Wearing the right exercise apparel can make the difference between workout enjoyment and workout misery. Clothes that rub, chafe, make you feel too hot or too cold can put you off going to the gym or hitting the road.
Here’s our guide to getting it right. We’re going to look at the right fabric and its technology, how to wear them, comfort and fit.
Exercise apparel fabrics.
Technological advances have been put into every type of exercise wear, from socks to headbands.
Wicking fabrics for sports apparel.
The general idea of a lot of exercise is that we increase our heart rate and consequently, we sweat. 100% cotton sports clothing is comfortable, but when sweat-soaked, it keeps the body cold in winter and prevents you from cooling effectively in summer.
The new technology in today’s fabrics allow the sweat to be drawn away from the skin, giving greater comfort and keeping your body temperature more even.
These wicking fabrics are often made from polyester with Lycra and may have a fabric treatment on them to help the wicking process. They’re also called ‘performance fabrics’ or ‘technical fabrics’. Look for these terms when you’re buying sports clothes.
It is recommended that when you wash these types of fabrics, you don’t use fabric softener.
Sports people are turning to compression sports wear as a way of improving blood flow and reducing injury recovery time.
Veins, which return the blood to the heart, have valves to prevent the blood pooling. From inside the body they also depend on the muscles pumping to help with this.
Compression sportswear works from the outside of the body by giving a layer of tight-fitting fabric over the skin to help blood flow. This is most important in exercise pants/trousers.
Assisting blood flow in this way is said to carry away lactic acid from the muscles so that is doesn’t build up, and can prevent muscle soreness.
Many new fabrics designed for the exercise apparel market are treated with an anti-microbial treatment to reduce or prevent odour.
Body-fitting fabrics for sportswear.
Lycra/Spandex (elastane) has been around for a long time now, and has revolutionized the fit of many of our clothing.
In fitness clothing elastane is important in helping maintain the shape of the item, as well as making it more comfortable and better suited to its job. For example – it’s easier to do yoga in stretchy clothes than baggy ones that may fall away during head-down poses.
In addition, where elastane helps give a better fit, we often feel more body confident when we wear it, and it helps to better mold and shape the body.
Sports clothes should have about 10% elastane content to be effective.
New fabrics with an anti-Lyme Disease treatment (permethrin) are available if you walk in environments where Lyme Disease/ticks are a problem.
How to wear sports apparel for economy.
By buying correctly you won’t need a set of sport clothes for winter and a separate set for summer.
The secret is in layering and buying for your main sport activity. For example if your main sport activity is cycling but you also run, then choosing a close fitting pant/trouser makes more sense as you don’t want wider legged trousers for cycling.
In summer for outside exercise, or for exercising in an air-conditioned gym, you’ll need:
- the right length pants/trousers – this may be shorts, mid calf or full length; loose fitting or tight, depending on your preference and activity, socks,
- trainers (see the article highlighted to read about choosing sports footwear),
- sports bra for women,
- a tight-fitting vest top.
For warm ups and cool downs you’ll have baggier tops and tee shirts, and a fleece.
In winter your tight-fitting vest becomes your base layer, helping prevent cold air getting to your skin when you’re warming up, and your baggier layers help to trap air and keep you warm if you’re exercising outside.
In winter add a lightweight rain-cheater and high-visibility jacket or over vest.
If you wear thin leggings in summer, or compression sportswear then this becomes your base layer on your bottom half for warmth.
Buying sportswear for comfort.
It goes without saying that sports clothes need to be comfortable. There should be no rubbing or chafing from seams or poor fitting when you’re doing repeated movements during your regime.
- Look for blends of fabrics that are recommended to give good wicking of sweat (see above) and avoid 100% cotton, especially if you know you sweat a lot.
- Look for styles, a fit and fabrics that give support and expansion.
- Try before you buy. Jump about and practise those repetitive movements in the changing room and check for red rubbing marks on your skin.
- If you’re buying online then check the site’s returns policy before you hit ‘add to basket’.
- Look for 10% elastane (Lycra/Spandex) in sports clothes, to give the best fit.
- Focus more on fit than size. Sports clothes tend to be cut smaller so if you’re dress size 10 you may be a sports size 12 etc.
- If adding a new piece of sports wear to your wardrobe helps you stay motivated to train, why not add something in a the latest ‘hot’ colour.