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How to swim in a triathlon wetsuit - Part 1

Posted by Ian Nolan on 5 March 2019 | Comments

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How to swim in a triathlon wetsuit

This article is the first of a series of tips on being prepared for your first open water triathlon.

This month we will be looking at:

  • How to swim in a triathlon wetsuit – and practise getting in and out of it
  • Tips for replicating open water training in the pool

Next month we will continue with the following:

  • Tips on swimming safely in the open water
  • Swim in open-water environment
  • Practice swim-to-bike sessions
  • Know the venue you are swimming at

Swim in a triathlon wetsuit and practice getting in and out of it

Before your race day practice putting on your wetsuit, develop a routine of getting into and out of your wetsuit. On race day you should allow yourself at least 15 minutes to put it on and apply lubricants to aid removal of the wetsuit after the swim. Practice swimming in your wetsuit, initially in the pool and then in an open water environment. The added buoyancy may change your stroke, so familiarise yourself with this and adapt your stroke to feel comfortable. The more opportunities you take to swim in your wetsuit, the more comfortable you will feel on race day. 

Tips for replicating open water training in the pool

All these tips can be practiced during the off season.

Wetsuit in the Pool - Practice swimming in your wetsuit during a club swim session. Use the session to practice putting on your wetsuit when you are dry. After the session, rinse your wetsuit thoroughly in clean water inside and out.

Sighting - In a 25m pool practice picking your head up twice on each 25m lap and briefly sight on something at the end of the pool (a water bottle, towel etc). See tip below before practicing this in the pool.

Swim Straight - If you are not swimming straight in the pool lane you will either hit your hand of the side wall of the pool or swim into another swimmer. In open water there is nothing to indicate you are not swimming straight, apart from sighting. Getting off course can easily double the distance you end up swimming. In a 25m pool if you find that you drift in your lane by 1m over 25metres, this could easily be 20m drift in open water. The above tip suggests you raise your head twice to sight, if you find you are drifting then you may find you need to lift your head more often to sight maybe 3-4 times in 25m pool.

Drafting - Drafting another swimmer can save you up to 30% of your energy. Practice in pairs, one leading one close behind on the feet of the lead swimmer. Wear your wetsuit in such sessions to get used to the feeling of draft and non-drafting.

Practice Turns - Practice your turns in the pool environment. The majority of open water swims you will have a buoy to swim around (the return leg). If your triathlon club has a swimming session, you could suggest one session a month to place a water buoy in the middle of the pool and practice swimming around the buoy and back to the pool edge. As you gain more confidence, you could organise 2-4 athletes setting off at the same time all going round the buoy. Again here’s an opportunity to practice your sighting and swimming around the buoy as well as other swimmers. Alternatively if no lane ropes are in the pool swim around the edge of the pool. Leaving a gap of 2m from pool wall and practice your turns by swimming in a rectangle 2m away from the wall. Tip – watch a SwimSmooth coaching session where Paul Newsome demonstrated a unique way of turning around a buoy. Well worth watching.

Deep Water Starts - If your open water event requires you start in deep water you need to practice this in the pool. This is easily practiced, tread water at the deep end of your pool and on a signal start swimming (do not push off the wall of the pool). Again when wearing a wetsuit your buoyancy in the water will be totally different, so you need to practice deep water starts.

Mass Starts - developing on from deep water starts it is worth practicing mass starts. Have a number of swimmers at the deep end of the pool treading water, facing the pool wall 10m away.  On a signal, everyone starts (mass start) swimming towards the pool wall.

The coach and athletes need to take great care if practicing this due to the number of flailing arms and legs possibly causing an injury to an athlete.

About the Author: Ian Nolan

Tenola founder and CEO Ian Nolan has a lifelong love of all things active and has competed in a variety of sports over the years involving mud, sweat and tears – the latter following various serious sporting injuries! But it was the challenge of the dual or tri-disciplines of Triathlon, testing not only fitness but endurance and skill that truly captivated him and led to an ongoing passion for the sport.  Read More >