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Evaluation of Triathlon Suit Characteristics Relevant to Thermophysiology of an Athlete


Abstract and Figures

The thermophysiological function of clothing influences athletic wellbeing and performance, particularly in outdoor endurance activities such as triathlon. However, there is very little existing research on the performance of triathlon suits relative to thermophysiological function of the wearer. This pilot study provides a benchmark for triathlon suit performance and insights into improving the suit design and material engineering. The study assessed the thermal and breathability attributes of 6 triathlon suits and concluded that while both of the attributes were similar overall, they varied in different body zones due to different design, construction and materials. Local thermal and evaporative performance were affected by fabric construction; double fabric layering in the stomach panel; the number, size, shape and material structure of rear pockets; cycle crotch pad size, shape and thickness; and panel design. The results of this study show the importance of garment design, construction and materials for the best thermal and evaporative resistance attributes of sportswear.
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Proceedings 2018, 2, 229; doi:10.3390/proceedings2060229
Evaluation of Triathlon Suit Characteristics Relevant
to Thermophysiology of an Athlete
Chris Watson, Nazia Nawaz and Olga Troynikov *
Human Ecology and Clothing Science, School of Fashion and Textiles, RMIT University, 25 Dawson Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3056, Australia; (C.W.); (N.N.)
* Correspondence:; Tel.: +61-399-259-108
Presented at the 12th Conference of the International Sports Engineering Association, Brisbane, Queensland,
Australia, 26–28 March 2018.
Published: 13 February 2018
Abstract: The thermophysiological function of clothing influences athletic wellbeing and
performance, particularly in outdoor endurance activities such as triathlon. However, there is very
little existing research on the performance of triathlon suits relative to thermophysiological function
of the wearer. This pilot study provides a benchmark for triathlon suit performance and insights
into improving the suit design and material engineering. The study assessed the thermal and
breathability attributes of 6 triathlon suits and concluded that while both of the attributes were
similar overall, they varied in different body zones due to different design, construction and
materials. Local thermal and evaporative performance were affected by fabric construction; double
fabric layering in the stomach panel; the number, size, shape and material structure of rear pockets;
cycle crotch pad size, shape and thickness; and panel design. The results of this study show the
importance of garment design, construction and materials for the best thermal and evaporative
resistance attributes of sportswear.
Keywords: triathlon; triathlon suit; thermal attributes; breathability; thermal resistance; evaporative
1. Introduction
Modern triathlon is an endurance sport that consists of a multiple-stage competition involving
swimming, cycling, and running in consecutive order to challenge the stamina of its participants,
much more than swimming, cycling, or running alone [1,2]. At Olympic triathlon race distance the
event comprises 1.5 km swimming, 40 km cycling, 10 km running, whereas the Ironman triathlon
race distance is 3.8 km swimming, 180 km cycling, 42.2 km running [3].
The triathlon suits worn during the event play a key role in supporting the performance of the
athlete and facilitate fatigue recovery by providing engineered support and interface pressure on
targeted sites of the athlete’s body [4]. Triathlon suits are designed to remain in close contact with
human skin and the functional performance of the suit is determined by complex interactions
between multiple factors, such as fabric structure and physical properties, mechanical properties,
heat and moisture transfer properties (relevant to the thermoregulation of human body), the size and
shape of the body to which it is applied, and the corresponding dimensions of the triathlon suit.
Further, the levels of physical exertion, and therefore a metabolic output of the athlete, as well as
ambient environment play a role. These complex factors are known as range of physiological,
psychological and physical variables and their interactions with environment and the wearer
determine the comfort status of a human [5,6].
Triathlon is considered a summer sporting pursuit, and events are commonly conducted in high
temperature and humidity environments [7]. Water temperature can range between 14 °C–28 °C
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 2 of 8
during the swimming leg and the ambient temperature could be 32 °C [3,8] or greater during the
running leg stage when the athletes are usually suffering from fatigue and are dehydrated [9]. As a
result of these extreme conditions, body temperature rises considerably due to high metabolic rates,
with the high potential of heat stress occurring, which will not only hinder the athlete’s performance
but could result in illness [10,11]. Therefore, triathlon suit must support thermoregulatory processes
of the body in these hot and often humid conditions.
