A buyer’s guide – what you need to know when you buy a triathlon suit

Buy a Tri Suit
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16th November 2021

Triathlon suits come in a range of colours and designs. There are various styles of tri-suits available two piece, sleeved, non-sleeved, with zips, and no zips tri-suits. So how do you decide what tri-suit is for you? At the end of the day, it depends on personal preferences and what you feel most comfortable wearing, but it is a it is a critical piece of your race kit.

The triathlon suit will be the only piece of gear that will stay with you from the start line to the finishing line, so it’s well worth spending time to research and choose the right suit suitable for your distance.

What is a Tri-Suit?

A tri-suit is made from thin and breathable material, and it should be close-fitting but not restrictive, as flexibility through the arms and shoulders are very important for the swim leg. The bottom half is similar to a cycling short, with the leg length being similar to cycling shorts, but has a specific triathlon cycling pad, which will not chaff during the swim and run disciplines Most tri-suits come with leg grippers to prevent the legs of the tri-suit from sliding up and bunching. Storage pockets are usually positioned for easy access and to reduce drag on the swim and bike disciplines. The design of a tri-suit needs to strike a balance between comfort, performance and practicality, while design factors that might make you faster in the swim are compromised because they would negatively impact on your run and/or cycling performance. However, a good tri-suit made from hydrodynamic material will provide benefits such as reduced passive drag (resistance that exists when a swimmer does not move) and friction drag (drag caused by the friction of water against the surface of a swimmer in motion). Wearing a one-piece tri-suit usually offers a more streamline fit. The closer the fit of the tri-suit more aero/ hydrodynamic the suit will be on the swim and bike disciplines.

Sleeved and Non-Sleeved Tri-Suits

The concept of sleeved tri-suits has only been around the last decade. The introduction of sleeved suits came about due to one main concern “skin cancer”. Unsurprisingly shoulders are one of the number one places for sunburn, so by covering this area with a sleeve, using a fabric with UV50+ rating you are helping yourself.

Many athletes will prefer that the suit stops at the armpits because they feel they will benefit more from the freedom of movement at the shoulders this allows for their swim stroke. One issue some people find with sleeveless models, is that the seams around the shoulders and armpits can cause chafing. You can also increase your comfort with the cut of the tri-suit you choose, and/or use of a lubricant such as Body Glide.

In hot conditions, having the arms and armpits uncovered allows the body to cool easily on the run and bike leg. Some athletes, especially in longer events, may feel that the benefit this provides outweighs the additional reduction in drag sleeves may provide to a rider who sits in a more aero position. As mentioned, wearing a sleeved tri-suit on the bike can help reduce drag.

Tri suits are available in one or two-piece. Much of the above discussion equally applies to whether you choose a one piece or two-piece tri-suit. Sleeved and non-sleeved tops are both available from tri-suit manufactures.

One-piece tri-suits have clear advantages for shorter-course racing, while two-piece suits have advantages for longer triathlons. Separate tops and shorts are more practical in general for training, while one-piece suits are usually saved for racing and transition training.

One Piece Tri-Suit

  • More streamlined fit, which is more aero/hydrodynamic
  • Contains fewer seams, so less chafing
  • The top can’t ride up and will move around a lot less.
  • Hold the shorts in the correct position.
  • Better sun protection – gaps between top and shorts may require sunscreen when wearing a two-piece.

Two Piece Tri-Suit

  • More flexibility in finding a comfortable fit/size – i.e., size 12 top, but size 14 pants, or if particularly tall, which makes a one-piece tri suit uncomfortable due to your body length
  • Two-piece suits are more versatile – you’re more likely to use the shorts and/or top during training.
  • Easier for toilet stops during the race. This mostly applies to long distance triathlons, where toilet stops can’t be avoided.
  • A two-piece can feel less restrictive for some people.

A tri-suit has been designed to be used in each discipline of triathlon (swimming, cycling, running). The tri-suit, can be a single or two pieces, to wear throughout a triathlon competition. When choosing a tri suit, there are a few basic things to keep in mind which dictate your choice and how it will perform in competition.

Swim

In the swim discipline, you are trying to move through the water quickly but with the minimum amount of effort. To move fast through the water, you need to reduce your drag in the water and obtain a “streamlined body position”. This will allow the water to “flow” around you more smoothly. The tri-suit is designed to help you achieve and maintain this position.

Your tri suit should be a good fit, erring on the tighter side rather than being loose. A tri-suit which is poorly fitting, results in folds and ripples in the fabric which will increase your resistance as you are swimming, thus affecting your speed. A well-designed tri-suit helps you achieve this body position due to the hydrophobic (water-repellent) coating applied to the fabric. The coating significantly reduces the ability of the fabric to absorb water, and therefore helps you maintain ideal body position. The water instead rolls off the suit.

Bike

As we finish the swim, we come out of the water and head off to the transition area (T2), preparing ourselves for the bike stage. This is where a quick drying suit with a comfortable chamois is essential.

As previously mentioned on the swim section, the hydrophobic coating on a tri-suit promotes a wicking action, which moves moisture away from the skin and allows it to evaporate. Since the hydrophobic coating fabric doesn’t absorb as much water, it helps the fabric to dry faster once out of the water.

Depending on which distance you are covering (i.e., Sprint, Olympic, Ironman) the tri-suit is designed with a suitable chamois.  A normal road cycling chamois is too big and isn’t designed for use in water and running. Tri-suits all use a tri specific chamois to suit the distance being ridden.  Tri specific chamois have been designed to provide cushioning on the saddle, from fabrics which dry's quickly (after the swim) and are un-noticeable on the run. Depending on the distance you are covering, you may want to put some gel bars in your tri-suit pockets. Are the pockets safely accessible while riding on your bike, without the need to stop?

Run

As with any type of clothing you wear, there is always a chance of experiencing chaffing tri-suits are no different. What is chaffing and what causes it?

Chafing is damage to the skin caused by repetitive rubbing. A chafed area is basically a painful, bleeding scratch mark where your sweaty, salty skin has rubbed against your tri-suit or even against itself. The chafed area will be red, raw, and tender. When you sweat, the moist skin is more prone to damage. Salt crystals form when sweat evaporates, adding grit that can cause more friction and chafing. Hot weather is a high-risk time for chafing due to sweating.

How do you resolve the issue of chaffing?  The fit of a tri-suit is important, if the suit is too loose or too tight a fit on your body, then this suit could possibly irritate your skin. To reduce chaffing ensure your suits' sewn seams are flat-locked. Flat-lock seams are made by placing two pieces of fabric side-by-side and sewing the raw edges directly together – resulting in almost no bulk.

One of the fundamental features of high-quality sportswear is being made of breathable fabric. Breathability allows a fabric to absorb moisture and boost its natural evaporation ensuring freshness, protection and comfort during exercise and race conditions.

If you need more advice then contact us or if you are ready to buy then take a look at our range of Tenola tri-suits >

 

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