9 Popular Activewear Materials Reviewed: Which Exercise Fabric is Best For You?
It's commonly said that "clothes make the man," and when it comes to hitting the gym and exercising, there's some truth to that adage. In a study that surveyed several thousand gym enthusiasts, 88% of gym-goers said that simply putting on their gym clothes motivated them to exercise. Meanwhile, nearly 8 out of 10 men and women said that owning great workout clothes was the most important step to hitting your exercise goals.
But there's more to workout clothing than fit, style, and color. You have an array of workout clothing materials to choose from, and the best exercise clothing fabric varies depending on your needs and goals.
Why Your Workout Clothing Materials Matter
The American College of Sports Medicine reports that while any loose-fitting, comfortable clothing can be suitable for exercise — in other words, don't let a lack of fancy workout gear hold you back from moving your body — there are distinct benefits for choosing the right workout clothing fabric and activewear material.
For example, the academy's research shows that the right exercise clothing fabric can improve your workout performance in hot weather and reduce your risks of heat stroke. But that's not all.
The Benefits of Good Workout Clothing Fabric
There are numerous upsides to using the right activewear.
1. The Right Workout Clothing Fabric Keeps You Comfortable
The mind-muscle connection helps you get more out of your workout regimen and leads to faster fitness results, whether that's more muscle mass or faster weight loss. That mind-muscle relationship requires focus and awareness, and few things pull you out of your workout and distract you faster than feeling uncomfortable.
Whether it's gear that's too tight and chafes, or clothes that are too loose and gets in the way, staying comfortable helps you focus on what matters: Pushing your limits and being aware of your form and movements.
2. It Protects Against Injury
Besides improving your confidence and enhancing your fitness, picking the best workout clothes also reduces your risk of injury:
- It wicks away moisture, reduces overheating, and keeps your body cool, thus minimizing your risks of heat-related fatigue and injury.
- It reduces your risks of sprains, strains, and injuries (for example, loose-fitting pants could interfere with your squats and lunges, and poorly-fitted shoes can cause joint and foot injuries).
- It may help to reduce fatigue and support your muscles, especially when it comes to compression-style workout clothing, and the right workout clothing can even improve post-workout recovery.
3. It Keeps Things Hygienic
Improve your gym hygiene with the right workout clothing fabric. It's well-established that gyms and fitness facilities are a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria, to say nothing about that post-workout sweat smell. Great activewear material keeps unwanted B.O. at bay, is easy to wash, and in some cases is even hypoallergenic and antimicrobial (meaning the fabric resists and kills the bacteria that lead to infections and offensive odors).
4. It's Durable and Moves With You
If you're going to shell out good money for your gym gear, make sure it lasts and moves with you. Your athleticwear needs to move and stretch in order to give you the full range of motion while exercising, while also maintaining its fit and form without getting too stretched and saggy.
Types of Fabric in Workout Clothing
You'll find the following fabrics at various price points, and each has its own distinct advantages (and in some cases, drawbacks).
Textile technologist Salma Hasin Shila says that polyester is the most popular fabric in workout clothing because it:
- Is highly durable and doesn't easily wear and tear
- Wicks moisture away from your skin, keeping you comfortable and regulating your body temperature
- Is very elastic, so it moves and stretches with your movements
However, researchers have found that odor-causing bacteria grow very well in polyester. If you choose polyester for your workout clothing fabric, you'll need to do a load of laundry after every gym session.
Polyester is Best For: General purpose workouts and all athletes
In the previously mentioned study, cotton performed much better than polyester at resisting unwanted smells and body odor. But that's where most of its benefits end: Cotton is very absorbent and doesn't wick moisture, so if you're going to be working up a sweat, you'll quickly feel sticky and hot.
Cotton is Best For: Light movements in comfortable weather, such as walking your dog in the evening, but is less suitable for regular workouts
3. Merino Wool
Elite athletes like world-class dancer Eric Underwood and international road racing cyclist Chris Froome claim that Merino wool gives them a competitive advantage, in part because wool's natural textures and chemical properties resist odor-causing bacteria and keep you both cool and warm, depending on your environment.
However, Merino wool can be quite pricey. To save money, look for activewear that blends wool with other textiles.
Merino Wool is Best For: Traditionally used for outdoor workouts in cold or cool weather, but more research shows it performs well in hot weather, too
Nylon ranks up there with polyester as another common exercising clothing fabric. Textile technologist Shila notes that some of nylon's major benefits include:
- Exceptional moisture-wicking and temperature regulation in both hot and cold weather
- High durability and stretch, while maintaining its fit and form
- Ability to resist mildew and other mold and fungus growth
Nylon is Best For: General purpose workouts and all athletes
While this activewear material isn't the best for moisture-wicking and breathability (making it less ideal for very hot weather workouts), few fabrics compete with it when it comes to range of motion and stretching. This is why spandex rules supreme for movements like yoga or high-intensity exercise. It's also widely used in compression gear, which has been shown to improve muscle performance and enhance workout recovery.
Best For: Intense workouts and anything requiring a lot of movement, whether it's Pilates or road cycling
6. Niche Workout Clothing Materials
Besides the top five choices above, you may come across a few other types of exercising fabrics:
- Bamboo: It's very pricey, but it's more environmentally friendly and sustainable, making it a great eco-conscious yet expensive alternative to nylon, polyester, and spandex.
- Gore-Tex: Gore-Tex is the commercially trademarked name for expanded PTFE (ePTFE), a waterproof fabric membrane that is breathable while also repelling water — this makes it ideal for outdoor exercise in poor weather (e.g., hiking, running in the rain, etc.).
- TENCEL: Similar to bamboo, this is a sustainable fabric made from wood pulp that performs like polyester but is more environmentally conscious (and also more expensive).
- X-STATIC: You'll find this fabric in high-end, high-performance activewear, which involves silver metals woven into the fabric to help kill bacteria, fungus, mold, and other odor-causing growths.
Look Strong In and Out of the Gym With Tiger Fitness' Clothing and Gear
At Tiger Fitness, you can find a wide selection of high-performance activewear made with the best workout clothing fabric on the market. From yoga pants and joggers to breathable, 100% polyester workout shorts with 4-way stretch, you'll boost your confidence and motivation while also supporting your fitness goals. See all of the exercise clothing available at Tiger Fitness.