In this context, Troynikov and Ashayeri, (2011), evaluated 3 commercially available triathlon
suits one of base level and 2 specialized suits to assess their thermophysiological comfort
performance using 20 zone thermal manikin Newton. The study demonstrated that the dry thermal
resistance delivered by the suits varied by body zone, with the stomach, chest and shoulders showing
highest results. Further the study concluded that physiological comfort properties of triathlon suits
are determined by both the fabrics and materials used and also the design and construction of the
garments. The authors suggested that by altering the design, material selection and construction of
the suits it is possible to improve the thermophysiological function of the triathlon suit overall as well
as in targeted body zones [12].
At present, numerous brands are offering triathlon suits with little scientific and engineering
evidence supporting their use or choice of particular brands [12]. Further, there is no research on the
evaluation methodologies of thermal management characteristics of triathlon suits currently
available in the market after Troynikov and Ashayeri, (2011) study. This is a pilot study that provides
a benchmark for triathlon suit performance in standard testing conditions. The fact that there is
currently a dearth in triathlon suit comfort research justifies the need to create a baseline study before
embarking on further studies that include changing ambient conditions such as temperature,
humidity and wind speed. Further, as many material studies are conducted using standard
conditions, a study of triathlon suits using standard conditions provides an opportunity to compare
material performance and the effect of garment design and panelling on comfort properties.
Therefore, the present study was aimed to investigate commercially available triathlon suits for their
performance attributes relevant to the physiological comfort of the competing athlete in order to
further knowledge in this domain.
2. Experimental
For the present study, 6 commercially available suits were investigated for their performance
attributes relevant to thermal comfort of the wearer. All suits had negative body fit, were of the same
size and had body zoned design. However, the suits varied in design features with differences in rear
pocket design; stomach panel design; and shaping of various panels such as the back and shoulders
regions. To determine the thermal and breathability characteristics, thermal and vapour resistance (IT
and ReT) of the suits were determined at different sites and compared using 20 zone thermal manikin
Newton (Figure 1). In addition, the results for the suits were also compared with those of an
unclothed body to determine the relative increase in potential thermal discomfort imparted by each
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 3 of 8
Figure 1. Manikin in triathlon suit B.
3. Materials and Methods
3.1. Materials
Suits comprised of up to three different fabrics (Table 1).
Table 1. Experimental triathlon suits.
Triathlon Suit Fabric Composition *
Suit A
Fabric 1: 64% Polyester, 36% Elastane
Fabric 2: 56% Nylon, 44% Elastane
Fabric 3: 77% Nylon, 23% Elastane
Suit B Fabric 1: 75% Nylon, 25% Elastane
Fabric 2: 88% Nylon, 17% Elastane
Suit C
Fabric 1: 68% Nylon, 32% Elastane
Fabric 2: 84% Nylon 16% Elastane
Fabric 3: 83% Nylon, 17% Elastane
Suit D Fabric 1: 80% Nylon, 20% Elastane
Fabric 2: 80% Nylon, 20% Elastane
Suit E Polyester/Elastane
Suit F Polyester/Elastane
* Fabric composition as given by manufacturer label.
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 4 of 8
3.2. Methods
For the present study, the manikin [13] was operated in constant skin temperature (CST) mode.
Temperature of each zone was set at 35 °C during each experiment. Ambient temperature was set at
23 °C with 50% relative humidity (RH) during assessment of thermal resistance of experimental
ensembles. For the determination of vapour resistance, ambient temperature was set at 35 °C i.e.,
same as the skin temperature of manikin, with 40% relative humidity (RH) to ensure that there is no
dry heat loss during these tests and only vapour resistance would be measured. Air velocity in
climatic chamber was controlled and maintained at no greater than 0.20 m/s (i.e., negligible) during
both experiments.
To ensure direct comparison, a group “tri suit” (TS) comprising the manikin zones covered by
triathlon suit when dressed was created to enable determination of thermal and evaporative
resistance of the suits. In this group the zones are: upper arm, chest, stomach, hips, thighs, shoulders
and back (Figure 2). In addition, as the suits had differences in fabric composition, construction and
design, IT and ReT of each individual zone were also determined, as differences in results of these
individual zones may provide opportunity for improvements in fabric composition, structure and
also in garment design.
Figure 2. Manikin Group TS and individual zones.
Calculations of total thermal resistance values (IT) including thermal resistance of boundary air
layer (Ia), were carried out in accordance with the corresponding ASTM F1291-10 using parallel
method [14]. Total evaporative resistance (ReT) including evaporative resistance of boundary air layer
(Rea), was calculated in accordance with the corresponding ASTM, F2370-10 using parallel method
Each experiment was repeated three times and mean values were presented using bar charts
with error bars indicating the standard deviation. To determine the statistical significance of the
differences between the mean IT and ReT analysis of variance (ANOVA) was applied [16].
