As worldwide awareness of the health benefits of exercise has grown, the athletic apparel industry has become big business.
Whether shoes or clothing, the combination of fashion and function makes it a constantly changing field. It is therefore very tough to keep up with what will help you be more comfortable while exercising.
“Active wear has become more fashionable and made a cross over into casual wear; clothes you can go to the super market in, meet your girlfriends at the coffee shop in, pick up your kids from school in or travel in,” says Jodi Hunter of Funky Monkey Lifestyle Wear.
Match clothing and activity
It is important to find exercise clothing with the right cut for the exercise you intend to do.
“For ball rolling you would not want to choose clothing that is too baggy thus restricting your movement with the ball,” says Hunter.
“Comfort and support are also very important. For example if you were jogging you would look for a bra that offers the support you need but does not feel like you are wearing a straight jacket which can affect your breathing,” she says.
Developments in textile technology allow clothing to be cool while supporting muscles at the same time.
“Material that breaths and wicks away the moisture won’t get heavy when wet and bind to you thus restricting your movement,” says Hunter.
This makes exercising more comfortable, which makes it possible to work harder. Finding clothing that feels soft on the skin is also important, as any roughness will be amplified over time as you exercise.
“If you are doing an activity where you are perspiring a lot you may want some sort of built in cooling system such as zipper pockets with a mesh lining that can be unzipped when you get hot,” says Hunter.
Apart from breathability, some modern fabrics are also anti-bacterial, which means that forgetting your workout clothes in a backpack won’t force you to ventilate the house.
For those who exercise outside, the amount of sun protection afforded by a fabric can also be important. Although some fabrics list the sun protection factor provided, the amount of protection can vary greatly depending on the type of fabric, the thickness and even the colour.
Lightweight, loosely-woven and light coloured fabrics tend to offer little protection, with a white cotton t-shirt offering a ultraviolet protection factor of only around seven. Should the t-shirt become wet, the protection drops even further. A dark-coloured heavy denim shirt would offer something akin to total block, with an ultraviolet protection factor of around 1,700.
A quick do-it-yourself check on the sun protection offered by a fabric can be done by holding it up against the light. The more light shows through, the less sun protection it is likely to offer.
Footwear is also a very important part of any exercise regime, with different shoes suiting different activities.
A pair of shoes that might be perfect for running would be terrible for tennis, as the two activities place different stresses on a shoe. Running shoes are designed to be light and cool while providing good support for the essentially front to back motion involved in running. A sport like tennis involves a lot of lateral motion, which requires a more bulky shoe to deal with the stresses.
The midsoles are also flatter in order to limit the chance of ankle rollover during lateral movements.
It is therefore very important to select the right shoe for the activity you plan to participate in.
For gym use, cross trainers are ideal, as they combine a non marking outsole with good lateral support in order to keep the shoe stable under the stresses placed on it by exercise classes. The stiff shoes are also good for lifting weights.
If the shoe fits
When trying on a shoe, be sure to wear the same socks you will be wearing when exercising, as this can influence the fit of the shoe. Also leave a bit of space between your big toe and the front of the shoe – around the width of a finger as a general rule. Keep in mind that your feet tend to swell somewhat during the course of the day, so buying a pair of shoes in the morning might net you a pair that will be a tight fit later the same day.
An important tip when buying new shoes it to take your current shoes with you, as this will allow the sales assistant to assess the wear on your current shoes, which could be an indication of what would be important in a new pair.
Even when a pair of shoes may still appear in good shape, the support and shock absorption may have deteriorated to a point where the shoe can be the cause of an injury. It is therefore important to replace shoes regularly, especially running shoes, which tend to break down especially quickly if most of your running is done on hard surfaces like tarmac.