Buy Your Way to a Faster Triathlon! What Gear Do You Need?

If you’re serious about improving your triathlon performance, you may be wondering if it’s worth spending money on advanced gear and training tools. After all, there are plenty of affordable options available as well a gear that will quickly break a budget.

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not to invest in more expensive gear and training tools.

Most importantly, it’s critical to think about your goals. If you’re just starting out, you may not need to spend a lot of money on gear just to complete a race. However, if you’re aiming to compete at a high level, you may need to invest in more specialized equipment to eek out the last few seconds of performance. Even if you are not looking to compete for podium spot, sometimes you want gear to feel more comfortable during a long event or to showcase the work you have put in during training. Whatever it is, knowing why you want a piece of gear will help avoid the money pit of simply buying the new “it” thing.

Second, you need to consider your budget and reusability. Advanced gear and training tools can be expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to consider other ways to improve your performance, such as finding a good coach or joining a training group. Money spent on improved training has benefits to overall health (paying for physical therapy sessions could benefit training as well as day to day life), while similar money spent on a custom aero-helmet may be useful only for a few hours a season during a race.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to spend money on advanced gear and training tools is a personal one. There is no right or wrong answer. Below though we cover some of the more popular areas to spend money in triathlon, and list some of the lessons learned from years of spending (and wasting) money as shared from a number of friends and athletes.

If you’re considering investing in any of this expensive gear and training tools, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Choose gear that is specifically designed for triathlons. There are a number of brands that make triathlon-specific gear, such as wetsuits, bikes, and running shoes. This gear is designed to help you perform your best in each discipline of the triathlon.
  • Invest in a good coach or training group. A good coach or training group can help you to develop a training plan that is tailored to your individual needs and goals. They can also provide you with motivation and support.
  • Don’t forget the basics. Even if you’re investing in advanced gear and training tools, don’t forget the basics. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated. Do proper maintenance to the gear you do have. Work through the technique to avoid injury. And set realistic and achievable goals then spend on things that help you accomplish them.

If you’re willing to put in the work, spending money on advanced gear and training tools can help you to improve your triathlon performance. However, it’s important to remember that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.

Investing In Your Training

While it is possible to get gear that is objectively faster, you still have to perform. This means that there are good opportunities to get faster by buying more optimal training. For most athletes the limits to training come down to two areas, time and knowledge.

In terms of improving training time there are a handful of training tools that can help buy you more time. Typically these are those that make it easier to access training or avoid the realities of life like travel, weather, or busy schedules.

One optimal way to improve training time is to ensure constant access to all the needed training tools. Things like an indoor training (including tools like Peloton and Zwift which we have reviewed before for triathlon training) make it simple to get time in the saddle without riding in the dark or rain.

Increasingly there are other similar products, apart from pure treadmills, to help train. A popular one is the growing Zen8 Indoor trainer for swimming. While we have not personally reviewed the Zen8, yet, friends who have access to them do highlight that it provides a similar ability to an indoor bike trainer that at least ensures some time spent doing popular swim motions when access to a pool is curtailed.

Can a virtual swim trainer like Zen8 really replicate in pool swimming? Of course the answer here is no, and if you have stroke technique issues you are trying to work on the virtual trainer is not going to solve those. Hip swivel and point of hand entry into the water can not be truly solved on the trainer. However if you are struggling to get in pool sessions that Zen8 style trainer can at least work on muscle strength and development, as well as some of the core strength, needed to support a longer distance race.

The biggest training benefit however is likely to come in the form of coaching. We personally found that getting a coach provided the structure and flexibility to remove questions about self coaching, and led to significant gains on race day. For more on what benefits coaching brings check out our review of what to expect when hiring a triathlon coach.

Getting Fast In The Swim

Improving a swimming performance is a bit tricky. For many athletes it is the hardest to access discipline (since it requires pool or water access) but it is also the shortest segment by time for most events. While there is gear that can help with getting faster, nothing will beat improving technique in your swim. An inefficient stroke can be overcome by a few hours of dedicated training that is integrated into a standard training plan.

Beyond stroke technique, there are often limits to the gear you can use in a triathlon swim. Most events will dictate if a wetsuit is legal and no sanctioned event will allow for swim aids like fins. Here are popular products and training tools on the swim though.

