Speedsuits, Swimskins, Trisuits, Oh My!

The names are confusing. So what’s the difference between a speedsuit and a swimskin, and when do you use them? They’re questions we get every year from athletes!

Let’s start from the beginning – that is, what you put on first race day morning – the item of clothing you’ll be racing in for the swim, bike, and run. If the item is sleeveless, either one piece or two piece, it’s typically called a trisuit or your race “kit.”

If the item you’re going to wear for all three disciplines has sleeves, it is typically called a speedsuit. Sometimes you’ll see it simply referred to as a sleeved trisuit, or even a skinsuit.  Race day tip – unzip your speedsuit during the swim portion to allow unrestricted arm/shoulder motion. Simply zip back up on your way to T1. Some FAQs we get on speedsuits:

1) Why a speed suit and not a regular tri suit? Skin is slow, especially on the bike. This is why you see most long distance triathletes racing with their arms covered. It’s just faster, period. 
2) Won’t it make me hot? Nope. Typically the material is extremely high quality, sweat wicking and porous. It actually protects your skin from the sun. 
3) But I think want a two piece for potty purposes? Fair enough! Just know that it just doesn’t take that much longer to pull down the top, and frankly assuming your taking a bathroom break only in longer events, the time to pull down the top won’t matter. 

Now, on to swimskins! A swimskin is only worn during the swim portion of the race and typically only worn if the race is non-wetsuit legal. Simply watch the athletes hoping out of the water in Kona and you’ll see most wearing a swimskin over their race kits. Swimskins cover only your thighs and typically shoulders (some brands now make a sleeved version of the swimskin, just to keep the nomenclature confusing!). They are a much thinner than a wetsuit and provide no buoyancy. Instead, the main advantage of this piece of gear is reduction in drag. Your drag is reduced because: 1) the bumps and fabric bunches of your skin and trisuit are completely smoothed over, making water flow faster; 2) a good swimskin has a hydrophobic coating to literally repel water and make it flow past faster; and 3) a snug fit helps you maintain your body position and line in the water. Depending on your swim technique and speed, you might gain 2-6 seconds per 100m wearing a swimskin, with less experienced swimmers gaining more time.

Got a triathlon question? We’ve got #triathlonanswers. Leave a comment or triathlon question below!


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