|The Rap on
Wetsuits in Triathlon
History, facts and benefits of the wetsuit
during the swim portion
of a triathlon
Kent - Tri-Newbies Online
In the early-to-mid 1990’s, the
use of the wetsuit emerged as a source of controversy in
the sport of triathlon.
the wetsuit was introduced to the sport as a
safety tool to help the triathlete survive cold waters and
prevent hypothermia during the swimming portion of a race. When a swimmer is submerged in water, the water
flows into the suit settling between the rubber and the
the natural temperature of the body will warm the
entrapped water. As
the triathlete begins to swim, the body
temperature rises, causing the temperature of the water
inside the suit to rise as well.
Thus, the increased water temperature keeps the
swimmer warm during the event. However, it wasn’t long before triathletes discovered
the wetsuit served an even greater purpose in triathlon…
It was quickly discovered that the wetsuit provided
the necessary buoyancy to lift a swimmer high enough in
the water to enhance the overall swim performance. The
theory being, the higher you are in the water, the less
water resistance when swimming and the faster the overall
swim performance…much like that of a speed boat
traveling on a plane.
Needless to say, controversy arose and the
tri-politicians got involved.
Were the wetsuits being worn to protect against the
colder waters or were triathletes
simply using the wetsuit as a tool to gain a
competitive edge in the water thus improving their overall
The wetsuit was being worn as a cold water
preventative and as a means of gaining that competitive
despite the performance advantages resulting from the
wetsuit, the safety of the swimmer came first and the
issue seemed settled.
That is until the sport of triathlon began to grow
and wetsuits were being worn by
triathletes in all types of waters, warm as well as
speed became the motivating factor behind the wearing of
wetsuits as capitalism and free enterprise inevitably
entered the picture.
Manufacturers got involved and the race for the
lightest, tightest and most maneuverable wetsuit was
To combat the growing popularity of the wetsuit and
its newfound place in the sport of triathlon,
tri-officials voted in a temperature ceiling.
In other words, it was decided that the temperature
of the water prior to the race start would be the
determining factor as to whether wetsuits could be worn.
However, it seemed the powers-that-be could not
decide on a temperature suitable for the majority.
One day it was 72? the next it was 78? and the flip
flop continued. And
to keep up with the changing rules, wetsuit makers
developed a variety of styles to match the conditions of
the water. The
Springsuit, sleeveless and cut above the knee, was
designed for warmer waters, while still providing the
necessary buoyancy. The
Longjohns, sleeveless but full length, provided warmth and
ease of arm mobility.
Finally, Fullsuit included the sleeves and was
designed to provide maximum warmth.
All three are still used today, but the controversy
seems to have died out.
When choosing a wetsuit, so much depends upon your
geographic location and the conditions or the water in
which you will be swimming.
For races in colder waters, i.e. Escape From Alcatraz,
Ironman Canada, a full suit should be worn.
Just remember in warmer waters wearing a wetsuit
can still leave you dehydrated. So make sure you drink,
drink, drink, once on the bike.
Go Ahead and Get One!
I remember when I first entered this sport, while
living in the southeast where water
temperatures reach the mid to high 80’s, and
thinking anyone who wore a wetsuit in a triathlon was
silly. Then I
was informed that they actually make you swim faster
because of the buoyancy.
Well, that confirmed it. I was a swimmer by-golly
and there was no way I would ever use such a prop to
improve my swimming.
I didn’t need one!
That is until I feasted on a nice healthy portion of
humble pie during the swim portion of my second-ever
of the athletes (kind of a jerk and one helluva a
traithlete!) of whom I typically enjoyed blowing out of
water during swim practice…was right on my tail during
the swim!!! And climbed out of the water right behind me.
Needless to say I was somewhat displeased.
Consequently, that next Monday, I was on the phone
ordering my new rubber body suit!
And I will never go back.
Now I tell my swimming buddies who suffer from the
same ego problem I did in the
beginning, “buy the damn wetsuit, it will make you
swim even faster!”
And it does!
And regardless of the advantages a wetsuit provides,
it has also allowed many a
non-swimmer to enter this wonderful sport, and
may have even saved some lives during those traditional,
frothy mass starts! And really, that is what is most important.
Buy a wetsuit and enjoy! It will be one of the best investments you will make.