What are stroke mechanics and why are they important in choosing a wetsuit?
Swimming more efficiently, as well as faster, is primarily about overcoming the forces of drag created by water, which is 800 times denser than air. To do this, the swimmer must improve their technique. The basis of a faster, more efficient swim starts with your stroke mechanics.
For this reason, technique and stroke mechanics should be kept in mind when selecting a wetsuit. Some suits are specifically designed to complement and enhance the efficient stroke mechanics of intermediate and advanced swimmers, while others are fashioned to provide a flexible stroke with buoyancy and warmth for those with less experience.
The main aspects of your swim form that come into play when looking at wetsuits are body position, body rotation and coordination. A swimmer with less training on form will often allow their hips and legs to sink in the water, while swimming flat with little hip rotation.
In addition, there is often little connection between the movement of each arm.
The more advanced swimmer, who has honed an efficient stroke, is likely to drive that connection through more pronounced body rotation at the hips and timing of the glide and pull in their arms to more efficiently move through the water.
How can the right wetsuit help enhance your natural rotation in the water?
For a swimmer who is already adept at creating rotation through their hips and core, a wetsuit with only 3mm neoprene covering the ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine aka the front hip bones) will accentuate this movement – 3mm is less buoyant than the 5mm neoprene found in other wetsuits, which means the suit will not ‘fight’ against your movement as you rotate.
A swimmer with little to no hip rotation, or drive, will likely not notice much difference, as suits with either 3mm or 5mm neoprene in this area will offer enough buoyancy to lift sinking hips and keep you higher in the water. The more efficient swimmer with a strong hip drive, however, will quickly feel the freedom of movement created by this different patterning, as the 3mm does not resist their swim mechanics.
In Blueseventy’s Reaction wetsuit, for example, the 5mm neoprene has been cut back so that it routes beneath and inside (towards the midline of the body), and the ASIS area is covered by 3mm neoprene.
How can a wetsuit increase your shoulder flexibility?
Wetsuits that connect the shoulders through a single piece shoulder design and remove the seams across the centre of the upper chest can further enhance the natural feel of swimming. More experienced swimmers working on efficient mechanics will notice the additional stretch and freedom throughout their entire stroke, with more feel for the connection between their arms as they pull and glide through the water.
A less efficient swimmer will notice the increased flexibility but may not feel the difference as much as someone who is focused on the connection and mechanics of their stroke.
Increased flexibility is important for swimmers covering longer distances of more than a mile, as any resistance in a wetsuit will become more pronounced as your body fatigues. It’s good to bear in mind, then, that stretchy jersey linings will further increase the flexibility of the neoprene.
How can small variations in wetsuit thickness affect your swimming technique?
Increasing the distance gained with each stroke is the goal of every efficient swimmer. If you can glide further and recover more quickly during your stroke, you can swim faster and longer.
A small difference in thickness in the patterning of the panels along the back of a wetsuit, stretching from the hip to the shoulders, can have a major impact. Slightly thicker panels provide a bit more buoyancy, aiding a novice swimmer who needs the extra flotation.
Slightly thinner panels provide more flexibility, which means more reach without any added effort for more distance gained per stroke. With less effort to gain that distance in a suit with thinner panels, the efficient swimmer will notice the boost in speed.
Thinner back panels also come into play during the recovery portion of your stroke, allowing for a quicker return with less resistance. This flexibility enables the efficient swimmer to maintain a higher stroke rate, which, when paired with increased distance per stroke, simply equals more speed.
How to balance your budget and ambitions in choosing a wetsuit
Making a decision about what wetsuit to buy comes down to the type of swimmer you are (or are working to become), the distance you swim and your budget. There are a range of wetsuit companies out there to consider, with different designs honed for swimmers with specific requirements.
Blueseventy, for example, make wetsuits at different price points for swimmers with a range of abilities, from the advanced design of the Reaction wetsuit to the more beginner-friendly Fusion.
John Duquette of Blueseventy says, ‘Swimmers with good extension, stroke rate and body rotation will love the feel of freedom swimming in the Reaction and will find they swim
faster and can swim further because of expending less energy moving inside the neoprene. While the Reaction will not hinder a less efficient, or novice, swimmer in any way, they are unlikely to benefit from its advanced patterning and would be served well by the more affordable Fusion. The Fusion will still aid in a faster, more efficient swim for that person by lifting the body with the buoyancy of the neoprene.’
Whatever decision you ultimately make, it’s important to honestly consider your abilities and aims before deciding on what type of wetsuit best matches your needs.
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