A triathlon wetsuit provides an essential tool for triathletes looking to increase their efficiency in the water. These specialized wetsuits are hydrophobic, meaning they don't absorb water. Varying thicknesses of neoprene also provide flotation, making it easier to swim. USA Triathlon allows wetsuits to be worn anytime the water is colder than 78 degrees, so for most of the season, a wetsuit should be an essential part of your kit.
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Surf's Not Up
A wetsuit designed for triathlons varies from a traditional scuba or surfing wetsuit. Traditional wetsuits keep a swimmer warmer by absorbing water into the neoprene fabric and holding it against the surface of your skin. The heat from your body warms the water, providing an insulating layer of warmth. The best triathlon wetsuits employ advanced proprietary materials to repel water. The hydrophobic nature of these specialized wetsuits keeps the suit lighter, since it isn't full of water, while still providing some warmth.
Top triathlon wetsuits are designed with varying thicknesses of neoprene to provide a differential amount of flotation between your torso and legs. These thickened panels balance your body in the water and make it easier to stay afloat at the surface, which keeps you swimming faster and using less energy, a critical factor in a three-part event like a triathlon. These suits won't double as life preservers, but for weaker swimmers, they can provide a lot of confidence and speed.
Sleeved or Sleeveless
Triathlon wetsuits can be cut as a full-body suit, a sleeveless suit, or a short-cut suit that only covers down to your knees. Patrick Baum, customer service specialist for TriSports.com, recommends using a full-sleeved suit for the added warmth and flotation. Professional triathletes make a similar choice whenever possible. For especially strong swimmers, a suit that uses thinner neoprene or a sleeveless cut can be used to provide greater freedom of movement; you should choose a suit style based on your swimming ability and comfort.
If the Suit Fits ...
The best characteristic a triathlon wetsuit can have is a perfect fit. Your body type, height and weight all factor into the fit of a wetsuit, and each manufacturer uses its own sizing systems to determine how its suits fit differently proportioned people. When you're trying to find a new wetsuit, seek out a vendor with a professional understanding of wetsuit fitting so you can try on a few sizes and find one that fits your dimensions. If at all possible, get into the water in your new wetsuit before you commit to buy, since it'll feel different in wet conditions.