Triathlons are becoming really popular as a competitive sport and are no longer the exclusive domain of professional athletes. They combine three different sports – swimming, cycling and running – and have become a great way for adults and children alike to step away from their fast paced urban lives, to reconnect with the great outdoors and stay fit at the same time.
Each race has different requirements in terms of gear that vary with temperature, terrain covered and organization rules. The apparel worn by triathletes includes triathlon wetsuits which are worn only during the swim leg of the competition. They may only be worn in races where they are legal and are not normally permitted in temperatures above 78 degrees and permissions vary with organizers. Triathlon wetsuits may look similar to regular wetsuits to the untrained eye. But a wetsuit is a right?
How are triathlon wetsuits any different from, say, surfing wetsuits or the ones used for scuba diving? Do they actually make a difference while racing?
Triathlon wetsuits are unlike regular wetsuits because of four major differences. They are:
- Designed for comfortable swimming
- Designed for smoother transitions
- Designed to keep body temperatures optimal
- Designed to improve swimming speed
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these.
- Designed for Comfortable Swimming
Wetsuits used for water sports are usually covered by abrasion-resistant Lycra and are not particularly designed for swimming positions. Triathlon wetsuits are designed for flexible swimming positions, making you comfortable especially when your arms are above your head and are pointed forward. You will appreciate the difference in open water swims when you will need to reach over your head many times! Remember that triathlon wetsuits that fits you properly will hug your body snugly, without restraining your stroke.
- Designed for Smooth Transitions
Triathlon wetsuits can serve various purposes during the swim section of the race and need to be customized to do so. For example, transition times are important and count towards the overall timing. Your triathlon wetsuit needs to be really easy to remove to help your overall score. A wetsuit made for simply jet skiing need not have this feature.
- Designed to Keep Body Temperatures Optimal
Wetsuits used in diving and water sports are designed to keep you warm. They are thicker than most triathlon wetsuits and provide added insulation. Triathlon wetsuits are not only designed to keep you warm but they also can keep you cool enough to prevent overheating. Made from neoprene, the thickness of the fabric varies with triathlon wetsuit brands. The thinner ones offering more flexibility and the thicker ones offering more buoyancy. The neoprene used to make wetsuits is designed to hold a small amount of water between your body and the suit. Water will fill the space and your body warms this water, thereby creating a sort of blanket around you.
- Designed to Improve Swimming Speed
Triathlon wetsuits have slippery outer coatings that let you glide faster in water. They are usually made of Yamamoto neoprene rubber. This surface helps reduce drag and increases your speed in water, helping conserve energy. And if you spend less energy in the swimming leg of the competition, you will save energy for the remaining legs.
Many triathlon wetsuits have air pockets along various parts of the suit to increase your buoyancy and improve your posture in the water. Comparatively, a SCUBA wetsuit would be different as divers do not require high flexibility or buoyancy, but require cushioning against heavy equipment to prevent chafing along with added insulation instead.
It is important that you choose a wetsuit that plays to your strengths and helps you compensate for your weaker ones. For example, a new swimmer would be grateful for increased buoyancy which helps conserve energy while an elite athlete may prefer a suit that provides less buoyancy but increased flexibility for higher speeds.
The large number of styles and brands of triathlon wetsuits available today means they come at competitive offers and discounts. It is easier than ever before to find a wetsuit that enhances your performance in the water. Triathlon wetsuits, when properly cared for, last for a long time and are thus, an investment, if you are in for the long haul.