Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are You Slower In A Wetsuit?

It's frustrating isn't it? You spend many hundreds of dollars or pounds on a beautiful well fitting wetsuit but when you swim in it you're no faster, or even slower, than you are without it. You might feel awkward and unbalanced in it too.

If you have this problem don't worry, you're not alone. Many triathletes suffer in this way - particularly females with a swimming background as a child. The reason is that when swimming without a wetsuit you already have a very good body position with the legs sitting up very high in the water. The extra buoyancy from your suit actually takes your legs too high leaving you feeling very unbalanced in the water.

If you already have a fantastic body position, a wetsuit can
leave you feeling unbalanced in the water.
Nearly all Kicktastics (often female with a swimming background) suffer from this problem - your strong leg kick gives you a fantastic high body position which is a major asset in your stroke. The added buoyancy of a wetsuit starts to lift your legs out of the water and you lose power and the stability provided from your leg kick.

An important adaptation for Kicktastics is to lift your head higher and look further forward when you swim in your wetsuit. This lifts you slightly at the front and brings your legs down a touch, redressing the balance in your stroke. Experiment with a range of head angles, from looking 1-2 meters in front to looking right ahead with the goggles just beneath the surface.

Paul Newsome is coaching double Ironman winner Kate Bevilaqua who also suffers from this frustrating problem in the water. Prior to working with Kate she swam around 62 minutes for 3.8km. Our first breakthrough was a 59 minute swim at IMNZ in March 2011, followed by a 53 minute swim at IM Lanzarote in May 2011. Paul worked on two aspects of her stroke:

The Kicktastic:
- Strong 6-beat kick
- Often female
- Long limbs
- Hates wetsuits!
1) Kate was originally coached and led to believe that all swimmers should look straight down at the bottom of the pool or ocean to bring their bum and legs up. This is totally wrong for some swimmers and was terrible advice for Kate. Despite her lean muscular build, Kate has a very good natural body position in the water and maintaining this head position with a wetsuit or pull buoy was causing her legs to sit too high, leaving her feeling very unbalanced as a result. We raised her head a touch by looking forward in the water by around two meters and she immediately felt better.

The better view forwards also helped Kate's drafting which is something we worked heavily on in April. Given that this can save her up to 38% of her energy expenditure if performed well, or allow her to sit with the faster age-group men, this is a major benefit that is essential for her to exploit.

2) Kate often complained of tired shoulders when using her wetsuit. She was coached to maintain a very high elbow during the recovery phase but inevitably the suit's resistance lead to premature fatigue at the start of her races. To improve this, Paul worked with Kate to swim with a straighter arm recovery which led to more hand clearance over the water (ideal for rougher swims) and also enabled her to tap into her ability to maintain high stroke rates in excess of 85spm. This brings her rhythm and purpose in a tightly packed open water swim.

If you are slower or feel unbalanced in your wetsuit then don't despair, try the the changes above and we're sure you'll instantly feel a lot more comfortable in your wetsuit and faster too. Let us know on the comments section of this blog how you go! #add link#. You will also find plenty more specific advice to improve your stroke in the Kicktastic Swim Type Guide here.

If you are a swimmer who loves their wetsuit and gains significant speed from the improvement it makes to your body position then you may find this hard to believe. It just shows how different we all are and why modern swim coaching is moving away from traditional one-size-fits-all methods to an individual approach.

Swim Smooth!

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