Hi all, this is a post by Brooklyn Williams:
Why Are You Running in That Cotton T-Shirt? The Benefits of Compression Shorts and Other Advanced Workout Gear
When Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a registered entrant in 1967, it was a step forward for women’s rights, but not for athletic clothing design. Switzer ran the race in a baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants long before technical athletic clothing became the huge industry that it is today. Photos from that race back in 1967 show how much running attire has changed since then. Although the other runners near Switzer wore running shorts instead of sweat pants, they all had long-sleeved sweatshirts on. Today’s athletic attire is more technical in its design with engineering that prioritizes function and comfort.
The overwhelming majority of traditional athletic apparel was made of cotton. This inexpensive, easy to produce fabric has a lot going for it, most notably, the fact that it ‘breathes’, making it more comfortable than other fabrics.
After physical exertion, cotton starts to become uncomfortable, as it absorbs perspiration and becomes more prone to chafing. Clothing begins to feel like an irritating wet towel. Another problem with cotton clothing is that it was not designed specifically for the events it was used in. This may make it suitable for many uses, but it provides no special benefits for any of them.
The lack of aerodynamic efficiency is another problem. Over the course of a 26.2 mile race, the drag on baggy clothing would slow down finishing times significantly. A modest two percent decrease in wind resistance can make a difference of 31 metres in a marathon. Aerodynamic clothing has been used for years by competitive cyclists and world-class sprinters. It is only recently that it has appeared in other sports.
Whether it’s designed for running, football or tennis, modern athletic apparel is made of synthetic fibres that wick away perspiration. Not only does this keep you from feeling like you are wearing a wet rag on hot days, it also helps on cold days. Wearing multiple layers of non-technical clothing may keep you warm on a cold day initially, but after perspiring, few things are more uncomfortable than wearing wet clothing when it’s 30 degrees outside.
Another important benefit of technical athletic clothing is that the material is substantially less prone to chafing. Running a marathon in cotton clothing would cause numerous problems for many runners. Socks made of this material can cause irritation and blisters in the feet. Shirts can cause nipple chafing and bleeding and shorts made of more abrasive materials irritate the legs.
Clothing that is technical in nature is not only designed with comfort in mind, it is also suited for the activity the user participates in. It won’t make a 10 minute-per-mile runner into a Boston qualifier, but it will help improve the user’s overall experience.
Football undershirts are a great example of this evolution. For years, the outer jerseys that football players wore during practice and in games were made of mesh materials that were durable and tear-resistant, but also provided ventilation to allow body heat to escape.
Not nearly as much though went into undershirts these players wore. These were typically cotton t-shirts that may have protected against shoulder pad abrasion, but did little else. Today’s football undershirts are not only made of comfortable synthetics that work well in cold and heat, but also provide built-in padding in areas that regular pads leave unprotected.
Even baseball and softball umpires can benefit from advanced athletic wear. Undergarments are now available with built-in padding to protect against foul balls and errant pitches striking the thigh area.
Compressive apparel has become more popular in recent years, but is there any benefit to wearing it? A 2010 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology supports that belief. It found that, “The results indicate that compression clothing is an effective recovery strategy following exercise-induced muscle damage.”
Some companies like TommieCopper take the technology of compression shorts another step further. Their copper infused compression shorts are made of a fabric containing copper within the fibres.
One of copper’s strengths is its anti-microbial properties. Copper compounds have been used for years to control fish parasites in aquariums. This same anti-microbial technology inhibits the growth of odour-causing bacteria within the fabric.
Clothing has come a long way since the days when nearly everyone wore cotton t-shirts, socks and sweats. Technology resulted in more comfortable clothing while the rise of competitive sports demanded clothing specific to a sport or activity. No matter how technologically advanced athletic clothing is, it will never replace hard work and training, but at least it will help you recover from it.
What do you think about technical clothing or compression clothing?
I could not bear to wear cotton t-shirts when running and I never understand races that give out cotton t-shirts, unless they are ones you would wear normally (I love my Robin Hood t-shirt). At parkrun it always surprises me the amount of people who wear cotton t-shirts or fleecy jumpers, I just don’t understand it, especially now you can pick up a technical top or vest pretty cheaply. I am not sure on wearing compression gear while I run, but I love compression socks for after a long run.
*Compensation was provided for this post.