4. Results and Discussion
Figure 3 shows that the IT of all triathlon suits is 20–30% higher compared to the IT of nude
manikin in group TS (p = 0.00 < 0.05). This indicates that the thermophysiological impact of the suits
has an important effect on the athlete.
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 5 of 8
Figure 3. IT of triathlon suits and nude manikin in Group TS.
When results of each suit are compared with each other, they show that I
of the triathlon suits
have some differences in thermal resistance. Triathlon suits A, B, C and D show lower I
than those
suits E and F.
For example, the suit A has an I
6% lower than the suit E and F which is statistically significant
(p = 0.03 < 0.05). In terms of thermal resistance, with this lower result it could be expected that the
overall physiological impact of suit A would be less than suits E and F for the wearer.
The results (Figure 4) show that suit A has the lowest I
for chest and shoulders, for example,
14–18% lower than D (p = 0.00 < 0.05), due to differing body zone design and construction of the suits.
Figure 4. IT of triathlon suits by zones.
However, in suits where design features result in double layering of fabrics in the stomach and
back zones, suit A shows the highest results, for example, 6–13% higher than suit D which only has
double layering in the rear pocket panel (p = 0.00 < 0.05). Further, suit E showed 15% higher I
shoulders than suit B and is statistically significant, which could be due to differences in fabric
structure. Thermal resistance of suit D is the lowest at thighs compare to the other triathlon suits. The
variation in I
of all suits at thighs ranges between 4–6% which is considered statistically insignificant.
In the hips zone where the influence of the cycle crotch pad is determined, suit D showed the
lowest thermal resistance compared to the other suits due to the thinner design and smaller size of
the pad.
Further, suit C and F demonstrate 17% higher I
(p = 0.00 < 0.05), compared to suit D. Suit E
showed 7% lower I
than C and F (p = 0.02 < 0.05).
The R
results of triathlon suits (Figure 5) show 16–27% higher compared to the R
of nude
manikin in group TS (p = 0.00 < 0.05), which indicates that the thermophysiological impact of the suits
may have a substantial negative effect on the athlete.
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 6 of 8
Figure 5. R
of triathlon suits and nude manikin in Group TS.
The expected overall thermal impact of suit A is the highest among all suits compared to nude
manikin in group TS, with suit B, D and F adding the lowest physiological impact compare the nude
manikin for group TS.
Results of Group TS for the suits (Figure 5) show that R
of the triathlon suits are similar overall.
of suit A is 6% higher than suits B, D and F, statistically significant p = 0.03 < 0.05. R
of suits A,
C, and E is statistically same.). These results indicate that, in terms of the evaporative resistance of
these suits, it would be reasonable to expect that the overall physiological impact of these triathlon
suits would be similar for the wearer. Figure 6 shows a comparison of results for the individual zones
of each suit. Suit A shows higher total R
than D in some zones, for example, 15% higher (p = 0.00 <
0.05) where design of the stomach panel has double layering of fabrics in the stomach zone. However,
in terms of the chest, back and shoulders zones the R
results are similar for these suits.
Figure 6. R
of triathlon suits by zones.
Suit B and E show similar results for all zones except the back zone, where suit B has 16% higher
(Significant p = 0.00 < 0.05). Both suits have 2 rear pockets; however, suit E has mesh inserts which
may provide less resistance to evaporative transfer. Results for suits C and F are similar, with suit C
showing 10% higher R
in stomach (i.e., double fabric layering in stomach panel overlap) and chest
zones. At thighs all suits show similar R
to each other except suit A which is higher compared to
other suits.
At hips suits B and D show the lowest and similar R
to each other. Suits A, E and F show similar
to each other and 8% higher than B and D suits at hips.
Proceedings 2018, 2, 229 7 of 8
5. Conclusions
Analysis of the suits shows that in some cases, their performance overall is similar, however,
when individual zones are evaluated differences in performance become more apparent, indicating
that garment design, construction and fabric differences have an influence on the performance of the
suits in particular zones. The suits comprise numerous differing design and construction elements,
such as different panelling, material types and constructions within various zones of the garments.
