When to Wear a Wetsuit for Triathlon
Wetsuits can be a big boost to your triathlon swim if the conditions are right.
Triathletes normally wear a tri suit during a triathlon. A tri suit is made of a thin athletic material and can come in one or two-piece options. 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.
At Kerrville Triathlon the water temperature is usually wetsuit legal, under 78 degrees. But, depending on the summer and when the first cold front hits, it has been known to be warmer. See the USA Triathlon rules on water temperature below to know wetsuit recommendations based on water temperature.
Types of wetsuits
A wetsuit is a neoprene insulation suit made for warmth and buoyancy 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 of wetsuits 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 let in water which can cause drag. Short “jammer” wetsuits have gained in popularity for short distance triathlons since they are 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 your wetsuit to fit snug to your body, but not restrict breathing or inhibit arm movement. If you end up going with a sleeved wetsuit be sure to follow these tips for putting it on.
Why Wear a Wetsuit?
Help Swim Ability
Wetsuits provide buoyancy. This can come in handy for any open water swim “panic” as the wetsuit will give you extra lift and make it easier to float while you bring your heart rate down and your focus back to swimming.
Wearing a wetsuit is one of the easiest ways to get faster swim times. The buoyancy of 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 is 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 of the wetsuit 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 snug without restricting breathing. That said, some people still find them to cause a claustrophobic feeling especially once they start warming up from swimming. Practicing in a wetsuit 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.
What else should you wear on race day? Check here
A Quick Overview of the Rules and Water Temps
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