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Open Access Research article

Swimming performances in long distance open-water events with and without wetsuit

Sebastian Ulsamer1, Christoph Alexander Rüst1, Thomas Rosemann1, Romuald Lepers2 and Beat Knechtle3*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of General Practice and for Health Services Research, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

2 INSERM U1093, Faculty of Sport Sciences, University of Burgundy, Dijon, France

3 Facharzt FMH für Allgemeinmedizin, Vadianstrasse 26, Gesundheitszentrum St. Gallen, St. Gallen, Switzerland

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BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 2014, 6:20  doi:10.1186/2052-1847-6-20

Published: 21 May 2014



Existing literature showed improved swimming performances for swimmers wearing wetsuits competing under standardized conditions in races held in pools on short to middle distances. Data about the influence of wetsuits on swimming performances in long and ultra-long open-water swimming races are missing. It is unknown whether the benefit of wearing wetsuits is comparable in men and women. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of wearing a wetsuit on open-water swimming performances at the 26.4 km ‘Marathon Swim in Lake Zurich’ in Lake Zurich, Switzerland, and the 3.8 km Lake Ontario Swim Team-Race (LOST-Race) in Lake Ontario, Canada.


Race times of the fastest female and male swimmers competing with and without wetsuit were compared using multi-level regression analyses and analysis of variance.


In the ‘Marathon Swim’ in Lake Zurich, wearing a wetsuit had no effect on race time regarding the gender where athletes wearing a wetsuit were not faster than athletes without wetsuit. However, the ten fastest men wearing a wetsuit (410.6 ± 26.7 min) were faster (32.7%, p < 0.01) than the ten fastest women without wetsuit (544.9 ± 81.3 min). In the ‘LOST-Race’, the top ten men wearing a wetsuit (51.7 ± 2.5 min) were faster (13.2%, p < 0.01) than the top ten women wearing a wetsuit (58.5 ± 3.2 min). Additionally, the top ten men without wetsuit (52.1 ± 2.4 min) were faster (19.6%, p < 0.01) than the top ten women without wetsuit (62.3 ± 2.5 min). The top ten women wearing a wetsuit (58.5 ± 3.2 min) were faster (6.5%, p < 0.01) than top ten women without a wetsuit (62.3 ± 25 min).


These results suggest that wearing a wetsuit had a positive influence on swimming speed for both women and men but the benefit of the use of wetsuits seemed to depend on additional factors (i.e. race distance). Women seemed to benefit more from wearing wetsuits than men in longer open-water ultra-distance swimming races.

Ultra-endurance; Swimming; Ironman; Neoprene suit; Swim performance