‘Your body drives you to the line, but your mind makes you cross it.’
You’ve put in the training. You’ve invested the time. You’re ready for the race. Now it’s time to find equipment that best suits your needs. Whether you’re looking to improve your time or simply preparing for the elements, wetsuits are paramount to the success of Triathletes. They reduce resistance, create buoyancy and help maintain healthy body temps. With all these benefits, the question is not if you should use a wetsuit, but rather “Do I need to invest in a sleeved model or a sleeveless one?”
When making your decision there are a few major things to consider:
- What will the water temperature be at the time of your race & what is your tolerance to cold water?
- How long is the swim event?
- How tolerant are you to being confined?
- Do you come from a swimming background?
1. What is the water temperature and how is your tolerance to cold water?
A person living in Oregon who swims in 60 degree water has a different tolerance for cold water than a Floridian swimming in a brisk 75 degree waters. Our rule of thumb is if the water temp is 68 degrees or less, you’ll want to rent a full sleeved triathlon wetsuit. When water temperatures range from 68-72 you could select either one and when temps are 72 you should select a sleeveless. Those are our rules but some people may find a sleeveless wetsuit just fine in 60 degree waters. Therefore, our assessment is just a guide line. However, when a race is wetsuit legal most athletes tend to go with the sleeves rather than the sleeveless since they are faster.
2. What is the swim distance in your race?
So, what does distance have to do with choosing between a sleeved and sleeveless wetsuit? Well, if you’re doing a sprint Triathlon and only swimming 500-1000 meters in 75 degree waters a sleeved wetsuit would be just fine. However, if you’re doing an Iron Man you run the risk of overheating. How? Well to understand that you have to understand how a triathlon wetsuit works. Wetsuits fit very tight because you don’t want water rushing into your wetsuit during your race. The only time water should enter your wetsuit is when you get in the water. So there will be a layer of water between you and the wetsuit and during your swim, your body heat will actually warm up the water in the wetsuit. The longer the swim the warmer that water around you gets as your heart rate increases and your core temperature rises. Therefore, if you are doing a longer race in warmer waters, you would want to use a Sleeveless wetsuit. On the other hand, a shorter race in warmer waters, you could choose either, sleeveless or sleeved.
3. How tolerant are you to being confined?
People who are claustrophobic, should go with a sleeveless wetsuit. Wetsuits are meant to be a “second skin.” Therefore, they are going to feel tight and a person will feel confined. If you are borderline of whether to wear a sleeved or sleeveless wetsuit, go with sleeveless for comfort. No matter the water temperature, you will be able to deal with the water being slightly chilly but if your mind is unfocused due to the fear of feeling confined it will distract you from your race. We advise renting a sleeveless triathlon wetsuit in this scenario.
4. Do you come from a swimming background?
In our 10 years of doing business, one of the most common questions we’ve been asked is “Will the wetsuit hinder my swim stroke?” This question is especially important for athletes who come from a swimming background. Athletes who’s main discipline is swimming tend to get really uncomfortable when there’s even the slightest bit of resistance during their stroke. The wetsuit can be .5mm on the shoulders and still they feel like it throws off their stroke a tad. That’s to be expected when you consider some people have been swimming their whole lives and now they have this wetsuit on and it creates a different feel. This is why we always will encourage our athletes in this situation to go with a sleeveless wetsuit. If you have any doubts about the sleeved wetsuit making you feel too confined or impeding your stroke you should ALWAYS go with a sleeveless wetsuit despite the water temp.
Less Resistance = Faster
Ideal Temperature 68>
Slight Swim Stroke
Faster Transition Rate
Less Restrictive Feel
Ideal Temperature 72+
Not ideal for Cold Water
More Resistance Due
to Water coming in