When you’re competing in a triathlon, every second counts. You can swim, bike, and run as fast as you want to. But your transitions are the one place that can make the difference between a PR and just another event.
The first step for a fast transition is to use an effective triathlon transition bag. Then you need to set up your transition station the right way and learn how to transition effectively.
But one of the things that can make a huge difference is learning how to quickly take off a wetsuit. This step can be the one thing that wastes a lot of time, so mastering this can lead to much more effective transitions.
Here’s why wetsuits are necessary, why they can be your downfall, and how to get them off quickly so you can continue with your event as soon as possible.
What is a Wetsuit and Why Wear One?
A wetsuit is a thick, neoprene one-piece suit designed to protect you from the cold and add some buoyancy when you’re in the water. They come in many different types, like full-sleeved, sleeveless, and a variety of thicknesses.
Neoprene is actually a kind of foam. It provides insulation against the cold and buoyancy in the water thanks to tiny bubbles in the foam.
You would wear a wetsuit during the swim leg of a triathlon. It’s compulsory in water temperatures below 60.8 degrees and can be worn at your discretion when the water is between 60 and 78 degrees.
In the open water, a wetsuit protects you from low water temperatures and wind factors. It keeps you warm, provides light compression to keep blood flowing through your muscles, and thicker foam in the lower body keeps your body in the optimal position for swimming fast and smoothly.
In some cases, the race organizers may not allow a wetsuit—usually when the water temperature is higher than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wear one in temperatures between 78 and 84 degrees, you may not be eligible for awards.
Why Can It Be Tricky to Take Off a Wetsuit?
Wetsuits are designed to be skin-tight. They have a snug fit so that they can protect you from the cold and from water, without letting water into the suit.
But because they are tight, they tend to stick to you, especially when they’re wet. Also, the zipper is on the back, which can be difficult to reach quickly and easily.
When you’ve just come out of the water and you’re trying to change out of your wetsuit so you can get on the bike, you may be a little bit rushed and unfocused, which can make it harder to get your wetsuit off in a hurry.
Why Take Off a Wetsuit Quickly?
Your transition time can either give you an advantage or it can put you at a disadvantage. If you get through your transition quickly, you will start your next leg quickly and be a few seconds ahead of your time goal.
If your transition takes too much time, you can get started on your next leg a bit later than you expect. If this happens, you may find yourself behind on your goal time.
Triathlon transitions are often called the “fourth discipline” because they also require thought and strategy in order to reach your triathlon time goals.
If you struggle to get out of your wetsuit, you could lose a minute or even more time. If you have a goal time you’re aiming for, this could set you back to the point where you may not be able to make up for lost time during your cycle or run.
Steps to Take a Wetsuit Off Quickly
With some practice, you can learn to take off your wetsuit in 30 seconds or less. We recommend that you practice these transitions between events, just like you would practice swimming, running, or cycling.
You should be thinking about how to get your wetsuit off easily before you even put it on!
When you get dressed into your wetsuit, you want to first start by using some kind of anti-chafing cream, body glide, or even just Vaseline.
You’ll want to apply this lotion to your legs especially. The legs are often the place where the wetsuit sticks the most, so cover your shins, calves, knees, and ankles in your choice of body glide.
Also, when you zip your wetsuit up, try to make sure your zipper strap is tucked into your wetsuit, but leave a loop or 5 or 6 inches out so you have something to grab easily when it comes to taking it off again.
2. Remove Your Arms
You don’t have to wait until you’re at your transition area in order to start taking off your wetsuit.
As you exit the water and you’re running towards your transition zone, undo the Velcro closure at the back of your wetsuit, grab the 5 or 6 inches of the strap you left out, and unzip it.
Take your arms out so long, one at a time. Don’t worry if your wetsuit turns inside out. This is normal and you can fix it later.
3. Step Out of the Legs
It’s easier to take your legs out of the wetsuit when you get to your transition zone. Pull each leg of the wetsuit down until your upper legs are freed and your knees to ankles are the only parts still covered.
Step on the suit with one foot and pull your opposite leg upwards until the wetsuit moves down to the ankle.
You can either do this for both legs and then remove the ankles, or you can remove one leg completely and then do the next from the start.
When the wetsuit is at your ankles, you will just pull it off of the ankle like a sock. You can make this step a bit easier by cutting the legs of the wetsuit a bit shorter.
You can do this same maneuver while seated, but it takes a bit longer and it’s not quite as easy.
4. Extra Safety Tips
It can be easy to make small mistakes while trying to rush through getting your wetsuit off.
Make sure your fingernails are trimmed before your event because small, sharp pieces can rip your wetsuit and ruin it. Also, make sure there are no sharp objects near your transition spot.
Rather slow down and focus on your movements to make sure you do it right. The more you become used to the movements, the faster you’ll be able to do it without tripping up.
Starting slowly will eventually end up allowing you to move faster, while trying to go faster, in the beginning, may frustrate you and lead to you losing more time.