In today’s day and age, many stores selling athletic wear advertise “dry fit” and “sweat resistance” clothing to the public as the best clothing for your workout. This material, also known as moisture-wicking clothing, is known to keep the sweat away from your body and help you feel dry during a workout. Nike, for example, has an entire section on their website devoted to sweat-wicking clothing which seems to be a common trend in stores selling athletic wear. Therefore, this may be the reason why you’ve seen a change in apparel in those morning joggers from their favorite college hoodie to a dry-fit quarter zip.
Many people from scientists to bloggers have discussed the idea of moisture-wicking clothing and its increasing popularity in today’s population. One distinction discussed by Shape explains the types of material deemed as “moisture wicking” and the differences between each. Put simply, they explain to consumers when to wear what material from nylon to bamboo. Others have focused on the effect of the moisture wicking clothing and how it affects performance. Consumers Digest , for example, looked into whether these materials actually made an athlete feel more “cool and comfortable” during exercise and therefore improved their ability to complete a better workout. Their findings stated simply that “these shirts might make you feel more comfortable and look trendier at the gym, but we remain unconvinced that they’ll help you to breathe more easily, run longer or lift more weight”.
Despite the many different viewpoints on the internet, it seems that the athletic wear industry still thrives on selling moisture wicking clothing to the general public. However, the unanswered question seems to lie in the scientific research on how moisture wicking materials affects the thermoregulation process in your body when you exercise. AKA, how is this clothing helping to keep our bodies dry and preserve our body temperatures as we exercise without disrupting its natural cooling process of sweating? To begin, we can take a look into the science behind moisture wicking materials and how they work.
Moisture Wicking Materials – How they Work
Moisture – wicking materials get their name from their ability to pull moisture away from the skin tot the exterior of the clothing. As seen to the side, the material has hydrophobic chemical qualities within the microfibers of the fabric to move sweat from the inside to the outside of the clothing where it can evaporate more easily.
In a study through Western Michigan University, they investigated the effects of wearing a form fitted, moisture-wicking shirt on body temperature during acute exercise. The study showed that after 45 minutes of exercise (50% VO2peak) in a hot environment, heat stress tests showed a significantly lower temperature (P<0.05) while wearing the synthetic material (81% polyester and 19% elastane) during the last 15 minutes of exercise as compared to wearing a 100% cotton shirt. From this, they were able to infer that as the exercise duration increases, the ventilation and evaporation properties of the clothing garment helped to preserve body temperature during exercise in the heat. The limitations of this study, however, include that the sample size was of 10 males. Expanding this study to both genders could alter the effects. In addition, only one moisture wicking garment was used. To expand this, they could test different variations of synthetic material in order to see which combination has the greatest ability to preserve body heat under exercise conditions.
Eastern Carolina University reported that “the major dilemma is the dissipation of the heat produced from muscular activity”. They found that clothing acts as a barrier to heat transfer and evaporation from the skin. However, research suggests that the clothing fabric did not alter the thermoregulation or thermal comfort during exercise in warm conditions. The only distinction they were able to make was that the clothing fabric altered thermoregulation during and following exercise in a cold environment where sweat was able to be separated from the body. Limitations mentioned included that they “should include conditions that more closely mimic outdoor conditions, where high work rates, large airflow and high relative humidity can significantly impact thermoregulation”.
In conclusion, moisture-wicking clothing still seems to be a bit of a mystery to us all. Despite research that questions its validity to aid in thermoregulation, the industry still seems to thrive based on the fact that the fabric can take the moisture away from your skin. What we can say is that this material will help keep you dry during exercise and help to keep your body temperature stable in cold environments where sweat would’ve had a chance to act as a “cold sheet” on your body. However, additional research needs to be done to specify using moisture-wicking clothing with different types of exercise, in different humidity conditions, wind velocities, and temperatures in order to pinpoint the exact details of its effect on thermoregulation.
Recommended Further Reading
No Sweat: The Truth About Performance Apparel
The effects of a moisture-wicking fabric shirt on the physiological and perceptual responses during acute exercise in the heat.
Effects of Moisture Wicking Garments on Temperature Regulation During Exercise
Clothing and Thermal Regulation During Exercise
Temperature Regulation During Exercise
Please feel free to comment below on any of the questions listed here or with your own thoughts from the post.
1.)What do you typically wear to work out in and why?
2.)Do you choose different clothing depending on the type of exercise you will be doing?
3.)Have you noticed a difference in your performance/mood during your workout depending on what you are wearing?
After reading your blog I actually looked at my workout clothes to see what material they were. I just really don’t like working out in shirts that are (partially) cotton, and I like the ones that are mostly polyester (85%) and somewhat spandex the most. I personally sweat really easily so when I do a cardio workout I usually wear tank tops (Adidas or Nike) but otherwise t-shirts, but I have a mixture of ones that say “dry-fit” and that don’t. I don’t feel like what I wear impacts my performance much, unless I wear a cotton shirt in a hot environment because then I just get way too hot. Other than that I just want to be able to easily move in it.
I’ve always been curious about the difference between ColdGear and heat gear that Under Armour sells, one to trap heat and one to keep the user cool, are the layers just switched to work in the opposite way or would it be different material all together? The ColdGear traps heat but does it also wick moisture away, and I wonder if it is able to trap the ideal amount of heat so that the user does not overheat during exercise.
I agree with Marjelle in that my workout clothes are all different materials. Personally, when doing a cardio workout, I prefer to wear a loose tank top versus anything else. I can’t stand feeling constricted because I feel that it makes me warmer than letting my body sweat as it’s supposed to. So even though a moisture wicking tank top may be my best bet, I would still choose a 100% cotton tank top over a moisture-wicking t-shirt.
I found this post really interesting. I usually work out mostly indoors, so I usually wear a top from Nike or Under Armor. Then, I actually wear yoga capris on the bottom because that is what I am comfiest in. However, my dad exercises outside so the weather plays a major part in what he wears and is always trying to find the best new thing out there to wear. You don’t really think about it, but what you are wearing effects what you are exercising. Another example is in wrestling. I was at a tournament with my boyfriend a few weeks ago and some people were wearing baggy shorts with pockets that kept getting in the way when they were wrestling, instead of wear those wrestling jumpsuits. I think more studies should be done and more sport specific to see what is best to wear.
The reason I almost always work out in moisture-wicking clothing is because cotton shirts absorb sweat and it stays there, which feels unpleasant and, if wearing sleeves, can restrict motion. I never really thought about how evaporation is responsible for my increased comfort.