General Discussion Triathlon Talk » Low air temperature - should I use a wetsuit in training? Rss Feed  
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2018-12-28 6:08 AM

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Subject: Low air temperature - should I use a wetsuit in training?
In this week, the air is 16°C and the pool is 20°C at my location, and it is the perfect temperature for me to swim in without any wetsuit. (I feels heat neutral in around 21°C, when the water is 24°C I begin to feel a bit warm after doing high-intensity swimming)

However, the weather forecast is predicting low air temperature - around 12°C next week. The pool I'm using is a 25 m outdoor pool with water depth 1.2 m - 3.0 m end to end. I don't know how fast the pool cools down, so I have a few questions:

1. How is the feeling different between 12°C air and 18°C air, when the water stays constant at 18°C? In particular, is "the average of air and water temperatures" a good indicator?

2. I have never swum seriously in my wetsuit before - I primarily use it for sailing and windsurfing in cold weather. I think it may be very bulky and uncomfortable to swim in, is it true or not?

3. I've heard that the speed will be faster when swimming in a wetsuit - especially when doing triathlon - is it true? Although in my area we don't have triathlons in wetsuit legal season so this is temporary a non-issue for me.

4. My endurance target is to swim for 2 hours in 15°C water this year - and for 6 hours next year without wetsuit (I'm talking about normal conditions - not something like 3°C air and 15°C water as happened 3 years ago! That would be crazy!). However, I also have to build up my speed as well. I'm trying to use various toys to see if there is a particular dead spot, but I tried using fins, snorkels, paddles and pull buoy one by one, and they all provided no difference in my speed and efficiency with or without them when I tried. So the next thing I may try is putting my wetsuit on - but only when it is cold enough!
When doing technique sets or speed sets in cold weather, in order for the training to be more effective, should I put on my wetsuit or not? (an extreme case will be 6°C air and 13°C water - is it foolish to do a standard 45 minutes training, consisting of drills and intervals, on bare skin?)

2018-12-28 9:03 PM
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Eugene, Oregon
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Subject: RE: Low air temperature - should I use a wetsuit in training?
1. I'm not sure "average" is a good indicator. In fact, the colder the air is, the warmer the water might feel! I used to swim outside part of the winter at a facility that stayed open year-round. (In Oregon; winter temps are usually in the 0-12 C range but occasionally fall well below 0.) If the pool temperature remains constant (many pools have a thermostat so it basically does), a colder air temperature doesn't tend to make the pool feel colder (if anything, the opposite). The issue is more if you stop (such as rest intervals between swims). You will become chilled more quickly, especially if you stand up to expose more skin, or it's windy. Our pool was pretty warm though--they kept it at about 25-27 regardless of weather. Maybe it would be different in a cooler pool. I don't know.

For me at least the water temperature matters a lot more than air temp. I have often worn a wetsuit when air temps were in the 70's or 80's Fahrenheit (25-30+ degrees C) when the water was cold (glacial lake, cold sea, or unheated deep pool). On the other hand, I have swum comfortably (long, continuous swims) in our Oregon pool when it was -8 degrees C and snowing!

2. Wetsuits for triathlon or open water swimming are designed differently than those for sailing and windsurfing. They tend to have thinner neoprene and more flexibility in areas like shoulders to allow better mobility when swimming. If you are uncomfortably cold, I would invest in a triathlon wetsuit.

3. Most people will be somewhat faster swimming in a wetsuit, due to the additional buoyancy it provides. This will be more true for novice swimmers who usually have poor body position and tend to "swim uphill". They will often be considerably faster with a wetsuit (or pull buoy) as it will correct their body position to some degree (swimming with hips higher in the water). For more experienced swimmers, the difference isn't as great. For me the difference is maybe a few seconds per 100m. (I'm usually top 3 in my AG at most races on the swim; I was about 1/3 of the way through my AG at my best World Championship race.)

4. Practicing in a wetsuit will not make you a faster swimmer. It might make your splits faster and make your body position better, but that won't be any use when you take it off. Better to work on optimizing your form and fitness. I only use a wetsuit in the following situations:

* The water is too cold for me to swim safely or comfortably (complete the workout with good quality without shivering or cramping) without a wetsuit. In some cases, this might depend on the nature of the workout--how hard I'm swimming and how much continuous vs. stop and go sets. Everyone feels differently about this--for me, I get cold when water drops below 22-25C. I'm cold-blooded! If your goal is to be able to swim in 15 degree water without a wetsuit, then I would NOT use the suit unless you are really unable to complete the workout without cramping, shivering, or having your form deteriorate due to being cold. Most people can gradually adapt to colder water down to a point.

*Water temperatures are marginal (might be tolerable once I warmed up as long as I keep going), but the air temperature is so low I might become seriously chilled getting into and out of the water without a wetsuit. (Mainly a consideration before races, freezing while standing around between swim warmup and race start, or for OWS training on cool days if I have to drive myself home afterward!)

*I am going to do a wetsuit race soon and need to get used to swimming in my wetsuit, especially if it is a new (or rental) suit or I haven't done any swimming in it in a while.

One suggestion for keeping warmer in cool air temps without a wetsuit is to wear two swim caps, a thicker silicone cap, or even a neoprene hood. It will help keep some of your body heat from escaping through your head, which tends to be more exposed than the rest of you to the cool air when swimming.

Edited by Hot Runner 2018-12-28 9:09 PM
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