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Can You Swim in a Wetsuit?

   March 19th, 2019   Posted In: Articles  

Can You Swim in a Wetsuit?

Do you ever wonder if can you swim in a wetsuit? Well, the easy answer is, yes, of course you can. But, it might not be as simple as getting just any wetsuit. Picking the right wetsuit for the job is important. It’s important to know that different wetsuits are intended for different purposes, including swimming, surfing, waterskiing, and other water sports. So, if you need to know if you can swim in a wetsuit, you need to know which ones are best, and why to wear them.

Are you new to triathlon or open water swimming? Do you get cold in the water? Are you looking for protection? Is buoyancy your concern? Read on to learn about the different types of wetsuits so that you can make the best decision for your needs.

Different Conditions – Can You Swim in a Wetsuit?

Recreational Swimming & Just Playing Around:

There are wetsuits designed for general purpose water use, and for enjoying watersports. Depending on the climate and your activity, you can choose from a wide variety of wetsuits for just enjoying the water during any type of fun! Choose long or short versions, vests, and easy on-off options when you just want to play and stay a little warmer.

Open Water Swimming:

Most people who do any open water swimming prefer to wear triathlon wetsuits, unless they are in a climate where the water is consistently quite warm. Even then, you can swim in a wetsuit, but you might opt for a different version (e.g., sleeveless, or shorty-type so you don’t overheat).

Lap Swimming:

You can swim in a wetsuit in a pool, especially if you are looking for some added buoyancy or warmth. If you are using an outdoor pool in a cooler climate, you may enjoy the warmth provided by a wetsuit. Wetsuit vests, short johns, and even triathlon wetsuits may be perfect for those who tend to get cold in the water. Before wearing a wetsuit in a pool, however, be aware of the water temperature, because many indoor pools are kept quite warm—especially in pools that offer senior programs. Many outdoor pools are not heated, so wearing a wetsuit in an outdoor pool may be perfect for times when the pool is especially cool.

can you swim in a wetsuitTriathlon:

Triathletes very commonly wear wetsuits during the swim leg of the competition, unless the water temperature is determined to be wetsuit-illegal (generally over 78 degrees, though race officials have a choice up to 84, above that it is considered unsafe). Options range from short johns/janes to full long-sleeved wetsuits, and everything in between.

Water Rehab/Water Aerobics:

Wetsuits designed for water rehab or water aerobics are a bit different from those intended for triathlon. Some of the key differences include a typical two-piece design for easy on and off (layering pieces), and a front zipper. Many rehab patients may have mobility limitations, so getting into a wetsuit needs to be a simple process, and not one that requires extra strength or flexibility. The whole idea of rehab is to get better, not get further injured by getting into a wetsuit. Many rehab patients may opt for a wetsuit vest. A vest can keep the torso warm without constricting mobility too much. A wetsuit, or wetsuit vest is ideal for those who need a bit of extra warmth while getting into a cool pool. Keeping muscles warm is a critical part of most rehab programs intended to restore strength and mobility.

How Does a Wetsuit Help?

There are several distinct advantages to wearing a wetsuit during open water, triathlon, and even lap swimming. Different factors may be important to you, but here are the highlights:

Warmth: Wearing a wetsuit will provide a layer of insulation that will help keep you warm. The wetsuit initially fills with water and your body will warm that layer of water. This will protect you from the temperature of the open water. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses, for different purposes. Swimmers in colder climates may prefer the thicker materials, while those not needing the warmth may opt for thinner construction. Wetsuits are most effective for warming you adequately when the water temp is between 65-78 degrees. Colder than that, you can swim in a wetsuit but your head, face, feet, and hands will not be protected. Warmer than 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and you risk overheating.

Buoyancy: If you are not a super strong swimmer, you may enjoy the benefit of the buoyancy that a wetsuit can offer. Having additional buoyancy can help prevent panic in the open water, as many people feel safer.

Speed: When you are more buoyant in the water, you may swim faster. You will probably drag your legs less, and have less drag from any clothing you are wearing. Top swimmers may not see any real difference, but for intermediate and novice swimmers, especially at longer distances, the reduced effort will save a lot of energy during an open water swim or triathlon.

How to Decide?

You have several options! First, you can choose between sleeveless and fullsuit versions. Some people prefer the sleeveless wetsuit options and claim that they have better range of motion when it comes to moving their arms for swimming. Also, for those who tend to feel highly constricted in a wetsuit, the sleeveless versions tend to be a little more freeing. Long sleeved wetsuits provide additional warmth in cold temperatures. In between these options, you can find wetsuits with short sleeves (as opposed to full or sleeveless), but these tend to be less popular for open water swimming and triathlon.

