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Wetsuit 101: Finding the Right Fit

Being that the swim is daunting in and of itself for most triathletes, finding the right wetsuit shouldn't be. A good, proper fitting wetsuit should feel like a second skin. It should also help you swim faster! The differences between most triathlon-specific wetsuits is minuscule, however, the fit and flexibility can, and usually will, vary greatly.

So, what are the key features to look for in a wetsuit? For starters, you want it to be legal! Starting in 2013, USA Triathlon is instituting the rule that no wetsuit shall exceed 5 millimeters of thickness at any point. Fortunately, most wetsuits measure 5 millimeters, but be sure to check before you buy. Besides that, look for a wetsuit with forearm panels for better propulsion, silicon-sealed cuffs for keeping the water out, an easy to reach zipper for fast transitions, and perhaps most importantly, flexible, anatomically cut arm and knee paneling for an unimpeded swim stroke.

The aforementioned features are shown on a men's Blue Seventy HELIX triathlon wetsuit in the photographs below.

Arm Paneling; Silicon-Sealed Cuff; Easy To Reach Zipper

Flexible, Anatomically Cut Arm/Shoulder Panel

All the key features though, won't do you a bit of good unless your suit fits just as it is meant to. In general, a proper fitting suit is tight and in some cases, almost compressive; some suits are specifically designed as such in order to increase blood flow. If a wetsuit is too small, your range of motion will be greatly limited no matter how flexible the suit. On the contrary, something too large will take water and likely cause needless skin irritation from friction. Blue Seventy also offers a women's HELIX triathlon wetsuit that provides anatomical differences in the suit design gender specific to women.

Additionally, wetsuits are designed for one's ability as well, given your body position in the water. If you struggle to keep your legs and feet up near the surface of the water, you may want to consider a wetsuit with more buoyancy in the legs to help level your body to a more streamlined position. For swimmers with a natural, level body position, a suit with equal buoyancy in the torso and legs is optimal.

In my experience, and surely for others as well, using an online sizing guide isn't very definitive to which suit would fit best. Sizing is dependent on one's height and weight and it's not uncommon to fit in one wetsuit in regards to height and in another size in regards to weight. It's hard to say which category takes more precedence, so making a trip to try several on or suiting up in a demo at a race expo is always worthwhile.

If you're going to try on wetsuits and dread putting them on, here's a tip that will make it a breeze without the use of any lubrication: put a plastic bag over your foot, like a sock, and slip into the wetsuit as you normally would. Then, just pull the bag off your foot and repeat with the other leg. The same procedure can be used for slipping your arms through the armholes. Not only does this reduce friction and the potential to stretch and even tear a suit, it's a big time saver on race days!

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