Triathlon Wetsuit 101

Whether you are ultra competitive or new to the sport, a triathlon wetsuit can be one of the most helpful pieces of gear you can buy. The top brands in triathlon (blueseventy, Zone3, 2XU, Orca, Zoot, and De Soto) all have different features, and you are bound to hear differing opinions about the necessity of a wetsuit, but here are some facts about wetsuits that will help you make an informed decision about getting one.

The Basics:

Buoyancy - The rubber used to make wetsuits naturally floats. Depending on how well you already swim this floating effect can be very helpful. The higher you float in the water the easier/faster your swim. For many, this is the biggest reason to buy a wetsuit.

Warmth - Swimming in cold water can be a horrible experience. A wetsuit provides a certain degree of warmth. When you get in the water with your wetsuit, water will seap into the suit. The suits are designed to hold a small amount of water and then keep it there. Your body warms that layer of water and it forms a barrier between you and the cold.

Flexibility - Triathlon wetsuits are made with different thickness and styles of rubber to maximize flexibility. The more flexible the suit, the more freely you will be able rotate your arms and shoulders, resulting in less fatigue.

Hydrodynamics - Most triathlon wetsuits are now manufactured with a silicon surface treatment that makes them slippery. Typically this will make the suit slippery to the touch and even more slippery in the water. Even without the treatment, a triathlon wetsuit will inherently reduce the amount of drag you create in the water.

Now that you have decided to buy a wetsuit, let's get you suited up with the proper fit.

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PROPER FIT - Sizing & Putting It On

Proper wetsuit fit allows good swimming range of motion while reducing extra room for too much water inside the suit, which would limit buoyancy and hydrodynamics. The bottom line is that a triathlon wetsuit should fit like a second skin, and you should have full range of motion in your shoulders.

Putting on a wetsuit takes patience. Take your time. Remember, you have all the time before the race to put your suit on. Do not use excessive force or pull on the outside of the suit with your fingernails.

Instructions: You want to try on your suit in a cool room, and you want to be completely dry.

  1. The shiny surface of the suit goes on the outside (some brands are shipped inside-out); zipper goes in back.
  2. Push your foot through the foot opening and pull the opening to the top of your ankle or mid-calf depending on the cut of the suit. You might try wearing socks or plastic bags on your feet for ease.
  3. Pulling from the inside of the suit, slide the suit up over calf, knee, and thigh. This is easier if you “roll” it up your leg from the inside.
  4. Once both legs are on, work the suit up as high into your crotch as possible. If trying a full sleeve suit, work the arms on like you did with the legs one section at a time.
  5. Now pull on the body and zip. You may need assistance getting zipped, and it helps to keep your shoulders back.

Now that you've got the suit on, take a look in the mirror. Does the suit fit like a second skin? Stretch and swing your arms. Do you have good range of motion?

If you have any questions about wetsuit fit or sizing, contact us or call us at 800.975.2553 to speak to one of our triathlon wetsuit experts.

Now that you have your triathlon wetsuit, let's see how to take care of it so that you have it for many races to come.

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Care, Maintenance, & Repairs

Believe it or not triathlon wetsuits do not require that much special care if you follow a few simple steps.

Caring for your wetsuit:

  1. After every use, rinse the suit out with clean cool tap water. This will get rid of most all the nasty stuff that gets on your suit.
  2. After you rinse out the suit, make sure you dry it completely. Hang the suit over a shower rod for one day. Turn the suit inside out and let it hang for another day. Never use a heat source (hair or clothes dryer) to dry your wetsuit.
  3. Once you have dried your wetsuit completely, you can then safely store your wetsuit.

Storing your wetsuit:

  1. Hanging - Wetsuits should only be hung in a dark area on hangers specifically designed for wetsuits. These Wetsuit Saver Hangers distribute the weight of the wetsuit to prevent stretching and tearing that can happen with regular hangers.
  2. Rest it flat - Keep your wetsuit in the dark at room temperature, and never store your wetsuit in an unheated space.
  3. Folding - At last resort, another way to store your wetsuit is to fold it up and place it in the closet without anything on top of it. Here is one method for folding your wetsuit


Lubricants can help in taking off your wetsuit and help to prevent chafing. Warning: Do not to use any petroleum based products (like Vaseline) as they will hurt your wetsuit.  A safe and easy to use product is body glide. It comes in a deoderant style tube and can be used all over. Apply it liberally to your neck, ankles, wrists, and around your arm at the shoulder for sleeveless suits.


The most common repair needed on a wetsuit is the nail dig. These issues if not fixed can turn into very big tears, but you can easily fix these in your own home with some AquaSeal Wetsuit Repair Adhesive. Checkout this step by step approach or just follow the directions on the adhesive.

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Q&A, Tips & Techniques


So what exactly is the difference between a full wetsuit and a sleeveless (Long John) wetsuit?

  1. Full suits are more buoyant - 
    The extra rubber in the sleeves of a full suit makes it float more. The higher you are in the water the faster you'll end up being. Another reason a full suit is more buoyant is because it lets in less water. It is virtually impossible to get a completely water tight seal around the shoulders of a sleeveless suit. The increase in water in the suit adds weight and reduces buoyancy.
  2. Full suits have less drag - 
    As mention in point 1, the shoulder area of a sleeveless suit allows for greater water entry. This creates a parachute effect in the water and increases drag. More drag equals less speed.
  3. Full suits are warmer - 
    Depending on where you swim or race this can be a big concern for you. The full suits are better for much colder water and early in the race season. For higher water temperatures, the sleeveless can be more appropriate. In high temperatures and long distances, some athletes can overheat in a full suit.
  4. Sleeveless suits are easier to get out of than full suits - 
    Since there are no sleeves involved, the top part of the suit will come off very quickly. If you practice though, you'll find that you can get out of the top half of your suit as you are coming out of the water. 