Next, you can decide between full wetsuit length and short versions (often called shorty springsuits). With short legs, you have more exposure, but less possibility of overheating. Also, some prefer the added range of motion and feel less constricted. Depending on the activity you are using the wetsuit for, your needs may differ.

Caring for Your Wetsuit

Always rinse your wetsuit in cool or warm fresh water as soon as possible after using it. Whether fresh water swimming, lap swimming in a chlorinated pool, or swimming in salt water, it is important to get the dirt, sand, salt, chlorine, sweat, etc. removed from the fabric. Rinse in water thoroughly, and hang to dry out of direct sunlight. Particularly when using your wetsuit for water rehab, water aerobics, or lap swimming in a chlorinated pool, it is extremely important to thoroughly rinse your wetsuit immediately after use. If you use your wetsuit in chlorinated water several times per week, you should invest in wetsuit shampoo specifically intended to remove the chlorine residue and increase the lifespan of your wetsuit.

 Can You Swim in a Wetsuit?

You can swim in a wetsuit, whether for exercise or just for fun. For those who easily catch a chill, wearing a wetsuit can help make water activities more enjoyable. Most people who participate in open water swimming and triathlon will tell you that wetsuits are better than no wetsuit. But, it does remain a personal decision. Understanding the benefits and options will help you to decide what works best for you!

Lauren McIndoo has been participating in marathons and triathlons for the past 15 years. With more than 40 marathons, and countless triathlons of all distances (including 8 full Ironman finishes), she has a ton of practical experience and finds passion and excitement in all things related to swimming, biking and running.

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  • Emily Flower says:

    I have a stoma that needs to stay dry on my leg. Can a wetsuit achieve this? I struggle to swim, but would like to get better, and I do a lot of hydrotherapy type exercises. I want to swim in salt and chlorine.

  • Jane Schultz says:

    I would like to swim in an unheated (possibly chlorinated or salt pool-I don’t know) in the winter. It is approximately 52 degrees F. Which women’s full-body suit would you recommend?

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Jane! I recommend checking out our recreational swimming catagory here, and selecting the specific water temperature in the left-hand filter bar to find a selection of great wetsuit options for your pool swimming!

    • chuck says:

      I routinely swim 1-2 miles in laps in my pool which now runs 50-60 degrees F. I use a cheap but good fitting 3mm full suit. And when the temp gets below 55ish I will use booties,a hood and even gloves which makes the swim much more comfortable and I barely notice them.

  • joan stafford says:

    Hi. Ive returned to the UK after paddle boarding and diving for several years in the MiddleEast. I want to do some open water swimming and paddle boarding but the water is so cold. I realise I cant have the same wet suit for diving but can you recommend a warm flexible suit for messing about in the water.

    • Elizabeth Werdnik says:

      Hi Joan, I can imagine how much colder the water is in the UK than what you have gotten used to! Depending on the average water temps in your area, and how sensitive you are to the cold I definitely recommend going for a 4/3mm wetsuit or thicker! You can conveniently browse our wetsuits by temperature in the left-hand filter bar. That should help you find an option ideal for the new waters you are conquering!

  • Paul White says:

    Lauren we live in AZ. Although the weather is still warm our small pool will soon be below 70 degrees. I am 71 and just swim for exercise. What’s a good choice for me for wet suit and cap. I like the idea of short sleeves.

  • Tom M says:

    Hi. I have been ocean swimming Almost daily for the past 5 months with a full length wetsuit which is great. I would like to reduce my dependence on the suit. Is a short John suitable for serious swimming? What would you recommend?

  • Scott S says:

    Just bought a 2 mm springsuit from the internet. On the tag, it says that I should not swim in a chlorinated pool. That seems to directly contradict this article. I swim about 3x per week in an unheated chlorinated pool. Anyone have any thoughts about this?

    • Lauren Belt says:

      Hey Scott,

      We’ve had success with wetsuits in chlorinated pools when they have been immediately rinsed (and even cleaned with a wetsuit shampoo), properly hung to dry and stored away. Chlorine does eat away at the neoprene fabric over time, which is why you saw that warning. But, with proper rinsing and care, your neoprene suit can still last you a relatively long time even when dealing with chlorine.

  • Joel Altstein says:

    We live in New England and have a swimming pool that doesn’t get warm until mid July.
    I do lap swimming but only in July and want to swim in June when the water temperature is about 68 which wet
    suit should I buy??

    • Lauren Belt says:

      Hey Joel!

      Typically for lap swimming, we recommend checking out a triathlon wetsuit. Since your pool is around those water temperatures, try checking out a triathlon long john wetsuit like this one: https://www.wetsuitwearhouse.com/PROD/666-S553.html. This suit helps you glide through the water and the sleeveless feature allows you to have a great range of motion without overheating. If you need help with sizing, go off of your chest measurement first (and look at the size chart on the product page). If you need additional help, let us know!

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