Note: For an updated version of this post, see the Spring 2012 Guide to  Plus size Triathlon apparel (including selection and shopping guidance).  For some older ideas, see the Summer 2011 Guide to Plus Size Triathlon Clothing.  

It probably comes as no surprise, but the clothing posts on The Plus Runner get quite a lot of traffic.  At first, I wasn’t surprised, because we all want to look cute – but as I move into the third month here, I’m still amazed at how many of us are looking for cute clothes that fit – and make us feel like the athetes we are – or are becoming.

With that in mind, I’m conquering one of the final frontiers in Plus Sized Active clothing – the triathlon.

I’ve been doing triathlons for quite awhile now, though this year probably presents my biggest personal challenge.  But for many of you, it’s your first season, your first race, the first time you’re going to be baring yourself, in all its wet glory, to the world after an exhilerating swim, and you’re probably wondering “what in the WORLD was I thinking?”

You were thinking this was a great way to get in shape, get a tan (as politically incorrect as THAT seems) and try something amazing.  Now you just need to look good doing it.   And you’re wondering, “What the hell do I wear? These clothes are made for chics with no chest, no ass, and definitely some questionable color choices.  Help!”

That’s where I come in.  I’ve been searching retailers for years, and I’ve provided a little guide here to help you dress for your Big Day.  I’m breaking the clothing recommendations into two groups here: training and racing.  Why?  Because sometimes it’s just easier that way.  No, really.

How do you dress for a three-sport race?  Very carefully.

Even if you just want to finish, completing a triathlon can take some planning.  The first race I ever did, I wore my bathing suit in the swim (with my bra underneath it – please, a 38D running without a real bra? Yeah RIGHT!).  I waddled into transition, (somewhat confused by the 20 yard sand-dash that I had to conquer to get to my bike), pulled on skin-tight men’s running shorts, over which I put on a loose pair of mesh workout shorts, threw on a tee shirt, and EIGHT MINUTES LATER sauntered out of T1.  Take my advice: the fewer things you have to add to your body in transition, the better.  You will be wet, somewhat out of breath, and trying to just get on the bike.  Don’t let your clothes get in your way.

So.  To start, get comfortable with the fact that people are going to see you in some skimpy clothes.  Cultivate the following phrase:  “I am incredibly strong.  These people are cheering for me.  My body rocks.”  Then, get used to showing some skin.

Let’s begin with what the little people wear.  An average woman racer will throw on the following for race day:

1)  Triathlon-specific shorts.

2) Triathlon-specific tank top with a bra built in.

3) Wetsuit over the top of the whole shebang, and off she goes.

The Big Girls’ list is a bit more extensive.  In all likelihood, your list will look like this:

1) Compression shorts which may or may not be triathlon-specific

2) Your regular running or training bra.

3) Wetsuit over the top for the swim (if you have one).

4) Wicking tank top for the bike and run.

Notice that you’re not wearing your bathing suit in the water.  It’s just too much of a pain in the ass, frankly.  And you’re not going to whip on a pair of diaper-like bike shorts for the bike, only to run around in them looking like you have a load in your pants on the run.  Nope.  You’re going to pick a few pieces of clothing, get comfortable in them, and get moving.

Some guidance to get started, and what to look for.  I’ve searched EVERY store on the web, and in person, and this is the best list I can come up with.  If you know of something more, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Triathlon-specific race shorts

  • include a light bike pad in the seat to keep your butt from getting really sore;
  • are quick-drying (read: NOT COTTON, and in fact are more like swimsuit material);
  • have silicone leg grippers at the bottom to keep the legs in place as you swim, bike and run, eliminating chafing).
  • Danskin short here.  $48.00.  Only runs to an XXL, which “offiically” fits 46″-48″ across the widest part of your hips.  I am currently running about 53″ at the hips, and I’ve worn them without any see-through activity, so if you’re close to these measurements, I’d order them – they are, quite simply, the best alternative I’ve found if you’re a 22 or below.  Browse the Danskin site for some additional triathlon shorts, but most of their clearance items from last season are gone in a Size XXL.  SUMMER 2010 UPDATE: REI has these shorts in stock, though the 7″ black is sold out in an XXL, the 5″ cute ones are still in. in an XXL (and other sizes).  Danskin tells me they will call to let me know when their stock is updated in July, 2010.
  • Aerotech Designs carries plus-sized women’s triathlon bottoms, here. $34.95.

My Swimming Race Day Choice (Bottom) The Danskin short.