For example, some suits have full open zips at the front with an overlap in the stomach region,
resulting in double layering of the fabrics in this area, whereas other suits have closed end full zips,
with no resultant bodice overlap and therefore single fabric layering. It is reasonable to expect that
having double fabric layering in some parts of the garments will adversely influence thermal and
evaporative resistance performance.
Further, all suits have differing rear pockets, such as the number, size, shape and material
construction, which will result in varying thermal attributes in this area. It is recommended that
garment design features of all suits should be assessed, such as the stomach and back panel zones, to
determine whether design changes can improve thermal regulation and breathability performance.
In addition, the size, shape, thickness and density of the cycle pads differ between garments,
which can also influence thermal attributes. However, further investigation into the construction of
the pads would be needed to clearly determine the significance in performance of the pads.
The fabrics used in each suit are also different in some elements; for example, construction. A
number of suits comprise of fabrics of mesh or mock eyelet construction, which perform better than
plain jersey or tricot constructions in some cases and can positively influence suit performance by
reducing thermal and evaporative resistance.
However, it was not possible fully examine all fabrics of each suit for the present study, so a
more detailed analysis of the triathlon suit fabrics will provide greater insight into possible
improvement opportunities in suit performance.
The results of this study show that it is important to consider garment design, construction and
materials in engineering of functional sportswear. This study provides triathlon garment
manufacturers and product developers of performance apparel with insights into the influences of
garment construction and material differences on performance relevant to thermophysiological
comfort. Finally, this work underpins future studies where inclusion of different ambient conditions
can provide further evidence of suit performance in various conditions and additional insights into
improving the suit design and material engineering.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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This paper reports on an experimental investigation on the effect of clothing thermal properties on the comfort sensations of wearers during sport activities. A sweating manikin"Walter" - was used to measure the clothing thermal properties (namely, thermal insulation, moisture vapor resistance and moisture accumulation within clothing) of five tracksuits. The average comfort sensations of five men wearing each of the five tracksuits were correlated with the thermal properties of the tracksuits measured from the sweating manikin - "Walter". It was found that the thermal comfort sensations during active sports were strongly related to the moisture vapor resistance and moisture accumulation within clothing. The overall comfort of sportswear during sports activities was very much related to the moisture related comfort sensations and clothing properties.
This new title reviews the recent developments in the research on clothing comfort. At a time when consumers are interested in clothing that not only looks good, but also feels good, the research on clothing comfort has substantial financial implications for textile and apparel enterprises as they strive to satisfy the needs of consumers in a highly competitive market.
This study investigated the thermoregulatory response to wearing a one-piece competition speedsuit during the swim-cycle aspect of a sprint-distance triathlon. Eight highly trained, male triathletes completed a graded-exercise test, and two swim-cycle trials including a 750 m swimming time trial followed by 30 min of cycling at 95% lactate threshold. Cycling was conducted inside a climate regulated chamber set to 30.0+/-0.3 degrees C and 60.3+/-0.3% humidity. Throughout each swim-cycle testing session, the athletes wore either standard swimming bathers only (BATHERS), or a competition speedsuit (SPEEDSUIT). During the swim-cycle trial, the athletes core temperature (T(c)) and skin temperature (T(sk)) were recorded via a telemetric temperature pill and a series of skin thermistors, respectively. Blood lactate concentration (BLa), heart rate (HR) and ratings of perceived thermal sensation (RPTS) were collected at the conclusion of the swim and during cycling. The SPEEDSUIT swim time (590+/-20s) was significantly faster (3.2%, p<0.01) than the BATHERS trial (609+/-24s). This time improvement incurred no between group differences in T(c), BLa or RPTS (SPEEDSUIT: 38.4+/-0.2 degrees C, 8.3+/-0.9 mmol L(-1), 15+/-1, BATHERS: 38.2+/-0.1 degrees C, 8.4+/-1.1 mmol(-1), 15+/-1, respectively) (p>0.05). During the 30 min cycle, there were not significant differences between the mean values for power output, T(c), T(sk), HR, BLa or RPTS (SPEEDSUIT: 289+/-13W, 38.65+/-0.27 degrees C, 34.30+/-0.71 degrees C, 7.8+/-1.1 mmol L(-1), 17+/-1, BATHERS: 288+/-14W, 38.35+/-0.10 degrees C, 33.50+/-0.57 degrees C, 7.1+/-0.9 mmol L(-1), 17+/-1, respectively) (p>0.05). The use of a competition speedsuit improved the triathletes' swim time without effecting temperature regulation during a laboratory-based swim-cycle trial.