5 Ways Athletic Clothing Improve Performance

Runners running while wearing athletic clothing.

Improve your performance.

Can athletic clothing affect the way you perform on the field? The answer is yes, but how? In what ways? And why?

I’ve got five ways in which the clothing you wear can affect athletic performances. And each of them is backed by research.

1. Compression Clothing Improves Circulation

Let’s talk about the first type of athletic clothing that can enhance athletic performance: compression clothing. Specifically, stockings, sleeves, tights worn in/around the buttocks and thigh areas.

The use of these pieces of clothing lead to better circulation. Researchers trying to encourage better circulation in the elderly discovered this phenomenon. Later, researchers noticed that when younger athletes started to employ compression clothing the athletes enjoyed better circulation, which reduced recovery time and increased endurance.

In addition, scientists have been able to clearly prove that there are psychological benefits to wearing compression clothing.  If you believe that your clothes will improve performance, they probably will.

The placebo effect is quite powerful in the domains of fitness and training.

2. Athletic Clothing Improves Heat Management

A girl sweating in her athletic clothing.

The second way athletic clothes can improve athletic performance is their ability to help you balance your internal heat. As you know, you have a normal body temperature. Whenever you exercise that temperature starts to rise.

If you are in a very warm environment, such as Houston Texas, internal temperature can be difficult to manage.

Should you wear less clothing or better clothing?

How do most people dress when they go out jogging in oppressive heat? They throw on a pair of shorts, running shoes, and leave the shirt at home.

While the removal of a shirt may feel like it is cools you down, you are increasing your risk of heatstroke because the sun is beating down directly on your skin. It is better to wear light, breathable clothing that shades your skin.

You should wear a hat to shade your face from the sun. Wear a long sleeve, moisture wicking, light colored shirt. Your athletic clothing will do a great job of blocking the sun rays while still allowing sweat to evaporate. Thus you protect yourself from the sun while simultaneously allowing your sweating process to regulate your body temperature.

Athletic clothing can also help in cold weather environments.

Say you are in Vancouver, Canada during November. It is kind of nice day, so you decide to go hiking, but you know that the weather can change. What if it rains, the wind, picks up, or the temperature drops?

A runner wearing active wear while running.

Did you know? Activewear (Sportswear) sales have grown a lot over the past ten years.

You are going to be hiking. You want to be wearing material that can actually block the wind and the rain. Athletic clothing designed for this purpose will wick away moisture efficiently. Specialty jackets made for these conditions are worth investing in.

3. Body Suits Reduce Friction

Body suits can significantly affect athletic performance. Specifically, body suits can reduce drag and increase speed.

Swimming provides the best example. Polyurethane body suits were banned from the Olympics a few years ago. Why? Because they reduce drag by up to 40%. A 40% reduction in drag can cause a swimmer who is actually in better shape/more athletic but can’t afford to purchase a high-quality body suit, to lose to a swimmer using the polyurethane body suit.

This result holds true for many other sports where you can use a full body suit. Examples include long distance speed skating. It has been shown that the type of body suit typically causes a 1% difference on race day.

If you want to be at competing at the highest level, pay attention to how your clothes affect your drag.

4. Comfort Affects Performance

Wearing clothing that is comfortable improves athletic performance. That is almost a truism. It can be a bit difficult to figure out if clothes will be comfortable before your purchase them. And, once you sweat/use the articles of clothing, the store will not accept returns.

How to Figure Out If an Item of Clothing will be Comfortable:

A boxer training with his trainer in athletic clothing.

How do you judge comfort? Consider how the clothing will stand up to (a) the extremes of your sweating, and (b) the temperature.

We talked about these concerns earlier, but we will elaborate by distinguishing athletic clothing from cotton clothing.

Cotton vs Synthetic Materials

Now, I like cotton shirts. The problem with cotton is that it soaks up moisture and fails to dissipate it . In contrast, athletic clothing does not suffer from these deficiencies.

Why not? If you look at the clothe at the microscopic level, there are significant differences in the fibers that are weaved into the material. Athletic clothe is made from silky fibers. These fibers are often more durable than cotton.

The Importance of Four-Way Stretch

In addition, they’re sewn together in a way that the clothe can stretch in four directions as opposed to two. Four way stretch material significantly increases how comfortable clothes are during exercise.

Cotton usually only has a two-way stretch. That is a big advantage to how comfortable athletic clothing is. Obviously, athletic performance will improve as well.

The Moisture Problem

How the fabric handles moisture is also very important. Cotton fibers easily absorb water. Even worse they retain it.

Synthetic materials are much smoother, silkier as mentioned before. This property allows water to easily pass through and evaporate from the material.

Those factors mean athletic clothing is lighter, breathes better, handles sweat better and at the end of the day is going to be much more enjoyable to wear. You will be less likely to suffer an injury.

The Importance of Texture

Think about that. If you are training for a marathon by running everyday in a cotton shirt, your nipples are going to start bleeding. Why? Cotton is like very soft sandpaper. Its roughness is what gives it all of its bad qualities: water retention, inflexibility, etc. The silky fabrics used in athletic clothing will spare you from suffering like Marshall Erikson in How I Met Your Mother.

You get more comfort, and higher performance.

5. Clothing Color Affects Perception

The color of clothing can affect not only your mindset, but the mindset of people watching you.  Which of the following two colors is more aggressive?: black or green.  

The answer is black. If you wear black, people will perceive you as being more aggressive.

A soccer player in a black jersey.

A study from Durham University indicates red also makes the wearer appear more aggressive.

A study conducted with data taken in the 80s from NHL statistics was the first to pick up on this fact. NHL teams have a variety of different team colors. For a long time the home team wore white. In the 2003-2004 season the rules allowed teams to where team colors at home. This allowed the scientists to test their hypothesis.

The researchers noticed that every time a team wore black, they received more penalties as opposed to games where they wore lighter colors.

Why did this happen?

There were two factors. One, the athletes’ perception of themselves. Whenever they wore the black uniforms they view themselves as aggressive. More interestingly, the people in the audience and even trained referees perceived those that were wearing black as more aggressive as well.

The athletes were both more aggressive and perceived as more aggressive due to their choice of clothing. These two factors resulted in an increased number of penalties.

How do you use this to you advantage? If you are on a team that is not very aggressive, wear black jerseys.

And that is it! Those are the five primary ways that athletic clothing can increase performance!