Workout wear is not what it used to be—and that’s a good thing. Many years ago, heavy cotton and polyester fabrics were the only options in exercise apparel. Both trapped heat and moisture which made working out a sweaty, smelly experience.
With recent advancements in fabric technology, it’s now possible to break a sweat while staying relatively cool and comfortable, which makes it easier to take on longer and more intense workouts.
Today’s wide selection of athletic apparel allows us to feel good and look good while working out. Although the style and color options are amazing, in order to get the best workout wear for optimal comfort and performance, focus on fabric and fit, especially when choosing shoes and socks.
“Avoid cotton,” says Sarah Stornant, apparel buyer for Playmakers in Okemos. “Synthetic mixes of polyester, nylon and/or Merino wool are the best base layers—clothing worn next to the skin—because they pull moisture away from the body. Plus, Merino wool is antimicrobial so it can be worn for 3-5 workouts—depending on the person—before needing to be washed, which makes it convenient for travel or if you need to keep workout clothes in a locker for several days.”
Tops, shorts and pants aren’t the only athletic apparel made with microfiber materials—sport bras and panties are, too. Microfiber underwear adds another layer of comfort that’s worth the investment.
For indoor workouts, Stornant recommends the lighter weight form of the fabrics, called “microweight”. There are several brands of athletic apparel made with microweight Merino wool. Playmakers carries Ibex, Icebreaker and Smartwool.
To maintain the fabric’s performance—its breathability and moisture control properties—use detergent that’s free of perfume and fabric softener such as Sport-Wash or WIN.
“Athletic apparel should be fitted but not tight,” says Stornant. “The closer to the body, the better.” A fit that’s snug but not constricting allows for smoother movement, optimal wicking, and lessens the chance of chafing. Some brands of athletic apparel now offer a wide variety of sizes. Playmakers carries Moving Comfort and Nike athletic apparel which offer sizes up to 2X and 3X, respectively.
Before buying, try on athletic apparel and put it through the motions you’ll be using when working out. Make sure the clothes provide adequate coverage and don’t slip, slide, bunch or bind. You don’t want to spend time adjusting your clothing during workouts.
“The most important thing is footwear,” says Stornant, who explains that both the fit and function of footwear should be considered. Fit is important for comfort and support to help reduce risk of injury. Function, or the primary activity, should determine the type of shoe selected: a running shoe vs. a cross-trainer. If engaging primarily in side-to-side foot movements, as in dance aerobics, a cross-training shoe is probably best. If running on treadmills or using ellipticals most often, which requires front-to-back foot motions, a running shoe is probably best.
Again, avoid cotton which absorbs moisture and holds it close to the skin causing discomfort and blisters. Stornant recommends socks made with Merino wool which come in varying weights and styles for particular seasons and sports. They can be worn multiple times before washing. Playmakers carries Goodhew and Smartwool socks.
- Small comforts can make a big difference. Although not necessary, these items may make your workouts more enjoyable.
- Lightweight, thin belts to tote keys, money, cell phone, water bottle, etc. (SPIbelt)
- Pockets or pouches that clip on a waistband or the top of a shoe to hold items (Nathan or Amphipod)
- Anti-chafe balm (Body Glide or Sport Shield)
- Earbud enhancers which allow earbuds to conform to the inner ear for better fit and sound quality (Yurbuds)
- Deodorizer inserts for shoes, gym bag or locker (Fresh Twist by Penguin)