Sweating in style

Looking good while exercising may mean a better workout.

06/08/2012 5:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:10 AM

Let’s admit it: Most of us secretly scoff at the guys dressed like Tour de France contestants zipping down the boulevard in second-skin unitards embellished with pseudo sponsorships and technical fabrics meant to inspire world record speeds as they cruise into the coffee shop.

It’s overkill. It’s laughable. It’s fantasy. And it’s often uncomfortable to watch (can’t you pack a pair of real shorts, buddy?). But is the wardrobe choice really superfluous?

Not really.

It’s a costume, yes. And it’s probably going to make only a modicum of difference in the cycling time of a typical rider, but in the long run, some argue that the people who see themselves as professional cyclists because they look like professional cyclists are more successful cyclists. That means that they cycle more often.

In essence, how you feel is important, and it’s not just the moisture-wicking.

Some wonder if professional-looking cyclists perform better because hard-core cyclists tend to buy hard-core gear or if hard-core gear inspires hard-core cyclists. Common sense will tell us the two are probably related.

The same theory holds true for interview clothing, the attire of bankers and even symbolic outfits such as a lab coat.

Researchers at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University determined that having subjects wear a lab coat identified as a doctor’s coat actually increased their performance on certain tasks.

The researchers described the phenomenon as “enclothed cognition.” It’s a scientific concept that echoes the Pollyanna fashionista motto that if you look good, you feel good and that makes everything better. Now, it’s more clear that if you look good or at least look the part, you really do perform better.

Perhaps it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I look like a professional tennis player, therefore, I behave more like a professional tennis player (or at least to the best of my abilities).

Conversely, looking like a slug has never been linked to performance enhancement. There’s a complex history of psychology behind why uniforms are beneficial for fast-food workers, sports teams and military personnel, and it goes way beyond differentiating us from them.

So why not play the part? Weekend yogis in four-way stretch capris and sleek racer-back tops tend to look better performing sun salutations, the movements are easier and that enhances performance. Conversely, an ill-fitting top or shorts that bunch, shift, rub or (gasp) flash your fellow yogis, can diminish your appearance and, likely, subtly affect your performance.

No matter what you’re doing, you usually want to be comfortable (bandage dresses and high heels aside). And with exercise, that means being comfortable moving.

That includes not being self-conscious that you’re wearing something inappropriate. Luckily, there are inexpensive ways to gear up for any sport, and it apparently pays dividends in improved performance and perhaps endurance.

There is perhaps no greater motivator than comfort.

So as you consider athletic wear, consider not just your athletic form, but your outward style.

And then take a look in the mirror, it might surprise you that looking more like an elite athlete can give you an edge. Even if it’s fleeting, it might be enough to get you past the couch and out the door.

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