In the summer of 09, I thought I’d be racing in the REI short (which is great, but REI isn’t offering it this year).  Instead, I’m living in my Danskins.  My old Tyr triathlon shorts from a few seasons back are a Unisex/mens short, and  I’m usually willing to try a men’s short, but since I’m a slave to the size charts (and you should be too, if you’re ordering online), I’m not going to risk that the men’s shorts will not be wide enough to cover my Texas-sized stomach and hip region.  So, after much, much searching, I was going to try the REI Compression Short here as my racing short.  They are a simple compression short, but quick-drying, which is good.  I ordered two pairs from REI  (one in a 2X, one in a 3X), tried them both on when they shipped (for free) to the store…and took them both back.  I wasn’t thrilled with the leg gripper (there was none, and I was concerned it would ride up) and I also wasn’t convinced they were the best fit.

(Update, 6/18) This is the one downside of ordering all your clothing online.  Sometimes, it’s trial and error.  While I was at REI, I picked up the Danskin tri shorts in a Size XL.  They were definitely too small for me, but they were MUCH more generous than the men’s Zoot shorts…so I ordered up a pair of XXL’s online.  Per the size chart, I’m about 3 inches bigger in the hips than the shorts should allow.  BUT when they arrived, I’m happy to say they are comfortable, do not cut off circulation in any area, AND are not stretched so thin as to be see through.  The silicone grippers in the leg are perfect (not too tight, no chafing); and the most ingeneous part of the short may be the side pockets, OR the stealthy additional fabric that runs up the middle of the back panel – giving you JUST a little bit of protection from the world seeing the, um, dividing line of your behind, when you’re on the bike or the run.  Awesome shorts – I rue the day I ever mocked Danskin.

Why not the Aerotech short?  I have the Danskin in hand, and I know it fits, but for you, Aerotech may be the way to go.  One of our readers says to tell you this: they run a little big, so you may want to order down if you’re between measurements.

My Swimming/Biking/Running Race Day Choice (Top)

Because I’m currently a 40D, I can’t get away with not wearing a bra on race day.  I’ve tried to put one on in Transition, and unless you’re looking to amuse the 40 people watching their loved ones in T1, I’d skip that exercise.  Instead, wear your bra in the water, under your wetsuit.  You don’t have to wear anything on top of it, but if you have a tight, wicking tank top that you want to wear all day, go for it.   On race day, I’ll be wearing my Moving Comfort Maia bra, (Black). (I decided not to splurge on a wetsuit this year, so I’ll be wearing the bra alone, no top.)   In T1, I’ll put on a wicking tank top, similar to this one or this one, and wear that for the bike and run.  (Update:  That Nike Victory Top is wonderful – flat seams, breathable, and more than long enough to cover my stomach and not ride up my back on the bike.)

If you’re not wearing a wetsuit on race day, then you might want to consider a different top over your bra for the swim.

Triathlon specific race tops:

  • Danskin tops here.   Includes some great looking tops that have built-in bras (use at your own risk), around $50.  Size XXL will fit a chest of 44″-46″ and a waist of 35″-37″.
  • Junonia tops here.  Includes a really nice “typical” multi-purpose swim/bike/run top like this one which, if you’re not wearing a wetsuit, I’d throw on over a bra and compression shorts, and you’d be set for the entire day.   *****NOTE that Junonia also offers a unitard, which is also pretty typical tri wear.  Now, I have a friend who loaned me hers once, and it fit great, definitely makes life easier, but I felt really, really warm in it, and also had the uncomfortable sensation that nothing was “held in its place” very well.  Others might feel differently, but for me, it’s just too much movin’ and shakin’ going on, with not enough holdin’ it togetha’.  If you know what I mean.

My Swimming Training Choice (Top + Bottom)

I do some of my training in the pool, some in the open water.  A pool will eat up my sports bra pretty quickly, so I’ll do most of my pool training in my regular tank suit.  In the open water, I’ll be in my bathing suit (under my wetsuit) or in compression shorts and my sports bra (yep, just me and the folks at the Ohio Street Beach).  No one cares how pasty your stomach is when you swim a mile and they’re eating burgers and fries on the beach.  Really, I promise!

And What About Plus-Sized Wetsuits?

Triathlon wetsuits are not marketed to Plus-Sized women – but that doesn’ t mean you can’t get one that fits.

In 2003, I purchased an Xterra Long John wetsuit in a size Large.  The 2009 model is a Vortex 3 John, and the size charts are interesting.  I wore it until I was at about 235 pounds – at 5’9″.  The size chart states that anyone over 5’4″ and 180 pounds should wear this size.

