Swimskins, Wetsuits, and Tri Suits

Swimskins are fairly new to the sport of triathlon, but are they worth the price tag? Before we dive into what swimskins are and what they can do, let’s review the basic gear for a triathlete when it comes to swimming.

The most basic of gear is a tri suit, which is a one or two piece kit that you can wear comfortably for all three disciplines without adding more layers. Tri suits can be sleeveless or have sleeves like a bike jersey. If the water temperature is at 78 degrees F or above, you’ll need to wear a tri suit if you want to be considered for age-group awards. Tri suits range in price from $80-$250 each, depending on the brand, style, and materials used in making the kit. In reality, a tri suit is not necessary to compete–you can always wear a training swimsuit, throw on a pair of running or cycling shorts and t-shirt for the bike and run. No tri suit needed and no money wasted when you’re getting involved in a new sport; save your cash for the bike because it’s a machine that you throw money at anyway.

Next up in a triathlete’s swimming stash is a wetsuit. Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and sizes from full legs and sleeves to a shorti wetsuit. If the water is cooler, you would wear your wetsuit over your tri suit for the swim. Wetsuits are fairly easy to put on and take off with practice and have a drawstring attached to the zipper to close the suit and to unzip it as you run towards transition. Wetsuits range in price from $80-$500 and up, so it can be an expensive addition.

The advantage of wearing a wetsuit is the added buoyancy neoprene provides, helping to correct dropped legs and other types of poor swim form and body positioning. Many triathletes swim a few minutes faster for the entire swim segment of the race, but if you’re already a fast swimmer with good form, you might not notice much of a difference. From a personal standpoint, I’m about the same speed with or without a wetsuit, but a wetsuit will keep me warm when the water temps are in the low 60s or upper 50s F.

Now enter the swimskin. A swimskin compresses your body with hydrophobic material to make you cut through the water faster. Swimskins are also worn over the tri suit like a wetsuit and can be worn when the water temp is at 78 degrees F or above. Fast swimmers and pros who swim at 1:20 per 100 meters or faster, save an average of 2-6 seconds per 100 meters, which adds up quickly for an Ironman distance swim of 2.4 miles or 4,224 yards. However, the swimskin offers no extra buoyancy like the wetsuit and does little in the way of correcting poor form. It will reduce drag caused by form and your body line, but if you are an average swimmer, or if swimming is the weaker of the three sports, then it won’t help much in the way of decreasing fatigue caused by form and body position in the water.

So, should you get a swimskin? I wouldn’t. Most age-group athletes won’t actually benefit from wearing one on race day. Sorry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $200-$400 for one. Instead, I would spend more time in the pool since swimming is the neglected sport of most triathletes. If you do spend money on swimming, spend it on joining a masters team, get some new fins, a snorkel, pull buoy, new practice suits, open water goggles, fun swim caps, or a workout book for swimming. The point is: get better at swimming first before making another big gear investment in a swimskin that you’ll use a handful of times in practice and possibly for the wetsuit illegal race. And for the love of all that is holy, do an actual swim workout in the pool, learn how to do flip turns or efficient open turns, do all of the competitive strokes, and use the clock provided because you don’t need a watch for swimming, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Visualization and the Athlete

Lake Erie from Edgewater Park in Cleveland, OH during USAT Nationals on August 9, 2018

Lake Erie in Cleveland is known for its fickle ways, changing from smooth as glass to a washing machine of waves in a short amount of time, bringing with it sudden changes in weather. Any local will tell you to watch out for its rip currents. So, how do you prepare for something like that as an athlete?

USAT Nationals will be held in Cleveland, OH again this year at Edgewater Park, and, yes, you do have to prepare for the unexpected. Last year, I watched the Lake go from smooth to choppy, with waves over three feet high, in the course of thirty minutes, making it difficult for athletes to sight. Many of them swam for 1.2 miles instead of the 1500 meters of an Olympic distance event.

As an athlete, you practice the swim, bike, and run often in your training, eat the right things (mostly), and carve out time for rest in your busy day, but if you’re not practicing visualization and positive self-talk, you’re missing out.

Here’s why.

