Choosing your first wetsuit can be a daunting task. With so many features and price-ranges, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some considerations:
Know the features
A triathlon wetsuit is unlike wetsuits made for other activities, like scuba diving or surfing. Triathlon suits are made to repel the water and help the swimmer float, whereas diving suits, for example, soak up water and designed to help the diver become submerged.
There are many suits to choose from. They all attempt to do the same things — provide buoyancy, warmth and reduce drag. Most are made from coated neoprene, which give them a rubber-like feel. Manufacturers will place different thicknesses of material strategically throughout the suit, to help with swimmer’s body position, although the USA Triathlon regulations restrict the suit thickness to 5mm for sanctioned events.
You will have three styles of triathlon wetsuits to choose from.
A full cut suit covers the arms and legs, which provides a little extra buoyancy. However, many triathletes don’t like to have their arms covered while swimming because it interferes with their pull. The forearms are an important part of the pull and covering them up can feel counterproductive. In addition, a full suit can restrict the shoulder motion, which is also important to maintain good technique.
A sleeveless suit, as the name suggests, attempts to free-up the arms from any restrictions. Most manufacturers make a full-cut and sleeveless version of each suit. Both styles of suit cover the legs down to the ankles and the fit is tight, to prevent water from entering the suit. Tight ankle cuffs can be a challenge during the first tradition (T1), from swim to bike. It’s common to see triathletes struggling to get these suits off. Some suits include “quick release” features, which allow the athlete to tighten before the swim and quickly loosen during T1.
The third style of wetsuit has several names, including Short Cut, Swim Skin or Farmer Johns/Janes. These suits cover the thighs but not calfs. Seeing as they have the least amount of material, they provide the least amount of buoyancy but don’t restrict the arms during the swim. They also make for an easy transition.
There are many factors that should be considered when deciding on the style. But probably one of the biggest is your swim strength. Week swimmers like to go for the maximum buoyancy delivered by full cut wetsuit, whereas stronger swimmers prefer not to let the suit restrict their stroke and will opt for a short cut or sleeveless suit.
Set a budget
There are many suits to choose from. There are a dozen or so manufacturers and each one has several styles, from entry-level to elite competition. It’s tempting to creep up from one suit to the next, justifying each new feature. If this is your first triathlon wetsuit, it’s often good to find a good entry-level suit. The entry-level models will most likely be made from the same material and deliver the same buoyancy as the elite models. If money is no object, get the best. But if you are looking to get into triathlons on a budget, have a price range in mind before you start shopping, to avoid shopper’s creep.
One of the best forms of research you can do is soliciting input from people you know. If you have a group that you train with, ask them about their experience. As you do so, keep in mind their swimming ability as compared to yours. You can place more weight on advice from people who started their triathlons with a similar swimming ability to yours.
Try it Before Your Buy It
The ultimate form of research is to try several suits. Every one is different, so a suit that’s a good fit for one person will not necessarily be a good fit for you. If you are able to actually swim in the suit, all the better. When you do, be sure to do more than swim a couple of laps in the pool. This won’t likely reveal a suits friction points. If possible, swim a full workout in the suit.
Some triathlon stores have demo models for you to try. Alternatively, if you have a friend with a similar build who is willing to let you borrow their suit, that’s a good place to start. Also, there are a few triathlon wetsuit rental sites online which will send you a suit for your race. Some will even allow you to buy the suit if you like it.
Finding the right suit can be a hassle. Start your search many weeks before your race, to give you time to find the right one and practice using it.
Maintain you suit
With proper maintenance of your new wetsuit, you will be able to get many races before needing a new one. Also, triathlon wetsuits have a healthy used resale market. The better you maintain your suit, the more you will fetch for it, if and when you decide to upgrade.
Always wash your wetsuit with freshwater after each use. Saltwater and chlorine will degrade the neoprene if you don’t remove it. Be sure to rinse the zipper well. There are some suit washes on the market that can help keep the material healthy and smelling fresh. After rinsing the suit in fresh water, either lay flat or hang on a wetsuit hanger or padded hanger.
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