It is important to note however, that regardless of what type of wetsuit you get, fitting and sizing can be the difference between a suit that works, and one that doesn't work. When it comes to buying a triathlon wetsuit, get the best fit and the one you feel most comfortable in. 

 What is meant by the term "wetsuit legal"?

Each age group participant shall be permitted to wear a wet suit without penalty in any event sanctioned by USA Triathlon up to and including a water temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water temperature is greater than 78 degrees, but less than 84 degrees Fahrenheit, age group participants may wear a wetsuit at their own discretion, provided however that participants who wear a wetsuit within this temperature range shall not be eligible for prizes or awards. Age group participants shall not wear wetsuits in water temperatures equal to or greater than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The wetsuit policy for elite athletes shall be determined by the USAT Athletes Advisory Council. The AAC has set the wetsuit maximum temperature for elite/pros at 68 degrees for swim distances less than 3000 meters and 71.6 degrees for distances of 3000 meters or greater.

What is "balance" in the water?

When swimmers talk about balance, they are referring to proper body position in the water. Good balance is when your body is on a horizontal plane in the water. For most of us (those who did not compete in swimming prior to triathlon), our legs tend sink, causing poor body position and resulting in poor hydrodynamics. When we are in this unbalanced position, the more we kick the more our energy is being used to prevent our legs from dropping in the water. When using a wetsuit, your legs will be buoyant and will sit much higher in the water. As a result, you can choose to kick less and conserve this energy. This will aid your overall strength and endurance both during and after the swim. 

What is the fastest way to remove my suit?

There are many different opinions about this and just as many different race situations that will change how or where you should take off your suit. The best advice is to practice and be very comfortable with taking off your suit fast. Here is one method that has worked well with our racers:

  1. When you get to the point in your swim where you start walking out of the water, you should unzip and pull your arms out of the suit. Let the arms turn inside out.
  2. As soon as you get out of the water, step to the side so that other people can pass you.
  3. Pull the legs off, letting them flip inside out.
  4. Run with your wetsuit in your arms to the first transition.

This method may sound odd, but the reason not to run up to transition and take off your suit is because the water that is in the suit acts as a lubricant. If you wait until you get to your bike, all the water has drained from your legs and this makes removing the suit a little tougher. Again, this is only one method and race conditions and situations may require you to do something different. So practice, practice, practice.

Reduce pre-race jitters. Try warming up.

One of the best things to do the morning of your race, whether you are using a wetsuit or not, is to take a warm-up swim. There are many reasons for this:

  1. It’s early and you don’t drink coffee - 
    Getting in the water after you set up your transition area helps you wake up physically and mentally.
  2. Get your body used to the temperature of the water - 
    Many people don’t get in the water soon enough before a race and the temperature of the water surprises them. This can lead to hyperventilating and panic attacks.
  3. Get used to the wetsuit - 
    Put on your wetsuit and get in the water.  For the same reasons above, getting in the water with your wetsuit helps prevent sudden shocks.
  4. It’s only water - 
    The pre-race warm-up swim tends to help ease tension and fear. Whether it is your first race or your fiftieth, the water can be a challenging place for us land animals. Getting in early eases our transition from normal person to racer.

Now get out there and get your swim on!

Is my triathlon wetsuit too small?

First thing to do is to make sure that you have the suit on correctly. You will want to check that the suit is pulled as far up into the crotch as possible. Then check to see if you have the arms pulled up as far as they can go into your armpits. Now it's time to move around and look in the mirror.

  • Check that you don't feel any painful restriction in your neck, chest, arms, legs, etc.
  • You should have full range of swim motion. Move your arms as if you were swimming. Check that your arms move freely.
  • Check that it doesn't feel like your shoulders are being pulled down or that the crotch is riding up. This would indicate a suit that is potentially too short.

Basically, your wetsuit should feel like a thick second skin. It should move with you and not pull against you. It should feel like second skin, but not choke you. The bottom line is that you need to have a certain degree of comfort in your wetsuit so that you can perform optimally, but you don't want the comfort to defeat the performance properties of the suit.

What is the difference between an expensive and less expensive wetsuit?

The difference between the expensive and inexpensive wetsuits is mainly the quality of the rubber used, construction in the flex points and torso of the suit. For example, in the shoulders, thinner rubber allows for a greater range of motion and a less restrictive swim stroke. The higher level suits also have multi-panel construction allow for a more comfortable fit instead of a "big piece of rubber feel."  There are also several suits that have a few added features such as a special forearm panel that actually helps to "grab" the water, and some suits even have special wrist cuffs for a comfortable feel and ease of removal.

No matter what the price or features, get a suit that fits you the best and practice, practice, practice.

 How do I see where I am going in the water?

When swimming without a wetsuit, lifting your head for breathing and to sight direction will drop the hips further into the water. This increases drag and greatly decreases your hydrodynamic optimum. When using a wetsuit, your head and body are higher in the water, and you will not need to lift the head as far as normal. The enhanced buoyancy of the wetsuit will also greatly reduce any sinking of the hips and lower body.

One technique for sighting is to lift your head to check direction immediately as your stroke enters the water. The downward force of the stroke will assist you to lift your head. Your head should then be turned to the side and a breath taken immediately as you reach the bottom of the stroke. The head should then be flat in the water to complete and release the stroke.

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