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Why would you buy a Triathlon Wetsuit for Triathlons

Posted by Ian Nolan on 7 January 2019 | Comments

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Why buy a Triathlon Wetsuit

You are looking for a good wetsuit for triathlon, why buy a triathlon wetsuit specific for triathlon when you can buy one from a local sailing centre?

Firstly, do not buy a surfing or windsurfer wetsuit for triathlon. They are not manufactured in the same way, do not have the same properties and will not provide the benefits you require in triathlon.

A surfer or windsurfer suit may keep you warm, and buoyant in the water, but they’re not made for swimming. How often do you see surfers and windsurfer using their arms in a swimming motion (i.e. front crawl) to move through the water? Surfer and windsurfer wetsuits have different form, fit and function design criteria to meet. Yes you can swim in a surfer or windsurfer wetsuit but you will possibly find your stroke to be restrictive, leading to early fatigue of the arms, an inefficient stroke and even injury.

Why you should buy a triathlon wetsuit if competing in open water triathlons:

  • Warmth: Wetsuits function by trapping a small amount of water between the suit and your body. The technology used when making the neoprene fabric of the wetsuit (air pockets, special high-tech linings, etc.) helps the water to quickly heat up, allowing you to swim in colder water longer than you could comfortably otherwise.
  • Buoyancy: Wetsuits are buoyant. This is great both for safety and swimming form. Wetsuits are also designed to keep you high in the water in the right places, assisting with swimming form issues such as dragging legs or too little rotation.
  • Efficiency: Triathlon wetsuits have hydrodynamic properties which aids swimming form, i.e. save you energy in the water.
  • Speed: Most triathlon wetsuits are made with a hydrophobic outer coating. This helps you to move through the water more quickly and combined with higher body positioning in the water.
  • Rules: In water temperatures under 14C, wetsuits are mandatory. As the races get longer, the temperatures at which wetsuits are required are even higher.

Triathlon wetsuits are very different to those used in surfing and other water sports. Wetsuits designed for swimming have buoyancy in key areas and most importantly, flexibility in the shoulders, arms and back. This is vital as it will allow your arms to move freely through the swim stroke and not fatigue your muscles. This freedom of movement and flexibility is created by design and the use of specific higher grade materials, neoprene and linings for two, are a major factor in this. The higher grade material is one of the main differences between an entry level wetsuit and more expensive options.

On the more expensive suits, the materials used throughout will be of a higher quality, often extremely flexible. Entry level suits will use cheaper types of neoprene in non-essential areas and will often feel stiffer.

The differences really stand out when handling the suits and obviously when swimming in them. A more expensive suit will generally feel better and more flexible, resulting in a faster swim. The thicker the fabric in millimetres, the more buoyancy is provided, but also is less flexible. Maximum thickness allowed for triathlon wetsuit is 5mm, so most manufacturers will use this in the body, where buoyancy is most important. Other areas including back, shoulders and arms will typically range from 1.5 – 3 mm, allowing for maximum flexibility. The most expensive suits today have material thickness of 0.5mm giving ultimate flexibility where it’s most advantageous.

One of the most important things when looking at a triathlon wetsuit is its fit. Wetsuits must be well fitted, as tight as possible before feeling restrictive, shoulder rotation is the single most important aspect of body and wetsuit movement.

What to expect from beginner/ intermediate wetsuits:

Close-fitting neck to minimise drag and to reduce water entry (if to much water is allowed to enter the suit then you are carrying 5-10lbs of extra weight affecting your body position in the water with less efficient swimming, speed), flexibility around the shoulders (less restrictive swimming technique), and thicker neoprene around the hips for better buoyancy (improves your body positioning in the water).

What to expect from advanced wetsuits:

Extra panels to improve swim efficiency, thinner neoprene for increased flexibility,  contouring for a sleeker fit.

About the Author: Ian Nolan

Tenola founder and CEO Ian Nolan has a lifelong love of all things active and has competed in a variety of sports over the years involving mud, sweat and tears – the latter following various serious sporting injuries! But it was the challenge of the dual or tri-disciplines of Triathlon, testing not only fitness but endurance and skill that truly captivated him and led to an ongoing passion for the sport.  Read More >