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home | All Articles | Triathlon Wetsuits - Sleeveless or w . . .

Triathlon Wetsuits - Sleeveless or with Sleeves?

Gear Tip: Sleeveless or NOT? - By Coach Troy

Triathlon is a complicated sport when you consider all of the 'moving parts' in terms of equipment, training for three events, nutrition, etc. Add to that incredible selection of quality equipment on the market and the average person can experience some serious confusion as to what might be best for them.

In this issue, we'll address the topic of wetsuits and whether to use one with sleeves or without. Of course, as with most things in life, there are no black and white answers so it's up to you, the consumer, to do your due diligence when making a decision that best suits your needs.

The primary purpose and intent of the wetsuit is to keep you warm when swimming in cold water. Of course, the 'other' reason to wear a wetsuit is to make you more buoyant and swim faster as well as conserve energy for the bike and run legs of the triathlon.

When making the decision whether to purchase a wetsuit with sleeves or without, you need to consider several factors. They include, in no particular order:

  1. Where you live and where, geographically, you'll be racing.: If you live in the North East or upper Mid-West, where water temperatures are in the 50's and 60's in the early season and raise into the low 70's during the peak of summer, you may wish to consider a long-sleeve suit for added warmth. Those of you who live in the Mid-Atlantic, South, lower Mid-West and other areas of the country where temps are warmer year-round, may find that a sleeveless suit is a better choice.

  2. Your 'distance focus' (sprint, long course, ultra, etc.): The shorter the distance of the event, the more likely you'll want to use a sleeveless suit. The intensity of the shorter swim is going to be higher, causing you to heat up more and require faster cooling granted by a sleeveless suit. In addition, transitions with a sleeveless suit are typically faster as compared to a long sleeve suit (ever had your long sleeve stuck on your watch!). On the flipside, swimming longer distances (1.2 miles or 2.4 miles) with a long sleeve suit can really fatigue the shoulders and this is an important consideration.

  3. Your swim background.: Many 'real swimmers', those with competitive swim backgrounds, find that more flotation alters their naturally effective position in the water as well as their swim stroke. On the other hand, those without a swim background sometimes find that the additional flotation offered by long-sleeve suits enhance their body position, making them swim faster with less effort.

In general, the decision of whether to choose a wetsuit with or without sleeves is a very personal one. Carefully consider the factors noted in this training tip when making your choice, do your research on the various brands on the market and you'll be setting a swim PR in your next race!


Troy Jacobson is a former pro triathlete and professional tri coach since 1992. He is also the former owner of two Triathlon Specialty stores in Maryland and Virginia.

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