When to Wear a Wetsuit
Sometimes because of colder water temperatures, a tri suit is not enough and triathletes will opt to add a wetsuit to wear during the swim. Wearing a wetsuit has many advantages and a few disadvantages, so what are they? When are they helpful or even required? Should I go for a two-piece or one-piece? We created this wetsuit guide to help you make the right decision for your event.
Remember the golden rule: Nothing new on race day. Unless you have an opportunity to swim in the exact wetsuit you will wear on race day at least once before, it is advised to not try something new the day of the race.
Types of wetsuits
A wetsuit is a neoprene insulation suit made for warmth during the swim portion of a triathlon. Triathlon wetsuits are different from other water sports wetsuits and are regulated by governing bodies like USAT. Wetsuits for a triathlon cannot be more the 5mm thick.
The two most common types are sleeved and sleeveless. Full-sleeved wetsuits are better for the coldest water temperatures and are the most efficient. Sleeveless is great for cooler water temperatures but lets in water which can cause drag. Short “jammer” styles have gained in popularity for short-distance triathlons since they are the easiest to put on and take off.
In terms of cost, sleeveless is usually less expensive. Less expensive wetsuits will also typically have uniform neoprene while the materials in high-end suits will vary across the body and incorporate more technology into the fabric.
Remember, you want the fit to be snug, but not restrict breathing or inhibit arm movement.
Why Wear a Wetsuit?
Wearing a wetsuit is one of the easiest ways to get faster swim times. The suit allows the wearer to swim faster and reduces the effort the swimmer has to put in. The better the swimmer the less advantage the wetsuit may show. A swimmer can expect to save anywhere from a few seconds to tens of seconds per 100 meters. Usually, the longer the distance the more the savings are noticeable. With less exertion in the water, you will feel less of an energy drain as you are heading up to T1.
The wetsuit can provide warmth to the swimmer in the cold water. If you are sensitive to the cold the coverage can be great at making you more comfortable in the water. Wetsuits are highly advised for water temps between 50 to 65 degrees.
Why Not Wear a Wetsuit?
Wetsuits can be a big investment costing anywhere from just over $100 to almost $1000. You can check with local stores to see if they rent suits or try and find second-hand wetsuits through Facebook groups. It is also important that you take proper care of the wetsuit as the neoprene can degrade over time.
Wetsuits should fit snugly without restricting breathing. That said, some people still find them to cause a claustrophobic feeling especially once they start warming up from swimming. Practicing is important so you can see how your body reacts. If you panic or feel uncomfortable in a full sleeve, you might try a sleeveless wetsuit or wetsuit jammers.
Added Time For Taking Off
While they may save you time while swimming, you still have to get out of the wetsuit. This can add minutes to your transition time.
So, to sum it up, for a short swim of a super sprint or sprint triathlon, the time savings of wearing a wetsuit can be negligible. It is really a toss-up to how you feel on race morning and what you have trained for. Pack it in your bag and if it comes time to leave transition and you don’t want to wear it, simply leave it by your bike. For longer distances like an Olympic or Half Distance, a wetsuit will have clear time-saving benefits that outweigh the extra time of removing the suit.
USAT’s Rule on Wetsuits and Water Temperatures
All temps refer to surface water temperatures
Under 50 degrees: Not suitable for open water swimming, even with a wetsuit
50 to 65 degrees: Suitable for open water swim, but a wetsuit is highly advised
65 – 78 degrees: Suitable for swimming with or without a wetsuit. Sleeveless suits are popular at this temp.
78 – 84 degrees: Race directors use their judgment to allow or not allow wetsuits at this range. Usually not eligible for awards at this temperature.
Over 84 degrees: Wetsuits not allowed