Having the right fitness apparel can make your workouts more comfortable, enjoyable, and productive. While I still feel strongly that a good fitness routine can be done with a minimal amount of equipment and gear, the benefit of the right gear can not be overstated. Just like a good pair of
running shoes can help you avoid injury, the right fitness apparel can help you maintain your focus on the workout…and not the discomfort of heavy clothing, chaffing, or other problems from wearing the wrong clothing.
Within the last decade there has been a virtual fabric revolution. There are so many affordable fitness clothing options available today which makes wearing that old traditional cotton sweat suit feel like a heavy burlap sack by comparison. In you’re running outdoors in the cold or inclement weather, you’ll likely be dressing in layers. Each of these layers has a purpose and function whether it’s to maintain a dry skin surface, to stay warm, or to resist the wind’s chill. So no matter where you’re working out – indoors, outdoors, hot & sunny, or cold & rainy…the right fitness apparel could keep you cool, dry, and comfortable while not sacrificing performance from additional weight and abrasive fabrics. Below is a description of the various types of fabrics, their benefits, their downsides, and some name brand examples:
- Fitness Apparel Fabric #1 – Polyester Synthetic Fibers
If you’re looking for fitness apparel in a sporting goods store, you’ll find many different types and brand names of synthetic fibers – from CoolMax to Under Armor. Most of these fabrics use some form of polyester fiber and may weave Lycra, cotton, or another material into their proprietary fabric. The difference in the quality of these fabrics is usually found in the shape of the fibers. “Round fibers” (picture a strand of string) is not near as effective in wicking moisture and allowing air flow, as a channel-shaped fiber found in some of the better fabrics. These channel-shaped fibers found in quality fitness clothing can keep your skin dry, cool, and comfortable. One of the better brands of fabrics for fitness apparel is CoolMax. CoolMax is made from a patented polyester fiber that’s quite effective at wicking moisture away from your body to keep you dry and cool. It’s also a ‘breathable’ fiber, meaning that air is able to easily permeate the fabric. Other examples of synthetic microfibers are Under Armour, DryFit, DryZone, DryLite, etc... These fabrics can make a real difference in training and performance, and they make a great first layer (socks, shorts liner, shirts, sports bra).
- Fitness Apparel Fabric #2 – Spandex / Lycra / Elastane
Made by Dupont, these fabrics put the stretch and form-fit into a lot of the fitness apparel on the market today. Spandex or Lycra are most commonly found in biker shorts, swimwear, sports bras, and compression shorts. The benefit of this type of fabric is that they are light weight, very elastic, they don’t retain water, and they are soft on the skin. However, these fabrics don’t ‘breath’ very well and they will degrade in chlorine environments.
- Fitness Apparel Fabric #3 – Nylon
Nylon is a tremendous fabric for battling the elements. When you look at windbreakers or running jackets, pay attention to the thickness, measured in denier. I have a windbreaker that is 15-denier nylon and does a great job at cutting down on the wind chill with just under 2.5 ounces of weight! For comparison, many 50-denier windbreakers can weigh over 10 ounces. If you’re looking at a windbreaker, evaluate the need for it. If you want it as a shell to put over a long-sleeve synthetic fiber for windy days…go ultralight (15-denier). If you want something more substantial for rainy days, go 50+ denier. A typical track warm-up suit is 70-denier. I’d also pay close attention to the liner material. It’s nice having a cotton liner for cool downs and warm-ups…but this can detract from performance, as the cotton will soak up sweat.. Nylon fitness apparel is really nice to have for outdoor training in the wind and cold. Some windbreakers even come with a breathable polyurethane coating which makes it even more water and wind resistant.
- Fitness Apparel Fabric #4 – Cotton
Cotton is one of the most comfortable fabrics out there. It’s naturally hypo-allegenic; It’s a renewable material source, and it naturally absorbs sweat from your skin. But for fitness apparel, cotton has some real drawbacks. Cotton can hold a lot of water weight, so as you sweat the fabric gets heavier. As the fabric gets heavier, it can also get more abrasive against your skin. A cotton shirt can really tear your skin up on a long run or workout. Even cotton socks can be miserable on a hot and humid days. Wet feet become very soft and susceptible to blisters. Because of its comfort and price, cotton clothing is always nice to wear…just not for workouts!
- Fitness Apparel Fabric #5 – Wool
Wool used to be reserved for the just the heartiest of winter expeditions, but there is now some wool fitness apparel that has broken out of the stereotypical “itchy” mold. Some of the benefits of wool are its natural wicking ability, it’s durability, and it’s resistance to odor. And like cotton, wool is a natural and renewable clothing source. Brands like Merino’s Woolistic performance clothing are worth looking into if you searching for quality wool fitness clothing.
Having fitness apparel that keeps you comfortable can be a real benefit. Sometimes even the slightest discomforts can help us lose our focus and motivation, thus robbing you of that positive energy that you need to succeed. If you haven’t tried a nice synthetic-weave running or workout shirt, try one out…it may just give you that edge that you’re looking for.
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