Can You Swim Laps In A Wetsuit?


diver wearing a wetsuit in a swimming pool

Recently I watched a training session of one of the world’s top pro surfers, Kanoa Igarashi, wearing a wetsuit while swimming laps in a pool.

Kanoa did not talk about wearing a wetsuit while swimming pool laps as part of his training session, but it seemed to be something that he just did naturally.

Thinking about it, this makes perfect sense, as it is logical to train in the gear that you will compete in. Which got me thinking; can anyone swim laps in a wetsuit?

As a general rule, anyone can swim pool laps in a wetsuit. However, it is uncommon. Wetsuits are typically worn in swimming pools when the temperature is cold or when the swimmer is training for an event and wants to wear their race day suit to feel fully adjusted to how it feels.

In this article I want to dig deeper into this idea and look at:

  • When might you swim laps in a wetsuit?
  • Can I wear a wetsuit in a public swimming pool? (I asked)
  • What is the best type of wetsuit for pool swimming?
  • Is it easy to swim in a wetsuit?
  • Do you swim faster with a wetsuit?
  • How tight should a wetsuit be for swimming?
  • What thickness wetsuit is best for pool swimming?

When Might You Swim Laps In A Wetsuit?

There are some situations when a swimmer might need to use a wetsuit in a pool, including:

1. Cold Water Pools

Wetsuits are designed to keep you warm in cold water, therefore if you swim in an outdoor public pool, or unheated indoor swimming pool, then it is justifiable to wear a wetsuit.

The average temperature of a public swimming pool is between 25°C – 28°C, which would be considered too warm to wear a wetsuit in, as your body will overheat if working out at a high temperature.

As a general rule, water under 21°C will feel cold to most people who are not used to cold water. [source]

For the majority of outdoor swimmers, temperatures of around 13°C will feel cold, but this is only because they are used to dealing with such low temperatures.

According to the National Centre for Cold Water, temperatures of between 60-50F (15-10C) are considered, “Very Dangerous/Immediately Life-threatening”

Everyone is different, due to how exposed they have been to cold water in the past. Cold water shock can be just as extreme between 60-50F (15-10C) as at 35F (2.C) [source]

At what temperature you decide to wear, a wetsuit is up to you, but once you start getting below 60F (15 °C), you can start considering it.

As all public swimming pools will be warmer than this (unless they are outside and unheated), there is no need to wear a wetsuit in the pool to keep warm.

2. Preparing For Competition

It is not uncommon for competitive swimmers such as triathletes to swim laps in their competition wetsuit to ensure they are comfortable and to adjust to the feel of the suit.

This is rare to see in a public pool, however, as again, the water is generally too hot to wear a wetsuit and train in it. Plus, chlorine can damage your expensive wetsuit if you do not rinse it well.

Swimmers do sweat, and it is very easy to overheat in a wetsuit in warm water.

Other than triathletes, there are some other water sport athletes that do swim laps in their wetsuit but this is usually done as part of a controlled training routing and in colder water.

For example, some professional surfers will practice swimming in their wetsuits as they need to be 100% comfortable in their suits to swim to shore in strong currents if they need to.

3. Body Confidence & Modesty

Swimming is a body revealing sport and those who are very body-conscious or religious may wish to cover their skin with a wetsuit.

If you do not feel body confident in a swimsuit, there are many swimwear alternative options that are much better than a wetsuit, such as swim skins and full-body swimsuits.

At the end of this article, I have covered alternative clothing options to wetsuits if you are body conscious in the pool and want to cover up.

Personally, I am sure no one is looking or cares about how others look in my local pool as we are all too busy trying to swim, but I appreciate body issues can be difficult to overcome and you must do what you need to ensure you get in the pool happy and comfortable.

Can I Wear A Wetsuit In A Public Swimming Pool? (I asked)

In all my years of swimming, I have never seen anyone wear a wetsuit in any of the pools I have been to.

However, I wondered what the etiquette around this is and what is socially acceptable, so I asked three pools that I regularly swim at for their input.

To get a good general idea, I approached three different types of pools, all of which are heated.

Pool Type 1 – A 25m public pool run by the local council.

Pool Type 2 – A 25m public pool that is run by a well-known gym brand.

Pool Type 3 – A 20m, private health club pool run by a well-known health spa and gym brand.

Here are the replies:

Pool TypePool DescriptionIs The Pool Heated?Can I Wear A Wetsuit?Comments From The Pool
Type 1 – Public pool, council-run. (Local Government) 25m public pool run by the local council.YesNo ReplyNo reply yet. If I get this, I will update this table.
Type 2 – Public pool, privately run. (Well-known gym brand) 25m public pool that is run by a well-known gym brandYesNo“Wetsuits are not allowed to be worn in the pool due to Health and Safety”.
Type 3 – Private pool, members only. (Well-known gym and health club)20m, private health club pool run by a well-known health spa and gym brand.YesYes “Of course you can wear a wetsuit.”

This was an interesting exercise as there is nothing written in the pool rulebook about wearing wetsuits for any of these pools, but given that the pools are heated, (and they are all warm pools as I know from experience), it would be unsafe to train in your wetsuit in these pools as you could overheat.

The second pool type that I contacted which gave a firm “no”, said that wearing a wetsuit in their pool is against their Health & Safety rules.

Although they were not explicit on what part of the Health & Safety rules would be violated, we can assume that overheating is a fair judgement and could fall under the banner of a risk to Health & Safety.

It is interesting that the private, members-only pool allowed a wetsuit. From all these three pools, this pool is by far the hottest, so you would not last long in this pool in a full 3mm wetsuit before having to get out.

