To “wetsuit or not” for triathlons. by K.N.*
Trying a triathlon inevitably brings all athletes to a point of contemplation about the 1st and most technical aspect of the event, the swim. Efforts and thoughts gather around the task on how to tackle this leg in the fastest and most efficient manner as possible. Easier said than done.
The gear needed for this leg are, a tri- suit, googles and, temperature-depending, a wetsuit or not. (The current regulations for wetsuit usage states that athletes can not use a wetsuit in a race if the water temperature is over 22C). Studies have shown that if the race is wetsuit legal, then advantages to it’s use are plenty.
Some of the advantages demonstrated are faster swimming times due to the gliding of the wetsuit in the water, a more buoyant swimmer and a better body position, a reduction of friction between swimmer and water density, hence reducing drag, and minimizing, or maybe reducing the chances of hypothermia. Finally the mechanics of swimming with a wetsuit are altered delivering a more economical swim for the same speed expressed in m/sec.
There are some negative sides to wetsuit usage such as the expensive cost to get one, how delicate they are, consequently been torn with long nails during the entry/exit of anxious triathletes. Spending way too much time getting in and out of one, negates the competitive advantages gained in the swim leg. In certain cases been uncomfortable while in it, can cause a restrictive motion, and poor fitting, can cause a serious panic mode, reducing the level of calmness and focus during the race.
Now when it come to shorties ( sleeveless and above the knee length) the benefits still exist but attention needs to be given in the race conditions. Usually “shorties” are suitable for a situation with higher temps, and for swim/run competitions, and they yield at a lesser extent the speed benefits
The correct type of neoprene material nowadays (Yamamoto by most manufactures), needs to be with-out a doubt hydrophobic on the outside to facilitate the gliding motion of water molecules when movement occurs. If by any chance you come across a material that is not smooth and shiny on it’s outside, not demonstrating that gliding effect, the wetsuit you have in front of you is suitable for other activities apart from open water swimming for performance.
So using one will take some time getting used to and if you practice peeling it off quickly you will have an advantage. For Olympic distance triathlons and longer, the benefits for time saving multiply.
Train and race smart.
*K.N. is an Exercise Physiologist, graduate of the University of Alabama, an ACSM certified Health & Fitness Instructor, holds an ITU Level II Certification as a Triathlon Coach, and is a multiple Ironman & Half Ironman Triathlon finisher. He is coaching Triathletes online, teaches Functional Training at f/3dfts, and performs Exercise Physiology assessments at the Cyprus Sports & Research Center. www.ryltoday.com