What To Wear Open Water Swimming?

Wetsuits youʼve got to love them! They are an essential piece of kit to wear for open water swimmers and at certain temperatures are mandatory in some open water swims and all triathlons.

So how do we choose a wetsuit and what should it fit like?

Firstly, price is not a good guide alone. Expensive high end suits are almost always designed for the elite end of the sport and will reflect this in terms of buoyancy. Most open water swimmers and especially the majority of triathletes do not kick enough or even at all (you know who you are). Buying a high end suit with little floatation in the legs will not help you swim faster. Check your swim ability and your position in the water and research the suits designed for your swim type. Manufacturers make a range of suits so pick the one that is most closely designed for your swim ability.

Once you have made your choice you need to get the right fit. It should be very snug (even uncomfortable) out of the water. No saggy bits and make sure the suit comes up into the crotch area and the armpits. The small of the back should fit well and when zipped up check for fit by getting someone to pull gently, it should be a suction fit with no gap.

Check out the short video, it shows how to put a wetsuit on.

Fold in half first and concentrate on the legs, slowly ease yourself in and ease the material into the key areas before zipping up.
Check for a good seal around the neck and arms. If the suit is too lose water will flush through and make swimming harder and colder.

Use some lube to avoid chaffing or come up with a good excuse for the ʻlove bitesʼ that your suit will provide if you forget. The best advice is to try before you buy if possible. And remember the zip goes at the back!

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Swimming In Cold Water

OK! So youʼre thinking of trying open water swimming in cold water, or perhaps you are looking at entering your first triathlon, what are the dangers?

Cold Water Immersion

One of the main things to consider, beyond ability and fitness, is temperature and the effects of cold water immersion. Most people have experienced the sensation of walking into a cold sea or stepping under a cold shower. This is called cold shock and will make you gasp. This is a reflex action beyond your control and is OK as long as your head is out of the water, because if your head is underwater you could aspirate water and may drown. Other things happen to your body including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Your system will begin to stabilise after a few minutes but you may continue to shiver and the water will begin to cool your
body temperature.

If your face gets wet another reflex may come into play and this one wants to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure, in preparation for diving.

Autonomic Conflict

If the two reflexes occur at the same time you have something called ʻAutonomic Conflictʼ and cardiac arrest is possible, especially if associated with mass start and/or competitive events.

Thatʼs the bad news! So what can we do about it? Firstly, avoid sudden and total immersion like jumping or diving in before a swim, even if you think it is warm enough. Enter the water gradually and keep your face out until the initial effects of the cold have stabilised.
Keep a log of your total swim times, the water and air temperature and how you felt after. Use this log to judge training times to the changing conditions. Swim and train with someone, not alone. Swim somewhere with lifeguards or some form of safety cover. If you
are at a race try and get a warm up swim before the start. If you are beach starting, wade in on your way to your start position, before running in. Unless you are a gold medal favourite consider walking in and taking a few minutes to settle. Once underway at a mass start event, remember to keep calm (anger can exacerbate the problems) and above all take full breaths, if you have to turn onto your back or slow right down this is preferable to getting into trouble. Once the chaos calms down you should be able to get into a rhythm and enjoy your swim.

This may all sound a little too dangerous but we need to keep things into perspective. With some insight and a few simple strategies we can increase the enjoyment and lessen the risk.

Information about other open water swimming hazards, please click here.

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Wearing Black In The Sun

It has been thought that wearing a white in the sun will keep us cool because white reflects the heat, and wearing black in the sun make us hot? This to a certain degree (wearing white will keep us cool) is correct until you start thinking about two other factors; the heat from our own bodies and UV protection.

black t-shirt and white t-shirt
Whether to wear a black or a white t-shirt in the sun?

White T-Shirt Or Black T-Shirt

In actual fact to dress for hot weather we should probably be taking cues from the Bedouin who wear loose black robes. The way that white t-shirts are constructed in comparison to a darker tee is differentiated by the dye that is applied and the material. A darker material is obtained by the introduction of dyes to the material which absorb more UV rays than the simple white cotton, which is generally just bleached from the original natural colouring of the fabric to get the fresh white consistency. The white material often has more holes than a heavily dyed fabric which is why you often see the same styled shirts with a different Ultraviolet Protect Factor (UPF) rating. The type and thickness of fabric will make a difference; for instance a thick heavy woolen fabric, like a Bedouin would wear, would have a higher UPF rating than a thin cotton white tee. However, there is something to be said that although useful in terms of UV protection I’m sure that not all of us want to be walking around in thick heavy woolen clothes. Therefore a compromise would be a cotton/polyester tee; but make sure you choose a black tee over a white tee when thinking about UV protection.

Body Heat

So back to the original question, wearing a white t-shirt in the sun will keep us cool because white reflects the heat. Correct, until you start thinking about your body heat which in fact is a lot closer to the t-shirt than the sun. Yes, white will reflect more heat than black but it will also reflect the heat from your body back towards your body. In the case of a darker material, yes this will absorb the energy from the sun but will also absorb the heat from your own body a lot more consequently keeping you cooler. This paired with a loose fitting black tee allows cooler air to enter from underneath and with heat evaporation from the top, in entirety this creates an air flow and therefore results in cooling the body. Plus if you think about it if the only reason not to wear a black t-shirt is because they get hot due to absorbing the heat from the sun, having a loose fitting t-shirt is also going to reduce the amount that the fabric touches the body.

In conclusion, not only will a darker dyed fabric give you a better UV protection than a lighter material but also in the case of a loose fitting fabric cools you down more too. So forget everything you’ve previously thought, some scientist somewhere has proved this correct, and they even said so on QI – which means it is definitely true!

So you can wear black in the sun! Plus black is slimming anyway right….?

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