For me?  Possibly a Zoot Fuzion, Men’s XXL, which has a higher weight ratio (up to 240 pounds) that may work.  I investigated DeSoto, Xterra, and Quintana Roo, and none of them looks as if it will work.

UPDATE: As of the summer of 2010, I’m rocking around in a lovely Xterra Vortex 3, which I picked up on sale for $99 last summer (sleeveless). Feels great, and lots of room!

If you’re looking for a westuit, I’d encourage you to try them on, rent them online for a week, or borrow a friend’s before buying. I bought the Xterra after swimming in it several times – and still love it (it just doesn’t love my love handles).  If you live in Chicago, Fleet Feet Sports offers rentals on weeknights and weekends at Ohio Street Beach – and also allows you to rent for a week and apply the cost of the rental to the purchase of a suit.  Ask around in your town for similar programs!

My Biking Training Choice (Bottom)

You’re dozing off now, but one more quick point.  When you’re training, you SHOULD get used to the clothing you’ll be wearing on race day.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a little comfort here and there.  I’ll be doing some 90 minute rides getting ready for race day, so I’m going to be wearing my old Terry T-Short bike shorts for the ride.  I’d recommend finding a good pair of bike shorts that you like and you’ll wear for a few years to train in.

As with any gear or clothing purchase, try to keep some perspective: the purpose of this sport is not to bankrupt you.  However, if you invest now, you may find yourself using that gear a lot.

Have questions? Drop me a line!

See you on the path….


36 thoughts

  1. One tip I might add to this, only because it took me a couple years to figure this out, don’t wear underwear while doing your tri. In fact, biking and tri shorts are much more confortable without undies.

    1. Excellent, excellent point! I had forgotten about the ONE occasion I did that…only it wasn’t underwear, it was a bathing suit bottom. You pretty much obliterate the usefulness of having on biking and tri shorts if you try underwear underneath – too many seams, doesn’t wick as well….if only we’d known all this when we started!

  2. Thanks for the great info. I am 5’9″, 235 lbs and planning and training for my first tri in September. I was unsure of how I could possibly pull this off at my size without looking like a jerk and your blog really helped me on a down day. Now I am at least feeling as though I can dress appropriately, so thank you. Now if I could just figure out how I am going to survive the actual race…

  3. OMG! This has been an answer to prayer…I, too, am doing my first tri in September and being 5’5″ and 209 with a big bust it has been trying to find something to look decent in and feel good wearing it. I am so excited about these tips…THANK YOU!!!

  4. Thanks a bunch… I found a one piece tri-suit on Junonia I am gonna try. I will let you know the deal. If I ‘giggle’ I may wear my tankini shorts under to ‘hold things in’.

  5. Thanks so much for the info! I have just started training for my first tri in August. I have been discouraged about what to wear. My measurements are larger than yours, but I feel as if there is some hope. AND, if after 6 weeks I can be down 17lbs in that time I have high hopes in being able to fit into SOMETHING decent on race day! I will look into your suggestions and follow size charts more than anything.
    Anyone tried Men’s cycling shorts? Like I said, I am new to this… pardon the dumb question…

    1. JJBOG –
      First, way to go training for your first tri!!! Second, there IS apparel out there, you just have to be crafty!!! Even if you can’t be down 17 pounds on race day, I think you’ll find something good!

      A couple of things to note: first, you can definitely try men’s shorts, but if you’re looking for tri apparel, check out Aerotech designs, because they definitely have sizes that will go up to fit you…

      Second, if you want to go “unisex”, check out the triathlon stuff first…and if you need “plus” cycling shorts, go with Terry or Moving Comfort – they’re women’s specific, and if you’re looking for a heavy duty cycling short, they’ll be great for you…

      Definitely consider going with a bra (whatever sports bra you’d wear) and whatever you’re comfortable with over top. Melissa, another reader, ordered the Junonia top recently, and said it was pretty generous and worked just fine!

      Let me know what you order, and what works!!!

      1. Yes, a bra is not an option. At this time I am a 44H. There will be much damage to myself and bystanders who may not recover if I elect to do this without a bra!

        I am concerned about cost though. I am a stay at home mom of 3 boys under 6 so our budget cannot really absorb major expenses. I am planning a yard sale this weekend to come up with the $ for the bike shorts and dri-wick type top since I have been training in my cotton blend capri stretch pants and a cotton t-shirt.

        Looking at the cost for some of this stuff I am wondering if there is anywhere I can apply for a grant! YIKES!

