Zone 3 Align Wetsuit Review

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Assessing kit – be it a bike, trainers or wetsuit can be a tricky business. With so many variables to skew objective opinion.

With my swimming though, I actually have a very helpful barometer of my performance and that is my wife Claire. She can knock out 100m, at a pre-defined pace… to the second… on demand.

Pretty annoying actually 😉

What’s more our swim speed is, to all intents and purposes, identical.

We train together in the pool most days, we have the same coach and you’d struggle to separate us over any distance.

In any pool based tri there will rarely be more than a few seconds between us. And when it’s warm enough to swim in open water without a wetsuit – you could throw a virtual blanket over us for 1500m!

 

Each year we have a personal swim competition to see who wins the most swims in our triathlon races throughout the season.

Trouble is, put us both in wetsuits and Claire will typically pull out 1-2 minutes over 1500m and even more over an Ironman swim – again pretty annoying 😉

The score this year is 5 wins to Claire and only 1 to me. My 1 win came from a pool based 400m swim, where Claire slipped en route to T1!

Claire swims in the awesome Zone 3 Victory D – It’s clearly a brilliant, and technically advanced suit, that works wonders for her speed in the open water.

But, and here’s the rub…. I use the same suit.

So what gives?

Well, every swimmer is different. We have different body proportions, we float differently and we rely on different aspects of our stoke for propulsion.

Many wetsuit manufacturers (Zone 3 included) talk about buoyancy. It’s a very important consideration for anybody buying a wetsuit. Buoyancy is generally a good thing. But, like many good things, you can have too much. Buoyancy must be tuned to the individual swimmer and it need not be the “be all and end all” of open water swimming.

If you are a natural “floater” or use a 6 beat kick to support your stroke, then an overly buoyant suit could actually be doing you more harm than good.

Think of a swimmer with a naturally high position in the water, who uses a strong kick to aid propulsion. Put them in a very buoyant suit with thick neoprene on the legs and this natural position becomes disrupted. Legs and shoulders might become elevated, hips stay low, leading to an unstable “inverted banana” shape in the water. Further more, those legs that were used for propulsion are now just thrashing around on the surface of the water doing little but increasing drag.

A particular suit may work for somebody – but it won’t work for everybody. It’s rarely a simple question of finding the most expensive suit out there. It is for this reason that, toward the end of the season, I decided to test the brand new Zone 3 Align Wetsuit.

The Align is a “neutral buoyancy” suit and it’s marketing blurb reads like it had been designed specifically for me.

James from Zone 3 had one sent out to me to test and the next day I was in the water with my “barometer” Claire.

First impressions of the suit were that it boasted the same high quality construction as my Victory D, a suit costing twice as much. It’s an honest suit without the fancy tech of many suits now on the market. I was also pleased to see a good old fashioned “pull-up” zip – something I actually prefer as it means I don’t need assistance to get myself zipped up.

Once on, the suit felt like a second skin. Not a wrinkle or air pocket to found. Using thinner neoprene throughout, I instantly felt as though I was wearing “less suit”. It’s a very liberating sensation, compared to 5mm suits which, to me, can feel a little cumbersome on dry land.

Once in the water the reduced buoyancy was instantly apparent. I required a gentle “treading water” leg action to remain upright, where the Victory D would have me bobbing up and down like a cork.

Once swimming – I instantly felt at ease. The suit felt non-restrictive and I could actually feel my legs doing some good. I felt balanced and in control. In fact, I felt like I feel when I swim without a wetsuit.

As I turned to breathe I could see Claire to my side. And there she stayed for the duration of the swim. My pull felt more powerful and my legs more propulsive. The suit was very clearly working for me.

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Something else I’ve found with thicker suits, is overheating. 5mm neoprene can be very welcome in those 12 degree early season survival tests, but come the summer (or overseas races), as temperatures approach the wetsuit cut-off, I can find them a little stifling – particularity over 1500m, where the effort level is quite high.

The Align will no doubt lack the warmth of a thicker suit in very cold waters, but will be far more comfortable once water temperature gets up to more normal levels.

The lake was 17 degrees when I tested the suit and it felt spot on.

So although the test was brief – it was enough to convince me that the Align was a suit particularly well suited to my physical proportions and swimming style. Just as the Victory D is clearly very well suited to Claire.

My first serious outing in the Align was at Ironman Tenby. The sea conditions were interesting to say the least with a strong tide, plenty of chop and a very heavy swell. Most swimmers suffered to the tune of 5 -10 minutes. With some strong swimmers capable of sub 55 minutes exiting the sea well over the hour.

I was a mere 1 minute 30 seconds down on my time from last year, when we had very favourable conditions – More importantly I took a minute or so out of my barometer Claire! I tried to suggest that Ironman races should be worth more points – but she wasn’t having it! So end of season tally would stand at 5 wins to Claire 2 to me!

It’s fair to say, we both love our Zone 3 suits – They set us up perfectly for a great days racing in Tenby, where we both went on to claim qualifying spots for Kona 2015.

The Zone 3 Align won’t suit everyone, but if like me you are a “floater”, with a strong leg kick and are after great value, well made suit, which preserves your body position, I highly recommend giving the Zone 3 Align some consideration. It’s an absolute performance bargain.

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