  1. See it: Practice visualizing how the race will unfold. Look up photos of the area where you’ll be racing so it will be familiar to you. Think of how you’ll set up transition, practice your race day plan and working with your gear in a mock transition to further reinforce your daily visualizations, and see yourself moving through the different segments of the race. Most of all, see yourself crossing that finish line, one step at a time.
  2. Plan it: Because you’ve spent time thinking about how your race will go, there is nothing new. However, if something new does come up, you can think about how you’ll work through those difficulties with a plan of action–dropping a bottle on the bike, getting a flat, dealing with a crowded swim field, handling heat or cold on the bike or run. Besides having a plan for the unexpected, have an overall race day plan of what you’ll eat and drink and when. Know how you will pace the race based on the course and terrain. All of this will help with your anxiety levels.
  3. Practice it: In addition to thinking through the unknown, develop a ritual before the race, practice your transition with all of you gear, and then visualize how it will all happen. A good ritual to have is: set up your gear, eat the same thing you normally do right before the swim, and find a quiet area or sit for a moment in transition to focus on your breathing (maybe even listen to music or headphones). When you’re ready to get in line for the swim start, focus on being calm in the crowd by breathing and visualizing your swim. In addition, practice the skills you’ll need such as changing your tire, setting up transition, eating and drinking on the bike and run, etc. It’s also a good idea to train for the swim, bike, and run in places with terrain that resembles your goal race.
  4. Win: No, everything won’t go according to plan all the time, but more often than not, you’ll be successful. Looking on the positive side will also help you learn from your mistakes so you can move on and become a better athlete.

See. Plan. Practice. Win.

Speed Swim Workout

If you have a need for speed in the pool, then this workout is for you. When I swam competitively, my favorite events included the 50 and 100 free after suffering through the 500 free at swim meets during my entire first season. Unlike my swimming buddies, I’m still learning to love distance and am getting better at it. Here’s the sprint workout, so let me know how it goes for you:

Warm Up:

400 as swim 75/drill 25

6×50 kick–choice (with or without fins)

200 IM (Individual Medley)

300 pull 3/5/3/2

200 stroke (NO FREE)

Main Set: 

12x25s variable sprints on :25/:30/:35 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. slow/fast
  2. fast/slow
  3. tempo
  4. FAP (fast as possible)

12x50s on :50/1:00/1:10 REPEAT PATTERN 3x

  1. DPS (distance per stroke)
  2. Build
  3. Tempo
  4. FAP

200 @ Race Pace with 1 min rest

4×50 DESD on 1:00

2x100s ALL OUT!  Rest 40s after each

Cool Down: 

100 Easy–choice

3000 yards total

 

What are you waiting for? Go and swim! Comment below with your favorite strokes, places to swim, or what you love about swimming.

Holiday Swim Workouts

12 Days of Christmas Workout

1×300 swim
2×50 drill
3x100s Individual Medley
4x100s as swim, kick, pull, swim
5x50s sprints on 1:00
6x75s IMO (no free) kick, drill, swim by 25s
7x100s on 2:00 FAP
8x25s as streamline kick and swim on :35
10x kicks for 3 strokes for 1×100
11x25s IMO with free
12x 10 seconds Vertical Kicking in deep end

Merry Christmas!

I’m late with Chanukah already over, but my athletes did do an 8 Days of Chanukah workout as well as a 12 Days of Christmas Workout. There are more holidays on the way, so why not do some of these fun workouts? I am already writing a New Year’s Workout! Happy Holidays!

8 Days of Chanukah Swim Workout

8x75s as kick/drill/swim by 25s

8x50s IMO as drill

8x25s as streamline kick/FAP free

8x150s as free/back/free by 50s on 2:30

8x75s free-build on 1:30

100 cool down

3100 yards total

Happy Holidays to all during the month of December!

You Are Not a Before and After

AprilstatsYou are not a before or an after. So many people in the fitness industry are focused on getting clients by promising some awesome “after” version of their bodies all the while, posting pictures of their progress. Why? Because that is exactly what sells. Please. Do yourself a favor and repeat: “My body is not a before or after.”

You will not find happiness in a shake or by cutting out entire food groups or in skipping events because you can’t eat what’s there. For all that is holy: please eat more real food than processed food and find ways to move your body–whether it be swimming, cycling, running, team sports, or fitness classes at your local gym.

You need to eat real food because you are on a journey. I’m not going to call it a fitness journey because even if you are a professional athlete, I’m sure you have a family, other hobbies you love, and places you enjoy. Your overall health and fitness is part of your life. Sure, if you’re a casual athlete you might have goals of qualifying for Boston, completing an Ironman, or competing in your first ever race. Goals are good. But they are not everything. You and the people around you are everything.

In the picture above are my stats for the month of April. Some of those miles were early and tough, some were with friends, and there are more than a few miles missing because I needed rest and time with my family. Do the hard work and do what’s important to you, remembering why you chose triathlon or running in the first place. There will certainly be more miles in May and for years to come.

Last of all when you look at your body in the mirror, thank it for all it does for you. Be grateful that you can still move, compete, and inspire others to do the same. And, if you want to wear that bikini this summer without sipping on any expensive shakes to shed those stubborn pounds, just put it on and be proud. Celebrate the you that you are right now. And, give the whole fitness industry a big middle finger when you do.