Clothing of the future will do much more for athletes than simply protect from the elements and regulate body temperature. Precise fit, ergonomic alignment, muscle support and other anatomical advantages will be default features in new breeds of performance-enhancing apparel.
Today, companies like Under Armour and Wacoal Sports Science Corp. promote such benefits with respective lines of athletics tights and tops. For some personal perspective, I put flagship products from both companies to the test running, cross-country skiing and biking over the past four months.
Of the two companies, Wacoal Sports Science Corp.‘s CW-X Pro Conditioning apparel (www.cw-x.com) was most impressive. Both the snug-fitting top and full-length tights incorporate a patented “Conditioning Web,” which is a crisscrossing pattern of stretchy nylon straps made to support major muscle groups.
As Wacoal Sports literature explains it, the Conditioning Web acts as an exoskeleton of sorts to cradle, support and enhance muscle function. The Pro Conditioning Top ($55) wraps tight across the chest, upper back and ribs to support muscle groups that facilitate respiratory function, thus, according to the company, lowering overall fatigue by reducing the amount of effort it takes to breathe.
The Pro Conditioning Tights ($95), which come in men’s and women’s models, have a web that supports the hamstrings, hips and lower back. Enhanced performance and injury prevention are touted benefits.
I will say that psychologically Wacoal Sports’ products are quite motivating. The tight, springy fit and superhero look of the outfit had me raring to go. Physically, I definitely noticed something, but the advantage is hard to quantify. Compared to loose-fitting clothing, I much prefer the Pro Conditioning Top and Tights for intense aerobic activity. But compared to other athletics tights, the advantages are less obvious.
That said, I’ve come to prefer the Wacoal Sports products over all other athletic apparel in my wardrobe for its great fit, quality feel and that hard-to-define physical boost.
There are two things I dislike about the Pro Conditioning Top: First, its breathability is only mediocre and I felt a bit clammy during some workouts. Second, the top’s over-the-shoulder strap design resembles a sports bra from the back, which caused some snickers and sneers from my training buddies.
Under Armour’s performance apparel products (www.underarmour.com) lack any sort of fancy fabric engineering, relying instead on an extra-snug fit that forms to the athlete’s body. This fit — which Under Armour likes to call a “second skin” layer — compresses muscles to increase performance and transfer heat and moisture quickly away from the body, according to the company.
In use, I found the company’s HeatGear Leggings ($40), Compression Short ($25) and T-Shirt ($25) to be good-fitting and for the most part comfortable. Under Armour likes to tout its products’ moisture transport or wicking abilities, but I found breathability to be only average when compared to a wide range of base layers and athletics tights I’ve used over the years. They do fit snug and precise, however, and good muscle compression — which can increase performance and lessen the chance of injury — is guaranteed with these products.