faster than any other brand I tested. In one instance, the Zone3 tested 6 seconds (ok closer to 5-5.5 seconds, to be exact) faster on average per 100 yards. That is a HUGE difference. And in that slower wetsuit I felt AWFUL swimming. That wetsuit just didn’t work well with my body.
So – what does this mean for all of you – I would encourage people to test a wetsuit out before spending $500, $600 or $1000 on one. There are a few options – you can participate in some of the demo days offered at races or one-off events. The other option is to go and rent a few different brands of wetsuits and do what I did – test them in the pool. You’ll need someone to help you but here is the gist of the protocol:
- Warm up thoroughly so you are ready to go. I find it best to do the testing at the end of a swim practice so your engine is nice and warm
- Turn off all pace clocks, or - if that is not an option - turn away from any pace clock to refrain from knowing your times.
- With someone standing on deck, have them send you off – complete 5x100 at 80-85% effort. They should record the time of each 100 as well as stroke rate. They should give you 10-15 seconds rest and send you off on each one. Once you are done with one wetsuit, change suits and repeat. The results should NOT be shared with you at all until the end of testing. Test a minimum of 3 suits, but up to 5 or 6.
- Check out the results and also compare that with how you felt in the suit. My bet is that you will find a strong correlation between how each suit feels and how fast you swim. That sure was the case for me and almost everyone I know that has done this testing.
This is WELL worth the time. And if you are a competitive triathlete, it could mean a significant savings or cost in your swim performance for wetsuit legal races. It also allowed me to be able to go out and really stand behind the brand I am representing because I believe wholeheartedly in how the wetsuit will perform for me.
Any questions – feel free to shoot me a note and good luck!