When should I use a wetsuit? Anytime the race allows it!
Being a newbie in triathlon can be overwhelming at times. What kind of training do I need to do or what gear do I need in order to compete in a triathlon? When it comes to wetsuits, there are many, many types and choices and not every wetsuit works for everyone.
Let me first talk about what type of wetsuits are available:
There are triathlon/swimming wetsuits, and there are diving/surfing wetsuits. Do not get a diving/surfing wetsuit! Triathlon wetsuits are made for buoyancy and warmth.
There are generally two types of triathlon wetsuits: Full sleeved and sleeveless.
- Full sleeved wetsuits have neoprene wet suit material that go down to your wrist.
- Sleeveless wetsuits have a tank top cut that have your arms and shoulders exposed.
So why wear a wetsuit in a race? If the water is cold, a wetsuit will help keep you warm. Also, if swimming is not your strength, the wetsuit will keep you buoyant and most likely will have a faster swim time then without. Wearing a wetsuit should make you approximately 5-8 seconds faster per 100m as compared to no wetsuit. Generally, the full wetsuit is faster than a sleeveless wetsuit. The full wetsuit has more rubber in it, therefore it will make you float more.
Flexibility in a wetsuit is important. A flexible wetsuit will help make your swim easier. You are able to have a better arm turnover and be able to kick easier with a flexible suit. My experience is that the higher end wetsuits ($500 and up) are more flexible and comfortable.
Top Tips for putting on a wetsuit
Putting your feet in grocery bags before putting on the wetsuit really helps. It’s a workout in itself to put on a wetsuit. The outside rubber on a wetsuit can rip or your nails from pulling on the wetsuit can also tear it. When putting on a wetsuit, pull from the inside of the wetsuit. You are less likely to damage your wetsuit. Make sure that you pull the wetsuit up where it is not pulling your shoulders down. If that’s the case, you may need to start over at your feet. Once on, the wetsuit is going to feel snug, almost like it is too small. That is normal. Once you get in the water, it will loosen up. If it doesn’t loosen up in the water and still feels really uncomfortable, you may need to look at the sizing chart for that brand to make sure that you got the correct size. Some people feel restricted in the neck area, so will opt for only wearing the wetsuit pants or shorts. Some people feel like they cannot get a good turnover with their arms or feel too constricted in a full wetsuit, so they opt for a sleeveless wetsuit. You need to find out what works for you. And before you go out and spend money on a wetsuit, I’d rent one. There are companies and stores that will rent out wetsuits.
When should I use a wetsuit? Anytime the race allows it! USAT guidelines say that the swim is wetsuit legal at 78.0 or below. Ironman rules is 76.1 or below. Always bring your wetsuit to a race just in case they allow it. Usually the race official makes that determination race morning.
Other helpful tips
I’ve been competing in triathlon for 14 years and I always practice in my wetsuit the week of my race to familiarize myself with my wetsuit and how it feels swimming in it again. I typically would do that in a pool. Just be sure to rinse off the wetsuit with fresh water after swimming in a pool.
Use some type of a wetsuit lube (non-petroleum based) on your ankles, wrists, neck is so helpful from avoiding rubbing and raw spots. It also may help getting your wetsuit off quickly.
I have seen this at races, so I feel that I need to mention it. Zippers on wetsuits go on the back! If you try to wear it with the zipper in front, it’s never going to feel right.
There are many wonderful brands of wetsuits out there. I’ve had all different brands and types of wetsuits. Your wetsuit is a personal preference, so try different ones until you find the one that you are most comfortable in. The best wetsuit is the one that fits you the best. Comfort is key!
Stephanie Liles-Weyant– A coach, triathlete, wife, and mother of 3 kids. Have been competing in triathlon for 14 years from sprint distances to Ironman. Have raced multiple Ironman World Championships 140.6 & 70.3. A triathlon coach, High School & Middle School XC coach. Race director, along with my husband, for Tallahassee Youth Triathlon Series (www.tallahasseeyts.com). An advocate for a healthy, active lifestyle.
AJ Baucco Coaching- Ajbcoaching.com