        Thanks for the input and the cheers! And to make this even better, you have the same name as my mom and spell it the same way. I have never known anyone besides her and her grandmother with that name!

      2. Okay, if I may, a few suggestions???
        First, are you doing a sprint triathlon for your first race? If so, I’d skip buying triathlon or cycling-specific shorts, and just get a pair of compression shorts. Champion
        Champion has some right now for $22 (though they’re a cotton mix, they are supposedly double dry and might work)…

        And honestly, you can wear your normal sports bra on top, and either a) go without a top in the water (most folks take awhile to get used to this) or check out a tank at New Balance’s online outlet, or the Nike one I posted yesterday…..

        Also found this top at Sierra Trading post (still $30, probably too much!),2324T_Skirt-Sports-Marathon-CandD-Support-Tank-Top-Shelf-Bra-For-Women.html

        Or, you can try this as an alternative for a top – Wal Mart carries the Danskin brand, and this is their “Dri More” which is cotton + wicking, but up to a 4X. You could still wear a bra underneath, but it should work for you….(it’s only $9, and might be worth it just to have something that fits??? ) They have it in multiple colors, but it looks like only the Gray still has stock left over a 2X, and the White.

        Hope that helps!

  6. I JUST came across your blog after typing in Triathlon Plus size clothing! Great stuff!!! I just joined a tri training group, and I’ve signed up for my first Sprint tri in September! I’ve been running for over a year, have lost 100+ lbs, and I’m ready to find my inner athlete. I’m 5’9 and weigh 260, so I still have a way to go, BUT I’m stronger and fitter than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m feeling like I can definitely do this. Thanks so much for the inspiration! So glad I’m finding other plus sized triathletes out there =)

    1. Thanks, Stephanie!! So glad that you’re here!

      It’s awesome to hear your story and know that you’re still kicking butt and loving training after dropping 100+ pounds!!! Your first sprint tri will be amazing – you just have to plan and train, and you clearly know how to do both!

      Keep coming for a visit and let us know how you’re doing! You can also keep up with our community on Facebook!

  7. Thanks for the great information! I am training for my first sprint tri in November. The swim is in a pool but the ride and run are both outdoors. It can be pretty chilly hear in Nov so do you have any suggestions about what to put on after the swim? I was planning on swimming in compression shorts/tank or something similar. I don’t think I could do the shorts/bra thing…I live in and will be competing in my small town! I was just worried that anything I put on over what I swim in will get too wet and I’ll freeze. Thanks!

    1. Megan – awesome that you will be planning for a race in November! But challenging, yes!
      I would definitely swim in shorts…and a sports bra or a tank if you don’t have a lot upstairs…if it’s going to be cold there, you can either wear a sportsbra underneath and then just strip off the wet tank, or just swim in the bra and put something more substantial on afterwards.
      In Chicago, in November, for an outdoor ride and run, I’d need to probably change clothes entirely….technically, the USAT has a “no naked in Transition” rule 🙂 but maybe you’ll be able to change in a locker room?

      If so, now that I think about it, I’d just flat-out change if its going to be cold – the hardest part will be pulling on tights, but you can do it! Just practice leading up to it and you’ll be fine. On top I’d pull on a wicking poly top of some sort and maybe a vest, depending on what you have going on….

      Let’s talk more as it gets closer!

  8. FYI – I ordered a pair of the Aerotech shorts, maybe I purchased a size too big, but I hate them. The waist comes up really high, to the middle of my rib cage and the pad feels like a diaper when it gets sweaty. No way am I swimming in these then biking and I can’t even conceive of running in these shorts, yuk.

    1. Oh, Denise, I’m SOO sorry! I haven’t worn them myself and I wondered how they were….

      This is the challenge with trying to find vendors for Tri clothing in our size. I’m really sorry to have steered you wrong.

      Have you tried the Danskin shorts? The 5″ short is still available (and I saw it last weekend at Danskin in an XXL, it definitely fits up to a Size 22). Take a look at the sizing and see if maybe it works for you???

  9. Hi! I just saw the post about the Aero shorts. I bought some a couple of months ago and I do really like them. They have stretched out a bit and so I will have to get a smaller pair for race day, so they don’t come off (YIKES) during the swim, but I have found them to be pretty good for what I am asking them to do. I have done several brick workouts in them and while I don’t enjoy the “long” waist in them, I haven’t found it terribly uncomfortable.

    I am going to look into the danskin ones as well because the stitching is starting to unravel a bit by the pad on the inside. Not terrible for a pair of $35 cycling shorts though. If I’d paid $80 I’d be livid.

