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Triathlon Wetsuit 101

Unless you're planning on racing indoor triathlons for the duration of your triathlon career, a wetsuit is a necessary investment for every triathlete. At first the huge array of options can be daunting: From sleeveless to full-sleeve, and all kinds of extra bells and whistles offered by wetsuit manufacturers. Read on for finding the right suit for you, fit tips and instructions on how to make your investment last a long, long time. 

Suit Me Up: The Basics

Warmth: This is perhaps the number-one reason why triathlons allow and encourage the use of wetsuits in open water competitions. Cold water (i.e. at IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside, St. George and IRONMAN Coeur d'Alene, to name a few) can add to the anxiety many athletes feel with regards to what is already an anxiety-provoking experience. Though triathlon wetsuits aren't as warm as other wetsuits (i.e. for surfing or scuba-diving), they do provide a certain degree of warmth. When you get in the water with your wetsuit, water seeps into the suit, creating a layer of water between your body and the suit. Your body in turn heats that water layer, protecting you from the cold water.

Speed: This is another reason triathletes love to swim in wetsuits. The rubber used to make wetsuits is naturally buoyant, which helps you swim faster in the water. Depending on how well you already swim this effect can reduce your swim times significantly. The higher you float in the water, the faster you can swim. Sold!

Flexibility: Triathlon wetsuits use combinations of different thicknesses and styles of rubber to make sure that swimming in them feels as close to "natural swimming" as possible. Wetsuit technology is making more and more suits feel like a second skin, rather than a bulky costume. Flexible here is a good thing: the more freely you can rotate your arms and shoulders, the less fatigue you'll feel.

What Makes a Great Wetsuit?

Expert Patternmaking

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The Best Raw Materials

great materials make all the different and can be broken down into some key attributes like speed, flexibility, comfort, and durability.

- Speed

- hydrophobic coatings

- Flexibility

- stretch - reduce fatigue

- Comfort

- reduce fatigue

- Durability

- built to last. construction. materials

How to Get a Great Fit

When purchasing your first wetsuit, you want to look for a suit that's going to give you a wide range of motion, without a lot of extra room. Be prepared to spend some time finding the right fit. Sizes and fit vary by manufacturer and between different product lines.

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Putting on a wetsuit takes patience. You'll probably sweat a little! Take your time.

1. Try on your suit in a cool room, and make sure your skin is completely dry.

2. The shiny surface of the suit goes on the outside (some brands are shipped inside out), and the zipper goes in the back.

3. Push your foot through the foot opening and pull the opening to the top of your ankle or to your mid-calf, depending on the cut of the suit. Some people wear socks or cover their feet with plastic bags to make this easier.

4. Pulling gently on the material on the inside of the suit, slide the suit up and over your calf, knee and then thigh. This is easier if you "roll" it up your leg from the inside. Use only the pads of your fingers, not your nails.

5. Once both legs are on, work the suit up as high into your crotch as possible. If it's a full sleeve suit, work the arms on like you did with the legs, one section at a time.

6. Pull on the body and zip. You may need assistance getting zipped, and it helps to keep your shoulders back. Needing help with the zipper is a sign of a performance fit.

7. 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 and ask yourself if you have good range of motion. Remember that neoprene wetsuits will be slightly looser in the water. Even if your suit feels tight on land, it may feel right in the water.

8. The suit should feel tight, but if it constricts your breathing or restricts shoulder movement in the water, then you need to size up.If you fit more than one size, sizing down will give you a tight fit and you should expect to take 10 to 12 minutes to put the suit on properly.

How to Take Care of Your Wetsuit Properly

Follow these guidelines and simple steps to make your wetsuit last a long time. 

1. Don't use any petroleum based products (like Vaseline) as they will hurt your wetsuit. Use only triathlon and wetsuit-friendly lubes and glides. Apply it liberally to your neck, ankles, wrists and around your arm at the shoulder for sleeveless suits. 

2. After every use, rinse the suit out with clean cool tap water. This will get rid of dirt, salt and other water-based junk that can make its way into or onto your suit.

3. After you rinse out the suit, make sure you dry it completely. Hang the suit over a shower rod for a day, or outside on a warm, dry day. Turn the suit inside out and let it hang for another day. Never force dry your suit with a hair dryer or near a fire or furnace.

4. Once you have dried your wetsuit completely, hang it in a dark area on wide hangers specifically designed for wetsuits. These special hangers distribute the weight of the wetsuit to prevent stretching and tearing that can happen with regular hangers.

5. Another way to store your suit is by folding it and placing in the closet without anything on top of it. 

6. If you find nicks in your suit (the most common one being from nails), get them fixed immediately. Small tears can turn into large tears if left alone. Basic DIY repairs can be done with a product like AquaSeal Wetsuit Repair Adhesive, or you can take your suit to a surf shop for the professional touch.

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