Added buoyancy and these tips will help you swim faster during your next open water swim or triathlon
Wearing a wetsuit can do more than help you drop some time in your next open water competition or your swim split in a triathlon. The wetsuit advantage lies in additional buoyancy, insulation from cold water, and perhaps some psychological comfort.
By practicing and implementing technique tactics specific to swimming in a wetsuit, you can swim more efficiently, mitigate drag, and reduce your fatigue.
Your technique while swimming in a pool or sans wetsuit in open water is only the basis for the technique you should use while swimming in a wetsuit. Wearing a wetsuit elevates your body position in the water, which affects the amount of drag you’ll encounter. Although it’s impossible to precisely quantify the kinetics because of the continuously changing water conditions and natural fluctuations in your energy output, you can almost always count on your wetsuit advantage translating into drops in time.
But let’s not rest on that confidence alone.
Adjusting Your Kick
With your wetsuit helping keep your legs higher in the water, you can reduce your kick tempo compared to what you might use in pool swimming. Vigorously kicking in open water swimming hurts more than it helps as it zaps your energy.
With your toes loosely pointed behind you and your legs held at or near the surface with little effort on your part, the majority of your kicking should be done only to assist hip rotation. You can get away with a faint two-beat kick with practiced stroke-kick coordination, which means as you catch with one hand, your opposite leg kicks.
Using Added Buoyancy
You can also refine your technique to improve your response to the challenges typically encountered in an open water swim—those that could potentially derail your progress. Rather than allowing yourself to be thrown off course, learn to adapt to and use these challenges to your advantage.
Taking the strain out of sighting
A lot of added fatigue in open water swimming comes from repeatedly lifting your head to sight for upcoming buoys and where other swimmers are. Every time you need to sight, you’re breaking your body alignment, putting strain on your neck and shoulders, and interrupting your stroke rhythm.
Having your shoulders and torso wrapped in tight neoprene can aggravate strain, but you can mitigate this by using your added buoyancy and elevated position to sight more efficiently. As you reach forward into a sighting stroke, elongate your upper body through your fingers and press downward slightly with your chest. Anchor your catch, lift your face forward to sight, and pull yourself through your stroke. By doing this, you’re using the buoyancy of your wetsuit to compound the natural center of buoyancy in your body.
Responding to incidental drafting
The added buoyancy from wearing a wetsuit will aid in drafting behind other swimmers. Because of the slightly elevated position of your body, it should be easier to ride a draft more efficiently for a longer distance.
How can you improve upon this strategy? Do everything you can to reduce your form drag. Form drag is anything in your body position and movements that counter your forward propulsion. Common examples in swimming include dropped hips and knees, head position out of alignment with your spine, and swaying movements. The more you can reduce form drag in your technique, the more you can use drafting to your advantage.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The best way to practice wetsuit swimming technique adjustments is to swim in a wetsuit. There is simply no reliable way to replicate the sensations and conditions to be able to make gains in biomechanical efficiency. Whenever you’re able to do so, do practice swims wearing a wetsuit in open water in a range of conditions. You’ll need to gain in your proficiency as well as confidence in your abilities prior to your race.