Guide to Proper Wetsuit Fit

Being a strong swimmer, I’m often asked about wetsuits.  They ask about brands, types, price ranges, fit, etc. I think that wetsuits can be one of the most difficult equipment purchases we have to make.  The reason is three-fold. Wetsuits all fit differently. I liken them to women’s jeans. Each brand cuts and sizes their suits differently, so a wetsuit that fits me like a glove might not fit you at all. So a glowing recommendation from a friend or training partner may mean nothing, unless you are able to try one on. Which leads us to problem number two.

Testing a variety of wetsuits is almost impossible unless you live near a triathlon mecca like San Diego or Austin. There are very few stores that will carry more than a couple of brands of wetsuits. This means at best you will be able to try on 2 different wetsuits and hope one fits ok.  I often tell people to go to the biggest triathlon expo in your area (typically this means the biggest race) where there will be a number of manufacturers. You’ll get a bigger variety and your questions will be answered by the experts who make the suit.

The other problem I see is that with a wetsuit, there are no upgrades, alterations, changes that can be made.  When you buy a bike, if the fit is a little off you can raise the seat, etc.  Don’t like the bars? take ’em off and buy some different ones. With a wetsuit, it stays just as you bought it. Bought a sleeveless and think a full suit would work better? Too bad.  Shoulders a little tight even after the suit got wet? That’s the way it goes.

I probably can’t help much in some of these areas, but I can help a little in the fit department. Here are some suggestions on selecting a wetsuit that fits correctly.

Make sure you pull the legs up enough so that the crotch of the suit is snug up in your crotch. People often leave a gap there and it causes the wetsuit to pull at the neck/shoulders. They get neck rubs and think the suit doesn’t fit when actually they didn’t pull the legs up high enough.
Makes sure you have good range of motion in the shoulders. It’s going to feel constrained compared to no wetsuit, so it’s kinda a judgement call if you haven’t worn a bunch of suits before. Ideally you want a little thinner rubber around the shoulders to allow a greater range of motion.

Vigorously turn your head from side to side (in the store) or breathe to both sides (if you get to test it in the water) so see how the neck fits. 1. you shouldn’t have excessive rubbing (but you may get a little). If you get a rug burn try and adjust the suit as a whole before you give up (see above comments regarding the legs) 2. If you get to test in water, you shouldn’t get any real water intake. A little might leak in when you push off a wall, but you shouldn’t be taking in water every stroke.

On the arms, see if the suits ripples while you swim. You may get a little in the armpit, but overall the arms need to fit snug with no bunching. Same rules for water intake on the wrists (assuming a full suit)

Long John (sleeveless) suits, you need to check for water intake around the arm holes. (this can be a big problem in sleeveless suts)

Ankles. I like my wetsuits legs to come to about mid calf. Others like all the way down to the ankle. There is no real swim advantage to either, but there are certainly differences in how/how fast you take the suit off. Try taking it off a few times and see if it hangs on your ankles (assuming no ankle zippers) If it does and that’s the only problem, I would keep the suit and grab some sissors. Wetsuits are usually sewn and glued so the suit won’t unravel or anything if you cut an inch off the ankles (or at least mine didn’t!).

Pay attention to how constricted your chest feels when you breathe. You’ll feel a little constricted in your breathing and you should adjust, but if testing in the water, get your hr up and see if it’s too tight or not. If it’s more than just ‘a little tight’ and ‘strange’ when you breathe, then you might need a bigger size. Wetsuits do get a little bigger in water though, so this might get better as the suit absorbs more water.  

This certainly isn’t a complete list as each wetsuit brand and style will have some quirks that I don’t have the time to cover, butting running through this list will ensure that the suit fits rather than being sold a wetsuit that will make you miserable.

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