Using a wetsuit during the swimming portion of a triathlon can increase your speed, conserve energy, and help keep you warm. A triathlon wetsuit will be a significant investment, so you will want to equip yourself with the right information before you begin shopping.
Wetsuits are made of a neoprene-rubber blend and coated with a slick material that repeals water. These materials help reduce a swimmers surface drag, thus allowing them to move quickly in the water. They also provide buoyancy which helps lift a swimmers body, allowing them to become more hydrodynamic and expend less energy.
Typically material will be thinner in the shoulders and arms for greater mobility. The material will be thicker in the chest and leg areas. When shopping for a wetsuit, you can also ask about the inner lining. Stretch describes the inner lining material and the amount of times stretchier it is than the standard wetsuit neoprene. Wetsuit inner lining has 2 way, 4 way, and 6 way stretch.
USAT and Ironman regulations exist for using wetsuits. If water is going to be 78 degrees F and lower, participants must wear a wetsuit. If water is going to be warmer than 85 degrees F, participants cannot wear a wetsuit. There are also limits to material thickness of the wetsuit. The thickness should not exceed 5mm for the chest area and 3mm for the arm area.
When choosing a triathlon wetsuit, there are four main styles. A full cut will give you coverage from head to toe. A sleeveless style does not have material over your shoulders. The short cut will be sleeveless and have shorts instead of a full leg. The bibjohn looks similar to overalls, and then you can choose a long or short sleeved pullover. When considering style, you will want to think about the area you will do the most racing. Wetsuits provide warmth and the style with the most coverage will be your best bet for cold waters.
The fit of your triathlon wetsuit makes a huge difference in your performance. You will want to try on many wetsuits because each brand can fit a little differently.
You will want to know your chest, height, weight, and body type to get started.
A proper fit is critical. Your wetsuit should feel like a ‘second skin.’ The fit should be tight, but not so restrictive that swimming is difficult. The fit between the crotch to the shoulders will be the most important, and should be very snug. You will want the wetsuit to feel comfortable around the neck, so you can maintain mobility. The wrist and the ankles should also seal well around your skin so water does not get in. Any baggy spots on your wetsuit will allow water to pool up. Any looseness or gaps will make chafing a greater possibility. Also, neoprene loosens with wear and relaxes somewhat in water.
Another aspect to consider when choosing a wetsuit is the ease of use. You will be exiting the water and the going to transition one of the triathlon. You will want to pick a wetsuit that you are comfortable removing quickly for the swim to bike transition.
Leading Entry-Level Wetsuits
Triathlon wetsuits will range in price from $200 to $700usd. Generally higher quality neoprene will result in a higher price. The Yamamoto line of neoprene is the most commonly used in wetsuits, the neoprene is measured as 38, 39, and 40. The 40 will be the most flexible.
The following are the top entry-level brands of triathlon wetsuits:
Xterra Volt (can run as low as $99usd)
Ocra S4 (around $189usd)
DeSoto T1 Expresso (around $229usd)
Blue Seventy Reaction (around $200usd)
Other popular triathlon wetsuits brands are: Zoot, 2XU, Profile Design, Synergy, and Promotion.