Scientific rationale for changing lower water temperature limits for triathlon racing to 12 °C with wetsuits and 16 °C without wetsuits

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Abstract

Objectives - To provide a scientific rationale for lower water temperature and wetsuit rules for elite and sub-elite triathletes.

Methods - 11 lean, competitive triathletes completed a 20-minute flume swim, technical transition including bike control and psychomotor testing, and a cycle across five different wetsuit and water temperature conditions: with wetsuit, 10 °C, 12 °C and 14 °C; without wetsuit (skins), 14 °C and 16 °C. Deep body (rectal) temperature (Tre), psychomotor performance and the ability to complete a technical bike course after the swim were measured, as well as swimming and cycling performance.

Results - In skins conditions, only 4 out of 11 athletes could complete the condition in 14 °C water, with two becoming hypothermic (Tre ˂ 35 °C) after a 20-minute swim. All 11 athletes completed the condition in 16 °C. Tre fell further following 14 °C (mean 1.12 °C) than 16 °C (mean 0.59 °C) skins swim (p = 0.01). In wetsuit conditions, cold shock prevented most athletes (4 out of 7) completing the swim in 10 °C. In 12 °C and 14 °C almost all athletes completed the condition (17 out of 18). There was no difference in temperature or performance variables between conditions following wetsuit swims at 12 °C and 14 °C.

Conclusion - The minimum recommended water temperature for racing is 12 °C in wetsuits and 16 °C without wetsuits. ITU rules for racing were changed accordingly (January 2017).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)702-708
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Sports Medicine
Volume52
Issue number11
Early online date2 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018

Keywords

  • open water swimming
  • cold water
  • wetsiuits
  • non-wesuit swimming
  • cycling
  • triathlon

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