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Triathlon is hard. That’s a big part of why so many of us choose to tackle “The Beast With Three Heads That All Somehow Bite You And Each Other At The Same Time, All The Time.” (Yes, that’s a term I just came up with, and I doubt it’ll catch on, but here we are.) With so many moving parts in this sport and so many parts that help us move, having to struggle with your wetsuit on race day shouldn’t be one of them. That said, taking the time to put a triathlon wetsuit on right, making some modifications, and using a few handy little products can go a long way to swim leg success. Secret insider tip: You’ll actually be faster and less fatigued wearing inexpensive neoprene that’s properly “suited” than a $1000 wetsuit that isn’t on right.
New Neoprene Needs To Stretch
This is a classic mistake that new triathletes make when they’re trying on a wetsuit for the first time. Yes, your suit should be snug, not quite to the point of choking you, but pretty close. The neck needs to be tight so water doesn’t come flowing in—which would turn you into a big flopping anchorperson. The good news is neoprene actually stretches out and slightly expands after its first hour or so in water. Some triathletes soak their new wetsuit in the bathtub; some just slap it on and swim. Either way, expect a little fit forgiveness and stretching after that first dunking, and do not wear your new wetsuit for the first time on race morning. It won’t feel great.
Old Neo Can (Sometimes) Be Brought Back From The Dead
If you’ve got an old wetsuit—think years old—sometimes they can dry out and start to “rot” a bit if you store them in a hot dry place. If you try to pull it on, there’s a chance that dryness can turn into tears that are either tough or impossible to repair. While some wetsuits once they reach this state are toast, your best bet is to treat the suit like you would wilty lettuce and attempt to “rehydrate” the neoprene cells by submerging it in water before trying to put it on. There’s no guarantee your wetsuit will be as good as new, but it might be able to hang on for another season.
Do A Little Pre-Wetsuit Prepwork
Before you put on your triathlon wetsuit, there are a few key tips that’ll help:
- Trim your nails – Hands down the easiest way to ruin a tri wetsuit is tearing it with long fingernails. If trimming your nails isn’t a fashion/lifestyle choice you’re willing to adopt and if you have an expensive (read: delicate) wetsuit, you may want to try using thin running gloves.
- Put on some socks – One of the toughest parts of putting on a triathlon wetsuit is getting your foot through the legs—particularly the heel if you have big feet. This can be made much easier by putting on a pair of thin, dry socks before starting the process.
- Dry off – Putting on a wetsuit while wet or sweaty is super hard. Be sure you dry off as much as you can or let yourself cool down, if possible, before putting it on.
- Put on some lube – If you don’t have socks, put lube on your heel, but also put it on your ankles and wrists for both getting on the wetsuit and taking it off. Put lube on your lats and neck (for sure) to help prevent chafing, and once your socks are off and the suit is on, put lube on your heel to help with removal.
- (Optional) Put the wetsuit inside out – Some people love the inside-out-and-up method where they roll the wetsuit up and onto their bodies from the bottom. This is a great way to prevent fingernail tears when you’re first putting it on, but you’ll still need to pull on the outside to adjust it once it’s on—we’ll get to that below.
How to Put on a Triathlon Wetsuit: A Step-By-Step Guide
Once you’ve done your prepwork, follow these steps to get the wetsuit on—we’ll get to adjustments down below:
- Sit down, get your socked foot through one leg hole, and pull that neoprene up over your ankle, higher than you think it should go. Do the same with the other leg
- Carefully pull any bunched neoprene up over your leg making it tight, using the inside of the suit to grip. Don’t pull on the outside, as it can easily tear.
- Once it’s up to your hips, pull the crotch section high, higher than is actually comfortable. This could mean “borrowing” some neoprene from the ankles and pulling more up over your legs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It should fit very very tight in your crotch. If it’s not, the suit will pull your whole body down once zipped up and negatively affect your posture and your arms’ freedom of motion.
- Pull the upper body of the suit up and get your hands through the arm holes, here again you should do as much pulling as you can using the inside of the suit—which is very durable.
- Once your arms are in, pull the material tight towards your shoulders, and don’t worry about arm length, this isn’t a dress suit. The neoprene from the arms should be so high into your armpit that it nearly bunches up (but not quite). Much like your crotch, it should rest almost uncomfortably high.
- Give one last pull of material (carefully) from the hips up, snugging your crotch even more—like pulling up a pair of pants too high—and migrating that material upwards along your torso and towards your shoulders. Give a big pull (carefully, again) at your chest up toward your neck, getting that neckline as high as you can.
- Reach over your opposite shoulder with your hand, and pull the material on your shoulder blade up from your back forward. If you don’t do this, that material could pull your posture and shoulders unnaturally backwards.
- Pinch your shoulder blades back, grab the string, and zip from the bottom up. If it’s too tough, pull up the material from the bottom of the zipper, on your lower back, just above your butt.
- Once again, check to make sure the neoprene is pulled into the “crotch” of your armpit—pull the sleeves high on your wrists if you need to, don’t forget this isn’t a fashion show.
Once the suit is on, you need to make sure it’s on correctly. Don’t skip these steps! A few things to look for after you’ve put on your triathlon wetsuit:
- Starting at the bottom, see if you can gather more material from the ankles up. It doesn’t matter if the wetsuit looks like pants that are too short. Pull bit by bit to see if you can gather up more neoprene.
- From the hips, also try to bring more neoprene upwards along your torso on the front, back, and sides. You want the neckline to be high—where it’ll choke you less—not pulling down toward your chest.
- Arch your back, reach, behind you, grab the area that’s zipped, and pull while bending forward a bit. This will help bring more material up toward the neck and shoulders.
- Grab the neoprene on each shoulder blade with the opposite hand, and pull that up and forward, over the top of your shoulders once more time.
All of these motions are meant to give you a straight, not curved, posture and to give as much range of motion to your shoulders. Even an expensive suit not put on right will see you either hunching forward or arching backward due to pulling neoprene, and the misplaced neoprene will cause fatigue in your shoulders due to neoprene pulling from the wrists or torso.
RELATED: The Evolution of the Swimming Wetsuit
Modifications To The Wetsuit
If you’re struggling to get your suit on or off, there are a few things you can do to help:
- Cut the ankles – The higher you cut the ankles, the easier the suit will be to get on and off, but you’ll also lose a little bit of coverage and floatation. Some suits may also fray a little bit on seams, but most won’t.
- Add a longer lanyard – Extra string on the zipper means you’ll be able to find it faster and grab it easier when putting on or taking off your wetsuit.
- Lube it up – Don’t just put lube on your body at those key spots, but use a stick of lube (like Body Glide, for example) to roll lube onto the inside of the wetsuit at the ankles, wrists, neck, armpits, or anywhere else you chafe, like your chest. It’ll stick in the fabric and add a layer of protection. For more on eliminating wetsuit chafing, check out our story here.
Looking for some new neoprene? Check out our wetsuit buyer’s guide.
RELATED – Wetsuit Repair: The Complete DIY Guide