  • Wetsuits: Wetsuits can provide buoyancy and warmth, which can help you swim faster and more efficiently. They are especially beneficial for open water swims, where the water is cold. For details check out review that showed wetsuits can be 10-15 seconds faster per 100m in a swim.
  • Buoyancy shorts: Buoyancy shorts are a type of swimwear that provides extra buoyancy around the hips and legs, basically just the mid section of a wetsuit. This can help you float higher in the water and improve your body position, which can lead to faster swim times as well as less fatigue in the core. For warm water swims where a wetsuit is not allowed or too cumbersome, check if they are allowed for your target race.
  • Smart goggles: Smart goggles are equipped with technology that can track your swim data, such as distance, pace, and stroke count and even display heart rate. This data can help you track your progress and identify areas where you can improve during training. Similar to a bike computer this also helps maintain pace and avoid over cooking with too high of a heart rate at the start of an event by putting information in a heads up display inside the goggle. Smart goggles are mostly allowed in triathlon and can be a good way to access the data that a smart watch would otherwise provide (but is inaccessible while actively swimming). See the full Ciye/Finis smart google review here.
  • Swim cap: A swim cap can help reduce drag and keep your hair out of your face. This can help you swim faster and more comfortably, but often is provided by organizers.

Be Aero On The Bike

Being fast on a bike comes down to two things. Being able to pedal hard, and avoid the resistance that air provides. For this there is training, low weight setups, and ensuring you can hold an aerodynamic position over the course of your race.

  • Triathlon Bike: A triathlon bike is designed specifically for triathlons, with features that make it more aerodynamic and efficient than a traditional road bike. These features can include a more aerodynamic frame, aerobars, and a smaller wheel set. Of course we are partial to the one we bought, the A2 SP which is still one of the lowest cost entry level tri-bikes available.
  • Aero Based Nutrition: Aero based nutrition is designed to help athletes fuel their bodies without creating drag. This type of nutrition typically comes in the form of gels, bars, and chews that are designed to be easy to digest and that don’t create a lot of wind resistance.
  • Aero Helmet: An aero helmet is designed to reduce drag and improve aerodynamics. This can lead to significant gains in speed, especially over long distances. We reviewed a low cost aero helmet here.
  • Calf Sleeves: Calf sleeves can help to reduce muscle fatigue and improve aerodynamics. Some athletes prefer to go shaved leg, but even with smooth skin there are still benefits of the sleeves, in terms of protection from sun and road rash.
  • High End Racing Wheels: High end racing wheels are made from lightweight materials and are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. They can also be more durable than standard wheels, which can help to prevent flats and other mechanical problems. Be careful that you can still work with your race day wheels, a few seconds saved from aerodynamics and weight can get eaten up if you luck out, blow a tire, and don’t know how to replace it!
  • Bike Computers: Bike computers can help you track their speed, distance, and other metrics. This information can be used to monitor progress and to make adjustments to training and racing strategies. Most importantly it can keep you from overdoing it on race day and avoid letting adrenaline burn out what would otherwise be a great performance.

Here are some additional tips for improving triathlon bike times:

  • Get a professional bike fit: A professional bike fit can help to ensure that the bike is properly adjusted for your individual body and riding style. This can lead to improved comfort and efficiency, which can translate into faster times as well as reduce injury risk. If you already are spending money, sometimes thousands, on a bike, computer, and components, there is no reason not to optimize the build with a few dollars spent on a professional fit.
  • Train regularly: The more you train, the faster you will get. Make sure to include plenty of bike workouts in your training plan and talk with your Coach (as mentioned above) if the bike leg is the place you want to really improve.
  • Fuel properly: Eating and drinking the right foods and fluids before, during, and after your bike ride can help to maintain your energy levels and prevent fatigue.

Running Smooth and Fast

Across the disciplines running is the hardest one to simply buy your way up the leaderboard. There are some potential benefits to high end shoes, but overall the gains in running are really about staying comfortable and strong through the run. Still our top few timer savers are as follows:

Quick Tie Shoes. While the actual time benefits of a quick to tie shoe lace are not that huge, it can be a big change if you wind up having to stop multiple times to tie a normal shoe which can not only slow you down but ruin a nice rhythm. We reviewed our favorite quick tie shoe laces here, and for the most part prefer these even during training as it makes getting ready for a run easier.

Easy Nutrition. Nothing will kill a triathlon run time more than a good bonk. As race distances increase athletes find themselves unable to take in nutrition or unaware of how behind they are falling. Having a variety of easy to consume nutrition options helps a lot. We continue to review our favorites which are all available at Amazon and include Tailwind drink supplement, Clif Blok chews, honey waffles, in addition to popular GUs.

Next Generation Running Shoes. If you have spent any time following running over the last few years you will know that the long distance events have been dominated by new shoe technology. The benefits of these is questionable for the average midpack runner, but the mental benefit is still real. While we are not fans of how hard they are to get on in transition (thanks to overly tight sock style ankle openings) they can be light and fast at the half ironman and ironman distance. We made a full review of Nike Tempo Next% previously and still run in them regularly for hard tempo training runs as well as some events.

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