Triathlon Wetsuits

The wearing of a wetsuit in the swim leg of a triathlon has a number of advantages: improved buoyancy, warmth, and reduced drag which adds up to mean you'll feel less fatigued than without wearing a wetsuit.
Created: February 2011
Revised: November 2012
Latest Feedback: November 2012

Triathlon Australia Wetsuit Ruling

Because the wearing of a wetsuit in the swim leg of a triathlon has a number of distinct advantages, there are certain conditions under which you may not be able to wear one in a race. Wetsuit ruling determination is based on water temperature. In Australia, the Triathlon Australia Handbook lists a table of upper and lower temperature limits for the use of wetsuits and the maximum time a competitor is allowed to remain in the water for the varying swim distances of events. For most* triathlons the wearing of wetsuits is mandatory for water temps below 14° C and forbidden above 24° C, however the race director will make a provisional ruling the day before an event and will confirm the ruling at the race briefing after a final temperature reading.

*For further information the TA Policy Document contains tables of wetsuit use determination. [http://www.triathlon.org.au]

Choosing a Wetsuit

The main difference between a wetsuit purpose-designed for swimming, compared to a wetsuit for other water sports such as diving, surfing or waterskiing is in the construction of the material, the buoyancy of the panels and the overall cut.

Wetsuits used for water sports where you might spend a lot of time in the water are typically designed to provide warmth as the main feature, so these styles of wetsuits are designed to use the body's natural heat to warm the water trapped in the neoprene and hold it close to the skin. Consumers select their wetsuit based on water temperature and time in water, so a scuba diver in Australia typically wears a 7mm neoprene suit, whereas a surfer might wear a 5mm suit.

A wetsuit designed for swimming does not work on the same principle of trapping body heat in the neoprene, in fact they are usually constructed with a blend of neoprene/rubber with a slick "hydrophobic" exterior coating. This coating is designed to repel water which allows you to glide through the water. The cut of the panels in a swim suit are different thicknesses of material - this aids with fitting the different parts of your body but also provides varying levels of buoyancy in the suit. Most entry-level triathlon wetsuits use 3mm material around the legs, to lift the legs and reduce drag, and 2mm for the chest and arm areas to allow ease of movement and comfort.

The choice of long john (full arms, long legs) versus the sleeveless (no arms, long legs) is a decision that requires consideration of your susceptability to cold, your requirement for extra buoyancy and warmth, and finally cost. Due to the extra materials used in the long john, they are typically more expensive than a sleeveless design - no matter which brand you choose.

Most wetsuit companies sell an entry-level, middle, and high-end wetsuit in each of the long john and sleeveless styles. If you choose a high-end wetsuit you should expect the highest quality seams, highest quality rubber and the use of advanced technical features/materials to target specialised needs, such as extra leg buoyancy or hydrodynamics - and the price tag will reflect this! For swimmers with heavy legs, the high-end suits may make a significant difference to their swimming performance, however for the swimmer with good form, they may find an entry-level suit is perfectly adequate. But, the most important feature of all is fit.

The correct fit for a triathlon wetsuit is one that is snug all over your body with no folds or excess air gaps - for women this is particuarly important and often the choice of one brand over another so try them all on before you decide!

Once you've seen a triathlete with chaffing around the neck, you'll appreciate how important the fit must be around the neck area. You want it tight but not so that you feel choked. Look for softness of rubber in the neckline and perhaps a lower cut to achieve the best comfort.

You should expect professional fit advice when you try on a triathlon wetsuit. They should explain how to put it on (taking care not to tear the rubber with your nails, and provide plastic bags to put on your feet to help glide it on). You should only hold the suit from the inside where the fabric has a fluffier texture and is stronger than the outer surface as you pull it up. First, get both feet in. Then pull up the legs one at a time until the crotch is firm - this is the crucial part of getting the right fit. Only then do you pull up the chest and arms (if any). Arms should slip in easily but be snug without gaps, and then finally do up the zipper (this may require some practise). Now it's time to give it a test. You should try to lie down on a bench on your front and assume the position of freestyle swimming to test the stretch of fabric around your arms and neckline.

One of the great things about going to triathlon events is the expo area where sponsors will bring a selection of their range for you to browse or buy. These sponsors are keen to get you into their products and will often let you "borrow" a wetsuit and take it for a test swim in the waters at the event. This is by far, the most ideal way to know for sure which wetsuit is right for you so if the opportunity comes up, take it!

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Triathlon Wetsuits, Choosing A Triathlon Wetsuit, Sleeveless Vs Long John, Triathlon Wetsuit Ruling

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