Which Training Suit Is Right?

Dress in layers, look for a good fit, and be choosy about your material to ensure the proper choice of athletic attire.

If you head over to the sporting goods store or even a decent-sized athletic shoe store, you'll find a dizzying array of shoes for every conceivable use: running, walking, hiking, cross-training, tennis and much, much more. So, the question might naturally arise, "What do I wear for an outfit that will match my physical activities?"

That, at least, is one camp. The other camp consists of people who assume it doesn't really matter what you wear on your body, as long as you cover up and have decent shoes.

In fact, both camps are a little off the mark. There isn't as much specificity with training suits or other forms of athletic outfits as there is with footwear, so there isn't a "specific" suit for your activity, unless that activity is something like, say, football and you need some pads under your jersey. But equally wrong is the notion that any old outfit will do.

The first thing to realize is that whatever you choose, the general rule for fit is lightweight and nonrestricting (which doesn't necessarily mean "loose").

Second, be aware that you can choose from a wide range of materials when buying athletic clothing, and that you need to choose well. The material matters a lot if you want to keep comfortable. The wrong material can leave you overheated, underwarmed, soaking wet or chafed, depending on what you choose (if you choose wrong, that is).

For example, do you want waterproof or water resistant clothing for outside activities? Many of the waterproof materials are superb at repelling water but do a poor job in terms of providing ventilation.

In general, except for light activities such as gentle yoga routines, avoid cotton. Cotton is a wonderful material for many types of clothing, and a cotton sweatshirt can be good on cold dry day as an outer layer sometimes, but the material is terrible at wicking moisture away from your body. Thus, it makes a particularly poor base layer for athletic activities. Cotton loves moisture and holds on to water, which is exactly what you don't want. In hot weather, holding moisture close to your body will overheat you; in cold weather, it will chill you. Cotton can also chafe, as it becomes more abrasive when it gets wet.

What fabrics are right for your training or workout outfit, particularly the base layer? Good choices include polyester, polyester fleece, Cool Max, ClimaLite, Pro Dry, PowerDry, and Dri-Fit.

Third, you want to dress in layers. Starting with too many layers is better than having too little. You can always pull off excess layers. But if you start with too few, you have nothing to add if you find you are too cold or being buffeted too much by wind or other elements.

Although it isn't part of your workout outfit per se, pick your undergarments well. Not too tight, but providing plenty of support.

As far as the clothing itself, you start with a base layer, which the garment that is closest to your skin (aside from the underwear of course). This is the layer that deals with your perspiration as well as protecting you from outside moisture. You should have long-sleeve and short-sleeve base layers to give you more flexibility for different conditions. This is the layer where the choice of material is most critical, because of the need to wick moisture away from your skin and out toward the exterior of your outfit.

For outerwear like jackets, the main qualities to look for are water resistance, breathability and reflectivity. If jackets are too much for you and you tend to heat up quickly, consider a vest instead.

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