    Just didn’t want everyone to rule out the Aerotech ones… they have worked well for me.


  10. Thank you for your insight! I had a terrible expereince at a local tri expo where no one was willing to help me find something that would work and most of the the people in my tri club are the classic tri-atheles so can’t really help me.

    PI has XXL shorts thaat have been a god sent that I was able to get at Amazon for $50.

  11. Thanks for the great advice! I did a few triathlons last year, and unfortunately found out some of what doesn’t work. Chaffing from the wrong bra and shorts, plus seriously long T1 times. Have you found any shirts that work for after the swim that may have extra support but not tight around the gut area? Plus, the last few I did, I never saw anyone swimming in just their bras…is this typically a faux pa or am I just the only bigger girl in a sea of skinny minis?

    1. Ah Smiley, good question (and sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to you!) Shirts – the only thing I’ve found is that you can wear a tighter but lightweight and wicking tank in the water, or wear something that doubles as a swim shirt and workout shirt. Land’s End makes “board shirts” or “rashguard” shirts sometimes that fit this bill but I haven’t tried them. These are a bit looser but you’d wear a normal sportsbra under them.

      As for the folks in the bras, most people wedge themselves into a tight tri-style tank (or a bra/tank combo – Nike has some in an XXL but they’re not really enough to run in if you have a chest) – so yes, you’ll feel awkward and out of place slightly in a sea of minis. Depending on what you’re comfy with, I’d recommend adding one of those rashguard style tanks or even one of the Nike, Danskin, or New Balance options on top.


  12. Thank you so much!
    I am participating in my 1st beginning tri in Oct. and was totally depressed, you now give me hope 🙂
    “not even an L or XL in the stores around here”….

    1. Sarah – glad to be of help!!!! You’ll be fine in October – just prep, check out some listings, and find a few options 🙂 Good luck!

  13. It’s interesting to read all of this. Thank you for the information!! I have done several tris and half marathons. I am 5’6″ and weight about 190. I can fit into women’s XL in tri clothing and wetsuits. But honestly, why isn’t there more variety in plus size triathlon clothing and wetsuits??? I don’t think curvy women should have to wear a men’s wetsuit. A men’s wetsuit is built for a man…no room for curves! Same with tri clothing. Actually, most active wear seems to be designed for skinny girls with a with either very plain or very sleezy taste. Where is the cool stuff with great patterns/colors for the curvy girls?? I’m very tempted to attack this problem myself and have had lots of encouragement to do so!! Good to know there’s a market out there that’s probably bigger than we realize. It’s interesting to note that L and XL clothing sells fast in stores. I usually have to buy online. More and more women of all sizes are getting into these sports which is awesome! Congrats to all the ladies taking the plunge. One thing to always remember ladies… proud of your bodies! It can do amazing things You’ll find plenty of encouragement at these events!!

  14. Thanks so much for all the valuable information! I will be completing my first sprint triathlon this Spring and have been going crazy trying to figure out what to wear. My husband is still laughing knowing i will have to go ‘commando’ that day – ha ha!

  15. Awesome, thanks for this site. I’m a size 16/36ddd runner and swimmer and just got talked into a tri. Was trying to figure out wtf to wear!

  16. I’m doing my first sprint in 2 weeks and was really starting to freak about attire until I found this. Since I train alone I haven’t really focused on attire and transition until the last few weeks. Now my training regimen consists of clothing as well as timing. Thanks for the great suggestions and experiences. For what its worth, I’ve found the Ex-Officio travel brief fits well under any compression or bike short I’ve tried, with no chafing and quick drying.

  17. This post is pure joy! Some days it feels like I’m the only plus-size athlete out there. Thanks for the advice. I’m looking forward to putting it to work in my first triathlon next month.

  18. I love you all! I was just getting very frustrated shopping online for a trisuit and a wetsuit for my first races, but with a 42 bust and a 48 hip, not much there. Did you get the men’s xterra vortex sleeveless, or womes’s xl? My coach is recommending that one

  19. I know this is an old post but hope you can respond. The wetsuit that you found, what size was it and was it mens or womens? I am struggling to find an affordable one for a size 20ish.

    1. Hi L!
      The wetsuits that I’ve always swum in were Xterra men’s. From about 5’8” 180-220 I wore a Large men’s (you can cut the legs to fit) and over that weight the XL. Not idea but they worked. Last year I tried to purchase one of the lighter weight suits from another brand and they were just too small.

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