With the holidays in full swing, I wanted to take a moment and talk about a gift idea that you may be pondering for that special gym rat in your life (or for yourself!). Many people buy me gym clothing for the holidays, and from what I hear from my other trainer buddies they are in the same boat. Buying clothing for your special workout friend or coworker isn’t a bad thing- heck, with as fast as some of us go through clothes it is a blessing- but not all gym clothing is created equal.
So today I wanted to take a moment and talk about the differences in gym attire so you can be more informed as you brave the stores for possible gift ideas.
Cotton vs. Synthetics: What’s the Big Deal?
In short, everything.
For the longest time cotton was king. It’s cheap, easy to find, and comes in a variety of colors (or with fun logos). Some people even tout that the fabric itself helps grip barbells for squats or hip thrusts.
However, that’s about where cotton’s usefulness ends. Why, you ask? Because cotton has a huge flaw, and we find that flaw in science.
To better understand this we need to look at thermoregulation.
Thermoregulation is the process in which the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus readjusts body temperature in response to small deviations of a set point.1
This is just a fancy way of explaining how our bodies move heat out of our system. For example, when we workout our internal body temperature begins to raise, when that happens our thermoregulatory system activates to remove that excess heat from our body.
We mainly see this as a flush of pink of red in our cheeks and sweat under our arms. This excess heat in your body is moved through your blood to your skin where it is released out into the world around you. Additionally, your clothing can act as a heat conductor to transfer this heat from your body to your clothes.1
However, if you are wearing something that traps all that heat, like cotton, then your body isn’t going to cool down as quickly or as effectively.
Cotton also traps moisture, like sweat, and hangs on it. Meaning if you are wearing a cotton top and playing an intense game of basketball, then your sweat soaked clothing is going to cling to your body- while also holding onto all that excess body heat.
Sounds pretty gross, right? Well, luckily there is hope.
This is where synthetic fibers come in. Things like polyester, rayon, nylon, latex, bamboo and spandex are all great examples of synthetic fibers. These fibers are amazing work horses that wick the moisture (sweat) away from your skin and release it into the atmosphere. They do the same thing with body heat, removing it from your system so you feel and stay cooler, longer.
Synthetics are also softer (in my opinion). While you might be paying a little more upfront, the synthetic clothing I own has far outlasted the cotton textiles that are exposed to the same gym conditions. Synthetics also glide across the skin better, which is ideal for people with sensitive skin that could get irritated from how cotton can catch or rub.
The ISSA, which is where I received my certification, has this handy infographic that I thought I would share to illustrate the differences between cotton and synthetics.
So there you have it, the main differences between cotton and synthetic fibers in gym clothing. Please let me know if you have any questions, and happy gift buying!
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1. Wilmore, Jack H., and David L. Costill. Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004. Print.