The science of fitness clothing has come a long way from those baggy cotton sweatshirts and knit leg warmers of previous decades. Today, exercisers have a vast array of choices for workout fabrics, and choosing appropriate materials for a particular sport or purpose can be a difficult process.
Factors to Consider
The first factor to consider when purchasing new workout out clothes is the type of exercise you'll be doing. Sport-specific attire is designed take into account the types of movements that will be done and what type of fabric the wearer will need to stay comfortable and dry.
For yoga and stretching, Lindsay Law of Overstock.com points out that polyester and spandex are good fabrics for allowing the exerciser to bend easily. For high-impact cardiovascular exercises like running and aerobics, she recommends moisture-wicking fabrics like nylon for staying dry while sweating.
About Moisture-Wicking Fabrics
While once the most commonly-worn exercise fabric, cotton absorbs moisture and can therefore become heavy and uncomfortable on the body once it becomes drenched in sweat. Today, athletes who want to stay dry during their workout have a wide variety of synthetic fabrics to choose from, including Nike Dri-FIT and Polartec PowerDry.
According to REI.com, "Synthetic fibers are, essentially, plastic—and virtually nonabsorbent." Moisture travels along the surface of the fiber, but since it cannot be absorbed, the moisture from persperation is then dispersed from the inside of piece of clothing and drawn to the outside of it, where it evaporates when it makes contact with the air.
In addition to the material itself, a chemical finish is often applied to moisture-wicking clothing in order to enhance its performance, allowing it to quickly draw moisture along its nonabsorbent fibers and transport it to the garment's exterior.
For outdoor sports, staying cool in the heat or staying warm in the cold are important to maximizing one's performance. One type of high-performance cooling fabric, COOLMAX, uses moisture-wicking technology to draw moisture away from the skin and keep the wearer dry and comfortable, but in addition it is specifically designed to be light and breathable for warmer- weather workouts.
For cold weather, synthetic fibers like Polartec Thermal Pro create air pockets that trap air and retain body heat, providing warmth without being too heavy on the body. In addition to insulating the body, many of these thermal garments are sprayed with a water repellent finish that helps sheild the wearer from rain and snow.
While the use of Spandex has been used for decades with the purpose of comfort during bending and stretching activities, newer technology has allowed stretchable fabric to find a whole new market in compression clothing. Using a special knitting process and fabric, compression sleeves can improve circulation during and after physical activity to help alleviate stiff, sore muscles and hasten muscle recovery. The sleeves stimulate blood flow, helping to reduce lactic acid build-up and prevent delayed onset muscle soreness.