Wetsuits were invented to keep you warm – but they have another positive side effect: they make you faster, too. The buoyancy provided by the suit keeps you in a better swimming position – especially if the swim is your weak spot – and helps save your legs for battle in the cycling and running stages.
Swimmers with competition experience often worry the wetsuit will hinder their range of motion – but that’s a mistake. Tests with and without wetsuits have shown a time saving of five to ten seconds per hundred meters, with wetsuit. Simply put, a full-sleeve suit will help any swimmer go faster.
Like with any athletic gear, fit is important. A suit that’s too big is uncomfortable, slow and cold. Too small and it restricts movement and circulation, making your muscles work harder than they need to. But remember – it’s easier to choose a suit that is too big than one that is too small. Try before you buy, and, if you can, get a swim in. Some triathlon shops have a pool on site, and some teams have events where various suits can be tested.
High-quality wetsuits made specifically for triathlon or long-distance swimming are optimized for buoyancy, fit and range of motion, with different materials in different parts of the suit. A thinner, high-stretch material in arms, shoulders and underarms improves flexibility, while a thicker material in the torso and legs optimizes the swim position.
Top tip? Place your foot in a plastic bag before putting on; it will slide through easily without the risk of tearing the suit.
When choosing tri-ready rubber, don’t forget the transition (T1) after the swim. A zipper for quick and easy removal can shave valuable seconds (or more, if you’re clumsy) off your time! Many athletes also opt to cut a few cm off at the cuffs and ankles to make them easier to remove.
The last thing to remember about wetsuits for triathlons? You can’t always use them. In warm waters, many races don’t allow them (a definite plus for those who are strong swimmers). In the Ironman races, the temperature limit for wearing a suit is 24.5 degrees Celsius (76.1 degrees Fahrenheit) – but generally, temperature limits for wearing wetsuit differ based on the distance and race. So the biggest tip about suits? Make sure they’re allowed before you cross the start line!
Read also Conrad Stoltz’s open water swimming tips