Buyers’ Guide: Technical Running T Shirts
One of the things which never ceases to amaze all of us when we are either training or racing, is the number of runners who continue to wear cotton t-shirts. We can only assume that it is either on the grounds of cost or lack of knowledge. Hopefully, the information provided here, together with our competitive pricing policy, will help more runners make the move from cotton to a more appropriate synthetic design.
Cotton t-shirts are comfortable to wear whilst dry, and that, unfortunately, is where the association with comfort ends. This is because, as people exercise, they perspire. The perspiration generated needs somewhere to go to, and according to location, the perspiration either evaporates from the body or where covered by a garment, is absorbed by the fabric. As the body continues to work hard, the amount of perspiration created and absorbed by the garment is greater than that being evaporated by the t-shirt. In short, this means that the t-shirt will become fully soaked with perspiration resulting in more energy being expended by the body (through carrying the extra weight around), increased risk of chafing (caused by the extra weight in the fabric rubbing more), and finally the risk of over cooling (the wet, cool fabric next to the skin draws heat away from the body thus causing the core of the body to cool too much).
In order to illustrate this point, we decided to run a controlled experiment as follows.
First, we took and weighed two clean, dry, t-shirts, the first being a Time To Run Favourite Running T Shirt and the second, a cotton t-shirt which had been awarded at a recent race. The Pace T weighed 168g and the cotton T, 176g., a difference of 8g.
Each t-shirt was immersed in water, wrung out twice and weighed again. The Favourite T now weighed 550g and the cotton T 574g, showing 16g more moisture retention by the cotton T. Each t-shirt was then hung out to dry for one hour. Bearing in mind that in normal athletic conditions, the heat would make them dry at a greater rate, the conditions of the experiment were in favour of the cotton T. After the hour was up, each t-shirt was weighed again with the following outcome.
- Pace T 352g
- Cotton T 442g
This showed that the cotton T was 266g heavier than the original dry condition whilst the Favourite T was 184g heavier, i.e. the cotton T was holding 82g more moisture than the Favourite T, i.e. 45% more moisture retention.
Admittedly, this is only an experimental demonstration, but as illustrated, the additional 45% in weight being carried around would make a difference to any athlete's performance, regardless of standard. This experiment was conducted in an open environment, imagine the difference in performance if breathability was further constrained by a waterproof garment....
With all this in mind, we then looked at what else we wanted our fabric to do. The obvious point was the ability to wick. What we are talking about here is the ability of the fabric to actively wick the moisture away from the skin, into the fabric from where it can be passed through to the outer surface in order to evaporate. Failure to do this, means that the perspiration stays next to the skin thereby drawing heat away from the core of the body which is not good. There are plenty of so called "technical" t-shirts on the market but many of them are made from materials which do not offer this enhanced feature.
With the above points of the fabric selection criteria resolved, there was still one thing missing...
Now, okay, we've all been to the gym and forgotten to take a clean t-shirt with us and re-used the dirty one that's still lying in the bag, or maybe we haven't had time to get all of the washing done so we've worn our shirts twice. Fine, it happens, but boy, it sure can smell. This was the missing piece of the jigsaw - we wanted to find a fabric which had some odour resistant characteristics. Consequently, although not permanent or perfect, all Time To Run T Shirts are manufactured using a fabric which will help to minimise odour. Please note though, that over a period of time, these characteristics will fade.
It must also be acknowledged that, in days gone by, synthetic fabrics were known for their itchy, sweaty characteristics and back in the early seventies, this probably was still the case. However, with the advent of modern smart fabrics, for athletic and gym use there really is now no better alternative than to adopt modern day polyesters. We could have quite easily used the first fabric which came to hand, but instead, using the knowledge illustrated above, we looked at the many available to us until we found what we consider to be the ideal one - lightweight, odour resistant and high wicking.
Having nailed the fabric, we looked at two other key factors, those of seam construction and use of labels.
With regards, to the seams, some value garments and most cotton garments tend to use standard seam construction. This is a very cost effective method of construction as it simply involves the two seams being overlapped before being sewn. Unfortunately, this means that the seam stands proud and as the wearer moves, this proud seam irritates and chafes the wearer. The simple solution to this is to only use flat seam construction wherever possible. Flat seam construction involves the two pieces of fabric being butted up together before being stitched. This allows the proud seam to be eliminated.
Likewise, many brands, including some premium brands continue to manufacture sports clothing using polyester sew in labels. As the user exercises, this label moves up and down so chafing the skin. Simple solution. Don’t use a sewn in label simply print the label onto the fabric.
So, having looked at technical t shirts, which we know to be ideal for wicking moisture away and wearing in moderate to warmer climates, but what of wintertime? The simple solution to add warmth is to increase the weight of the fabric which will obviously have it’s benefits, but only to a certain degree. In order to take the fabric to the next level, it’s important that the fabric is brushed. In layman’s terms, this involves the inside of the fabric, (that is worn next to the skin,) being brushed during production. This creates a nap (fuzzy) effect which allows the garment to trap air within the garment. This air then acts as an insulator helping to keep the wearer warm and comfortable. Good examples of this can be found in either the Men’s Lightweight Thermal Running Top, that has a fabric weight of 185 gsm and the Men’s Midweight Thermal Running Top that has a fabric weight of 220 gsm. In both cases the fabric is brushed. Both options are obviously available in female specific sizes as well. Note that as the Midweight Thermal Running Top is quite a warm garment, for added flexibility & comfort the garment also sports a deep neck zip and small chest pocket.