But since this pool is a private, members-only club and not a lifeguarded pool, you take full responsibility for your own safety when using their facilities. Whatever you do is at your own risk and since you pay a lot per month to attend this pool, they are far more relaxed.

In conclusion, it is not a good idea to turn up to your local pool in a wetsuit unless you check with your local pool first that wetsuits are allowed, and you have a very good reason to do so.

If the pool is heated, you must take extreme caution. If you train in a full wetsuit in a heated pool, you will risk overheating and fatigue. It is not recommended on the grounds of health & safety.

What Is The Best Type Of Wetsuit For Swimming?

If you have experience with wetsuits, you may have already figured out that not all wetsuits are made equal and vary dramatically with comfort, performance, and durability, depending on the type of wetsuit and brand.

The best type of wetsuit for swimming is one designed specifically for the activity of swimming, which will have additional flexibility around the shoulders and arms to allow a full range of motion as you swim. In addition, they may have core support buoyancy panels to improve your body position in the water.

Years ago, when I bought my first wetsuit for windsurfing, I was delighted to learn that wetsuits are usually designed for a specific water activity.

For example, windsurfing and swimming wetsuits will have a lot more flexibility around the shoulders and arms to allow you to move freely.

When buying a wetsuit for swimming, it is important to check that the suit is designed for swimming, otherwise, you may feel very restricted around your shoulders.

Personally, I am a big fan of the ORCA Openwater Core Wetsuit – Black Hi-Vis as they are very affordable, and are specifically designed for open water swimming.

This suit is also available in both men’s and women’s sizes.

If you are looking for an alternative to a wetsuit, have a look at this article, which covers, “Are There Alternatives To Wetsuits?”

Is It Easy To Swim In A Wetsuit?

Generally, it is easier to swim in a wetsuit, as you will be more buoyant and have a better body position due to the streamlined form of the wetsuit.

This can result in greater water confidence and speed, as you will find you can swim faster in a wetsuit.

Why Do Divers Wear Speedos?
Why Do Divers Wear Speedos?

At first, wetsuits can feel horrible in the water, as they can feel tight and restrictive. In addition, it might not feel natural to jump into the water with a full wetsuit on if you have only ever swum in a swimsuit.

However, once you get used to a wetsuit, you will miss it when you are not wearing it.

1. Cold Water

A wetsuit makes swimming in cold water easier.

When you wear a wetsuit, water will absorb into the neoprene material and a thin layer of water will be trapped against your skin.

As you exercise, this layer of trapped water will be heated by your body temperature and will keep you warm and cosy.

In colder water, particularly in temperatures below 15°C, it can be very uncomfortable to swim without a wetsuit.

Wearing a wetsuit makes swimming in colder water easier, as you will be more relaxed and can spend longer in the water.

How well your wetsuit will keep you warm at lower temperatures will depend on the material thickness of the wetsuit.

2. Buoyancy

Wetsuits are typically made from a neoprene material or a neoprene blend.

Neoprene is naturally buoyant, which will help you float more easily in the water.

This makes swimming with a wetsuit easier, as you will float with less effort, have a higher leg position in the water and an overall better body position in the water.

The result is that you will generally swim faster due to the benefits of this improved body position.

3. Better Performance

The added buoyance and natural streamlined form of a wetsuit will improve your overall performance while swimming.

The extra buoyancy will mean less drag and your body will be much higher in the water. In addition, you may find it easier to roll your hips, resulting in a much faster swim speed.

These combinations will result in a more efficient swim stroke and improved overall performance.

Do You Swim Faster With A Wetsuit?

Typically, you will swim faster when wearing a wetsuit.

As mentioned, the streamlined body form of the wetsuit and extra buoyancy come together to create a more efficient natural body position.

You may find yourself gliding through the water effortlessly due to reduced drag.

How Tight Should A Wetsuit Be For Swimming?

It is essential to get a good wetsuit fit to ensure optimum performance from both you and your wetsuit.

As a general rule, your wetsuit should have a snug fit against your entire body. There should be no gaps, bagginess or gathered material, which indicates that the wetsuit is too large. In addition, there should be very few wrinkles. The wetsuit should look and feel like a second skin.

Usually, I get super excited about buying new swim gear, but buying a wetsuit can be a tricky and tiresome process.

You need your wetsuit to be tight, as it will only get looser in the water as it stretches, however you do not want it to be so tight that you cut off circulation, find it too difficult to change into or have it chaff and pull at your neck.

Personally, I always struggle with getting a wetsuit that does not pull at my neck and this is a very common problem for a lot of swimmers.

If your wetsuit is too loose, however, it will not keep you warm.

A happy medium is a tight and snug fit against your entire body. It will get looser in the water.

What Thickness Wetsuit Is Best For Pool Swimming?

Wetsuits come in many different thicknesses.

For colder water, you will need to get a thicker wetsuit.

For example, when we refer to a “3mm wetsuit”, we are assuming that the majority of the wetsuit material is made from a neoprene material that is 3mm thick.

Assuming that the pool you are swimming in is not heated, then a wetsuit of between 3mm to 5mm is sufficient, with 2mm material thickness in places on the suit to allow greater freedom of movement.

Final Thoughts

Wetsuits may not be the most comfortable piece of swimwear, but they do play an important role in keeping us warm in the water.

Wearing a wetsuit in a pool to swim laps is perfectly acceptable in a cold pool.

In a heated pool, wearing a wetsuit is not recommended as you will get very warm, very quickly and must take care to remain hydrated.

Although it is important to train in your wetsuit if you are planning on swimming in a competition such as a triathlon or long distance to ensure you will be comfortable in your wetsuit, you should train in the water temperature that the wetsuit was designed for.

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Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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