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.
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 event.
A tri-suit is made from thin and breatheable 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 chaf 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-suits need 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 5 years. 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.