It is often said wetsuit swimming is different, its faster, it can change your stroke.  From personal experience this is all true…………………..but I wanted to find out just how true?

I have recently been playing with my wetsuit / non wetsuit (skins) swim to find out just how it affects me as a swimmer.  All of my swims were performed in a pool, and not the lovely open water, but it was the only easy way of calculating what happened in an almost unchangeable environment (plus calculating a CSS in open water is going to be tricky).

The first test I performed was a standard CSS test.  Many swimmers know about these and South West Swims pool squad actively look forward to a CSS test.  It is a great measure of seeing how swimmers are developing their fitness and speed in the water. If you don’t know (and in a nutshell) a CSS test is a 400m timed swim and a 200m timed swim, with some active (gentle) recovery between.  Numbers are then crunched and you get back your threshold pace, this is the pace you should be able to swim consistently at over 1500m.  More details on CSS training can be found on the website of our good friends at Swim Smooth,,

So how did the wetsuit affect my CSS pace?  (For reference the tests were performed on separate days and followed the exact same set).  My threshold pace in the wetsuit was 8 seconds FASTER per 100m, that equates to 2:08 minutes faster over a mile.  Quite a big jump and one which could take a swimmer a great deal of time to reach, depending on their base swim ability.

It’s all very well having your threshold pace that you should be able to hold over distance, but how does that measure up in an actual time trial? Again I got back into the pool and over the course of two weeks I swam a skins and wetsuit 1 mile time trial.  Again the wetsuit swim won again, coming in at 2:20 minutes faster than a skins swim.  So the CSS figures were about right over the distance.

In both tests the surprising thing I found was not the amount of time that is gained in a wetsuit, that to me was always going to be obvious in my own swim.  No, the surprising thing was feeling of the body afterwards.  After the CSS test I felt much more comfortable after my swim, recovering quicker and feeling fresher.  The wetsuit certainly aids my body position, undoubtedly coming more into play when I am tiring at max effort.  So my personal conclusion from this is that my swim in a wetsuit is not only considerably faster, but also feels a lot easier, smoother and a lot less hard work.  Meaning a quicker recovery time after the swim, but also a guilty feeling of “I feel fresh, could I have gone faster?”

The point of these tests were not simply to see how much the wetsuit improves my swim but also to think about training, and training variations.  Now the open water season is (almost) upon us it would be very worthwhile getting used to your wetsuit again.  If your pool is cool enough pop it on and use it for a set or two to get used to that more buoyant swimming position, getting used to what some may feel a restrictive movement, adapting your arm recovery if needed and also making sure the suit is still a good fit after the winter hibernation :).

Importantly,  also look at your training times! If you are using CSS based training your non wetsuit times are (probably) of no use to you when swimming in a wetsuit as you may be swimming well under your threshold pace.  Swimming at your skins pace is going to drastically reduce your potential if you are so much quicker in a wetsuit, your not going to be pushing yourself as you were before and you really want to be keeping up that good momentum you have built up over the winter. So for those using CSS training methods pop your wetsuit on and perform a new test, then use that new CSS in your wetsuit sessions.  To really push yourself do a few sets skins at your wetsuit CSS pace at the end of your session as well, you will then truly experience all the differences the suit makes in feel and time.

Getting into your wetsuit now, will boost your confidence and speed as you start to dip your toes in those lakes in the coming weeks.  I have been wearing my suit for one session a week in the pool over the past 4 weeks or so, and I really felt the benefit when I had my first longer distance swim in the lake last week.  Try it, and see what you think.


*Notes:  If using a wetsuit in a pool

1.  Know your body, do not overheat as you will get quite warm.
2.  Drink plenty of fluids
3.  Rinse your wetsuit very well in fresh water straight after your swim
4.  Be careful you do not snag the suit on steps, gutters, railings or the side of the pool.  In short take a bit more care
5.  All the above is based on me as a swimmer.  Some athletes may find the wetsuit slows them down instead of speeding them up.  Again, testing at a “wetsuit” CSS pace could be a valuable exercise for those swimmers to perform.
6.  Also, thank you to Paul Newsome for his opinions on Wetsuit CSS pace.  I’m glad our thoughts matched 🙂