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The Skinny On Outdoor Fitness Wear

An inside look at outdoor fitness apparel reveals the latest in technology and design that offers optimal performance while helping us look great as we get into shape. With fitness stores peddling everything from heat-conducting socks to pants that burn calories just by putting them on, one might think it is possible to sit at a café and let the clothing do the work. Buttock toning shoes, belly burning belts, thigh trimming tights, and balance bracelets promise to effortlessly enhance our workout. But, being a passive participant is not in Coloradans’ DNA. Motivated by the rugged landscape and unparalleled scenic views that surround us, we are beckoned to the easy-to-expert network of trails nearby. It is important for the weekend warriors, as much as the pros, to be properly outfitted for their outdoor adventures.

With more than 750 sporting goods and fitness brands in the industry, it is no wonder that consumers are confused when choosing workout wear. Since high quality fitness apparel does not come cheap, it is important to understand the various fabric blends and their functionality. The first factor to consider before making a purchase is the type of exercise you will be doing. Sport-specific attire is designed to take into account the types of movements that will be done and what type of fabric the wearer will need to stay comfortable and dry.

The science of fitness clothing has come a long way from those baggy cotton sweatshirts and knit leg warmers of previous decades. According to Livestrong.com, while once the most commonly-worn exercise fabric, cotton absorbs moisture and can become heavy and uncomfortable on the body as it becomes drenched in sweat.

Fabric Forward

“The fiber business has dramatically transformed the whole apparel industry,” says Mike May, director of media relations for the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). “Some people refer to it as the Under Armour Revolution. A lot of good companies have dynamic technologies that do everything from wick sweat to keep your muscles supple.”

Synthetic fabrics have taken the lead in the fitness revolution introducing Nike Dri-FIT and Polartec PowerDry, with knit venting climate control zones that insulate where needed, keeping you comfortable and dry through every adventure. COOLMAX®, a light and breathable performance fabric with a fiber-based moisture management system, moves perspiration away from the body and through the fabric, where it can evaporate quickly, allowing the wearer to feel cooler.

Runners going out for a springtime run need to be prepared for all sorts of weather and terrain. Being too warm can be just as bad as being too cold because your body wastes energy at both extremes trying to regulate itself. That’s why these temperature-specific fabrics for outdoor sports are important to maximizing performance.

Runners and hikers can keep both comfortable and stylish in apparel such as Nike Sphere technology, which provides warmth without the weight. The innovative fabric uses a 3-D structure to create air pockets between the body and the garment, where air can be held and warmed by the body’s own natural heat. The fabric’s structure allows moisture to escape, maintaining excellent breathability, insulating and ventilating at the same time.

If stretching and yoga are more your pace, Lindsay Law of Overstock.com points out that polyester and spandex are good fabrics for bending easily. Look for items that have a small percentage of spandex listed on the label—about 10% is industry standard. This allows for a greater range of motion and can provide a comfortable, functional fit without being too revealing.

Fabric thickness is important for many reasons to include coverage, according to American Fitness Couture, a quality active wear line that specializes in thick yet breathable performance fabric. If indecent exposure is a concern, then thickness is a priority, particularly with those activities that require downward dog and other bending over poses. Another downside of thin fabric is that it provides very little compressive support and has poor “memory”, meaning the fabric will stretch out and bag quickly–typically at the knees, waistline and derrière. The bottom line— less expensive fabric will not hold its coloring or last as long.

Control, Couture and Compress

Controlling jiggling bouncing body parts that may be distracting to yourself and others is also a good idea for peak performance. For those who require extra support, The North Face Bounce-B-Gone bra and cleavage proof tanks, found at REI, provide the support for trail runs and other active pursuits. The 5-point inner cup Targeted Support Web™ by CW-X, is made up of five interconnected inner cup straps that support without excessive compression or wires.

Of all the high-tech clothing to hit the market, compression gear is receiving the most attention. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that male athletes who wore a whole-body compression suit showed an increase in oxygen flow to their muscles. The new generation in compression technology uses a special knitting process and stretchable fabric combinations, primarily nylon and spandex, to improve circulation, alleviate stiff, sore muscles and speed recovery. The Patented CW-X Support Web™ technology mimics the body’s natural movements. Targeting muscles and joints, it creates an exoskeletal support system that improves biomechanics, focusing power so muscles work more efficiently.

The Sole of the Matter

The foundation of most successful fitness endeavors is an appropriate shoe. The best shoes are engineered to work in close harmony with the body. Mizuno Wave Cursoris claims their goal is to make their gear feel “so completely a part of you that you don’t notice where your body ends and your gear starts.” Asics Gel Cumulus offers an exceptionally cushioned shoe with gait efficiency and structural support, even anti-odor, cooling and drying technology. For trail and rugged terrain, Hoka One One has engineered a unique geometry that features a higher volume with more gripping and rebounding performance than standard running shoes.

When it comes to athletic shoes, being professionally fitted with a quality brand makes all the difference in performance. Gary and Linda Staines, owners of Runner’s Roost, and former Olympic runners, do not necessarily follow the latest trends: “We believe in finding what works for the individual to keep him or her injury free and on the right track.” The Staines consider their customers’ fitness goals and analyzes their unique biomechanics to find the right shoe that will help them reach their stride.

Surprisingly, in all of this high-tech sportswear, fashion has not been lost; if anything, it has been enhanced by fabrics that lift, control, and form a structured silhouette. The tennis court has long combined performance wear and style. Karen Brander, director of Tennis at The Broadmoor says, “Athletic apparel is beginning to see a lot of cross-over. Tennis style running skirts are popular on the trails, and capris are appearing under tennis skirts on the court.” With brands like Lululemon, Lija, and Eleven by Venus paving the way, Brander explains, fitness fashion has become a lifestyle. Now, it is acceptable to go from the trail, to the tennis court, to sitting at the café, without a wardrobe change in between. And, to look great while doing it all.