Cathy Aycock: The (Nashville) Tennessean
Synthetic fabrics that wick away moisture help you keep those fitness resolutions in comfort and style.
Resolutions firmly in place, you lace up your running shoes, throw on a sweatshirt and hit the door. After sweating, freezing and sweating on alternate days during your winter workout, you throw in the "get healthy" towel.
Unless you are already wired to a fitness regimen — and if you had to create a resolution, clearly you are not — the whole sweating-freezing cycle is enough to throw up a roadblock, right?
Clothing, for a good bit of the population, is about covering the bits and pieces of the body that we don't want exposed, showing a bit of personality via style, and keeping us warm or cool depending on the climate.
But exercise apparel has had some scientists, or at least some very smart designers, tinkering with fabric and construction to make even the most lackadaisical fitness buff more comfortable. The trick is figuring out what to wear when. With January temperatures averaging anywhere from 47 degrees to a low of 28 degrees, how do you calculate what to wear for walking or running in the winter months?
'Cotton is rotten'
"The No. 1 rule of thumb when it comes to choosing any kind of exercise apparel is that cotton is rotten," proclaims Tammy Sanders, marketing director with Fleet Feet Sports in Nashville.
Cotton fibers, though soft to the touch, are porous. Moisture clings to each fiber, creating heaviness and chafing, while synthetic or wool fibers will dry moisture off the body and keep you dry, according to Sanders.
"Even if the tag says 'dri-fit' or some other word that promotes a quick dry time, read the fabric content tag. If cotton is listed, skip it — especially for your base layer," Sanders says.
Amanda Caspar, area community manager at Nashville's Lululemon, also advocates man-made fabric for sweat-wicking clothing. And she gives a shout to every woman's bestie, Lycra.
"Lycra is exercise clothing, especially pants and shorts. It is sort of like wearing Spanx. It holds everything in. And if you feel better when you work out, you will work out more," Caspar says.
Another fiber that works well for exercise apparel, offering sweat-wicking properties, warmth and a natural antimicrobial property — in other words, anti-stink — is wool.
"Wool is one of the best fabrics to repel odor. Since it naturally wicks moisture, it also wicks sweat. Your base layer should always be wool or man-made fabric," according to Sanders.
The term "base layer" conjures up images of construction lingo, but in exercise terms, it means the first item to touch your skin and wick away the sweat.
For every woman who is exercising, Sanders says, the base layer should be a sports bra.
"If you are walking or running, you need a sports bra. A tank top with a bra shelf is not good enough. And if you are full-figured and have to resort to wearing two sports bras together to get adequate support, then you are wearing the wrong bra," she says.
Sanders recommends a professional sports bra fitting, just like the fitting you endure — I mean schedule — for a regular bra.
And for those who are less than amply endowed?
"We carry a sports bra with just a tiny bit of padding. Perfect if you want to look good and feel good when you exercise," Sanders says.
It doesn't require fashion sense to defeat the sweat-then-freeze cycle that plagues the winter exerciser. Instead, just do a little math.
"Add 20 degrees to the temperature outside and then pretend you are dressing for that number," says Sanders, who runs year-round. An exerciser's core temperature warms up about 20 degrees within the first 15 minutes of exercising, she says.
"You might be cold the first mile, but you are going to be better regulated through the rest of the run."
She says walkers with a slower pace might only raise their core temperature by 10 degrees.
"But even walkers are going to warm up the core significantly and start sweating if they bundle up too much," she says.
For a walker who heads out the door on a cold morning, Sanders suggests a wool or synthetic sports bra, a long-sleeve synthetic fabric top and, if it is windy or rainy, a jacket to add another layer of protection.
For the outdoor exerciser who heads out to walk in the dark, Sanders says it's also important to wear an outer layer with some sort of reflectivity, tape or banding that allows others to see you more easily in the dark.
And don't forget a hat and gloves. Sanders says she can run in a tank top on a cold day as long as she has her head and hands protected.
And what about the indoor exercise buff who sprints to the car in the winter months?
"If you are in a hot yoga class and you are really wet, take another tee and change before you head outside. Otherwise, at least add a layer so that your core cools down slowly. You don't want to go outside without a long-sleeve jacket on," says Caspar.
For a newbie exerciser, all this talk of Spandex, base layers and reflectivity can sound pricey, complicated and reason enough to plop down on the couch for a new episode of American Idol.
But Sanders says you don't have to buy a whole new wardrobe. If you can only buy one thing to get you started walking and running, then focus on the last thing you put on before walking out the door: your shoes.
"If you don't have shoes that are meant for whatever sport or exercise you are going to start, then your knees, your feet or your back are going to hurt. And then you are not going to stick with it. Invest in a pair of shoes. Get a pair properly fitted. And then start moving."