The best advice on why you should wear a wetsuit for triathlons is that the right suit will make you move faster through the water while expending less energy. It sounds a no-brainer! However, you need to choose the right wetsuit or it may impede rather than improve your performance.
You also need to know the rules; wearing a wetsuit is not allowed under some competition conditions. USAT (USA Triathlon) guidelines allow anyone to wear a suit when water temperatures are below 78 degrees Fahrenheit. You can still wear a wetsuit in water temperatures above 78 degrees, up to 84 degrees Fahrenheit – but however well you do, you will not be eligible for an award.
Triathlon Wetsuits usually fall into one of three categories,
- A Full Wetsuit suitable for wearing in cooler water temperatures
- A Farmer John (or Farmer Jane for the female version) which is sleeveless and can also have either long or short legs
- A Shorty Wetsuit with short arms and legs, suitable for the higher water temperatures
The general agreement in Triathlon circles is that full suits create less drag in the water but the sleeveless types are easier to take off in a hurry. However, choosing a two-piece full suit can pay dividends as once the bottom half is off, you can practice taking the top half while running for your bike!
How To Choose A Triathlon Wetsuit
There are three types of swimmers commonly found in any Triathlon event.
- Male athletes in particular, unless they have a strong background in swimming tend to swim with their legs carried low in the water. Because this causes so much drag, it can adversely affect their performance. While training can help to correct and improve their technique, a wetsuit with higher buoyancy around the lower body and legs and lower buoyancy around the upper body and arms will help to correct their position in the water. A suit with 3mm panels on the lower body and 1.5mm to 2mm thickness in the upper body and arms is the most common choice. Some estimates place the gain achieved just by wearing the correct suit could be as much as five minutes/1,000 meters swum!
- For experienced swimmers with a strong leg kick, suits with higher buoyancy and thicker panels in the lower body and legs will put them at a disadvantage. Legs will be too high in the water for the kick stroke to be as effective as it could be. A suit with the same, all-over level of buoyancy is most suitable for this category of athlete and a 3mm suit is probably the best choice all-around.
- Very experienced swimmers with a good body position in the water and those who are naturally buoyant will need a thin suit. Many women fall into this higher buoyancy category, simply because of their different body shape and distribution of body fat. A 3mm neutral buoyancy suit is probably the best choice for this group too as otherwise, they will be traveling too high in the water which leads to instability and less effective strokes.
Having chosen the appropriate type of wetsuit for triathlons you will be competing in, you need to consider the fit. It needs to be comfortable, fit snugly but not so tight that it constricts your movements, particularly around the shoulders and does not make you feel you are being strangled when you move in it. Good seals around the wrists, ankles, and neck will prevent excess water coming into the suit and slowing you down as well as chilling you down. It also needs to be easy to take off; good zippers are vital or you could lose precious time in the changeover.