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How to choose a triathlon wetsuit

Intro

Sooner or later, you will need a wetsuit for a triathlon race, while most races in SEA aren’t wetsuit legal, it is the norm for most events in Europe, North/East Asia, Australia and North America. After the bike you ride, it is the second most important equipment that will have a massive impact on how you perform.

According to the rules of the  International Triathlon Union (ITU), a wetsuit (made out of neoprene), is allowed for amateur triathletes when the water temperature is below 22 ° C in races with up to 1,500m swim, below 23ªC in races up to 3,000m swim, and below 24ºC in races of over swimming 3,000m. For temperatures below 15 ° C, the wetsuit is mandatory. Some races, may allow the use of wetsuits by amateur athletes, regardless of water temperature for safety reasons.

The absolute majority of triathletes uses the wetsuit when allowed. This is because it increases the buoyancy of the athlete, resulting in a faster swim. For many beginners, however, the wetsuit can result in a very uncomfortable situation and make some athletes panic in the water, this can be easily avoided by having a correct fit and some practice with the suit.

Basically, there are three factors used to choosing a wetsuit: height, weight and gender. The wetsuits, in general, have a great sizing system, taking into account the height and weight. For example, if you are a tall athlete, but thin, it’s likely the recommendation will be to buy a model Small-Tall, the other option would be Medium-Tall models. The important thing is to try the wetsuits before buying and most brands offers a free-of-charge change of the suit if the size doesn’t fit you, if that isn’t the case with the brand you prefer, try to borrow a wetsuit and and see how it fits you.

 

 

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The wetsuit should keep you warm, which means the fit has to be tight enough. Loose wetsuits allow plenty of water inside, which will cool you. The extremities such as wrists, ankles and neck, must be also be tight but loosen enough to keep you comfortable. The standard is to have a wetsuit that will stick to your body, but leaving you with with full mobility of arms and legs. Remember not to choose a wetsuit that leave an “air pocket” in the armpits and groin (in some cases it is just a matter of correct fit).

The newer versions have thinner layers in the armpits, shoulders and arms, areas where you need more flexibility. The shoulders are especially sensitive and the area that will make you more uncomfortable if you choose a wrong wetsuit. The most sophisticated models offers a different fabric in the forearm that promises to increase water grip improving your swim pull phase.

Also, note how the zipper closes. The best zippers are inverse, they will open from bottom to top, that will prevent it from being pulled during the race if you get stuck in a heavy traffic situation (around a buoy for example).

 

Most triathletes uses the wetsuit when allowed, it will help your buoyancy and make you swim faster

Another critical area is around the neck. Low quality wetsuits can create chafing even when using lubricants. Check the quality of the seams in this area, the more stitching, more friction and a greater probability of chafing. However, be sure that the neck is tight enough to prevent water coming in as you do not want to carry the extra weight and feel uncomfortable from the cold. Normally, it will feel little too tight, but you will get used to it.

One of the struggles that a triathlete deal with is removing the wetsuit in a race. What many do not realize is that this is related to the choice of an appropriate wetsuit. The newer models have different panels with different thickness all over the suit, like a thicker panel around the legs to aid buoyancy  and a thinner pannel near the heel, to facilitate taking the suit off. Make sure the zipper has some sort of string attached to it so you don’t need help to unzip.

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Women should use gender specific models that will fit better considering a different format around the chest and hip area.

Sleeves or Sleeveless wetsuits?

Sleeveless wetsuits are slower due to less buoyancy, less hydrodynamic and won’t offer forearm protection to the cold.

You will feel a lot cooler in a sleeveless suit, not only as your arms are exposed, but the cut around your shoulders will also allow more water to enter the suit.

The advantage, however is that your arms and shoulders will move freely and they are also faster to remove in transition.

 

Generally, it only makes sense to use a sleeveless wetsuit for races in warmer waters that allow the use of wetsuit (many of these in Asia!).

 

Finals considerations

Finally, costumer service and warranty shoudl have a big impact on your purchasing decision, as tears and cuts are very normal so an after-sales service is important to deal with these issues.

A proper wetsuit will make you warmer, while keeping the cold water out; you will float more, increasing your speed in the water and saving you energy for the other disciplines in Triathlon, it will also allow you to use a much wider range of tritops and trisuits, since the water drag of these will be irrelevant. Choose wisely.

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