Investing in workout gear isn’t just about vanity. Sure, we all want to look relatively good in our tanks and compression leggings — OK, some of us want to look really good! — but, much more importantly, what we wear when we train can actually have an impact on performance. It might even be the factor that allows you to break through to your next fitness level, giving you that elusive mental edge.
“Any time we think we have an ‘edge,’ we can feel more confident and motivated to perform,” says Ariane Machin, PhD, a sports psychologist and the co-founder of the Conscious Coaching Collective. “Sometimes this edge may come through equipment, and sometimes it may come from our clothing.” And as any Spartan knows, so much of overcoming physical obstacles involves hurdling the psychological barriers in your way.
We dug into the latest research on how gear can impact your performance, and asked Machin for her advice on how to get the most out of the clothes you wear when you’re training.
Clothes That Make You Feel Confident Can Give You a Competitive Edge
Let’s just say you’re psyched about your new Deft 2.0 singlet for training. It fits great and makes you feel confident. Machin says there’s more to that than what you see in the mirror. “If you’re wearing something that makes you feel energized and motivated, it would definitely increase the likelihood of experiencing a positive workout or competition,” she says.
Research backs up the connection between what clothing represents and how you act when you wear it. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that what you wear carries a symbolic meaning, so it subconsciously changes the way you behave. The finding was coined “enclothed cognition,” and it explains why you may perform better when you’re wearing exercise gear that makes you feel strong.
They Can Also Help You Push Through a Tough Training Session or Race
When you’re facing your breaking point — the set you can’t complete, the last mile you can’t run — you need to use all the tools in your training arsenal to get through it. As it turns out, that includes what you’re wearing. “If your clothing contributes to a more positive mindset and mood, we may be able to persist despite feeling uncomfortable,” explains Machin. “This could enhance your overall fitness and further enhance your self-efficacy.” Translation: The positive impact your outfit has on your performance can carry into future workouts, giving you the “I can do this” attitude you need to reach your next fitness goal.
Workout Gear That Makes You Feel Supported Allows You to Focus More
You know that feeling you get when you’re wearing new sneakers and all of a sudden you can conquer anything? It’s not just in your head: If your clothes make you feel comfortable and you trust that they’re going to support you while you’re training, you’re more likely to push yourself beyond your limits. “When you’re not worried about your clothes while you work out, your attention can be fully devoted to the activity you are focused on,” explains Machin, noting that this applies to not just professional athletes, but casual exercisers as well.
Wearing Something That Makes You Feel Connected Can Propel Your Training
Even the most experienced Spartans can feel a little intimidated and overwhelmed on the course sometimes. (We build them to be challenging!) Research shows that what you wear can help you acclimate, and even feel a stronger connection, to your fellow racers. One study found that runners who were recovering from injury still felt accepted by the running community when they wore their regular gear. This allowed them to maintain their runner identities, even when they couldn’t fully participate.
And that sense of belonging can make your training routine easier to get through. “When we feel connected to those that are similar to us, we are more likely to feel accepted, enhancing feelings of self-worth, confidence, and trust,” explains Machin. All of that adds up to more strength, more endurance, and that feeling of connection to your Spartan community.