If you’re a heavier runner – 50 pounds or more overweight – you might notice that finding running clothes that fit can be a little challenging. And this doesn’t only apply to women – there are plenty of guys out there that feel the same way.
It’s really a little ironic, though. The very people that need good running gear to help improve their fitness are quite possibly the most under-served segment of the running market. Newsflash to all those manufacturers of cute running clothes: those of us above a size 12 want to look good too! And, if you make the clothes, WE WILL BUY THEM! (And yes, LuluLemon, I might be looking at you.)
Ahem. Stepping off my soap box.
Seriously, though, it’s about so much more than just looking fabulous while you run. Yes, of course that’s important (hot pink racerback tank, anyone?), but there are many other reasons to invest in quality, functional running clothes.
Exercise raises your body temperature. Since the human body needs to maintain a 98.6F core temperature to operate at peak efficiency, a mechanism to release that heat is necessary. The body already has a pretty awesome method for this – sweat glands on the skin release water, which evaporates and cools the skin surface. Blood then circulates close to the surface of the skin, cools down, and returns.
For people of an average body weight, this system is great. But, the larger you are, the more body volume you have in relation to your surface area – in other words, your cooling system isn’t nearly as efficient as someone smaller. This means you’re going to sweat sooner and more than a tinier person.
Clothing that doesn’t breathe or too much clothing further interferes with the cooling process by trapping both heat and moisture against your skin – the very things that need to be released. So, when running, dress as if it’s at least 10 degrees warmer than it is (even in the winter), and wear layers that you can peel off as your body heats up. Choose clothing made from wicking fabric, which will pull the moisture away from your skin quickly and help your body cool. Cotton gets wet and dries slowly. Yuck!
Another consequence of allowing too much heat and moisture to remain trapped against your skin is chafing. Whenever your skin rubs repeatedly against something else while exercising (skin, rough fabric, sweaty socks, an iPod armband), chafing is possible – and it can be painful! Overweight runners tend to suffer more from chafing, because we have more skin.
There are a few solutions to this problem, one of which is a skin lubricant designed for athletes (my recommendation is BodyGlide – Amazon link) or a more heavy-duty solution such as Moleskin. Another solution is to choose clothes that fit close to the body, so they don’t slide against your skin and irritate you. Make sure your running tops are made from high-quality technical fabrics. Look for words like moisture management, wicking, or DriFit on the label. Bottoms should have a decent amount of stretch and a minimum amount of cotton. Tights are almost always the most comfortable choice, at least for women. Most guys I know don’t like them for running, which I completely understand. But heed my guidance on the fabric.
Gentlemen, you can skip to the next paragraph. Girls, listen up.
If you’re a C cup or higher, you need to strap down those boobs. This isn’t Baywatch. A motion-control bra that keeps your breasts immobilized will make your run so much more comfortable and pleasant! Not to mention, it will cut down on those strange looks you get from passersby. Choose one with little to no stretch and wide, cushioned straps. Personally, I recommend the Enell Sport (Amazon link). It’s a serious bra made for serious stability. Also, they just introduced a gorgeous new teal color called Scuba Blue (it’s simply to die for).
Alright guys, you can rejoin the conversation now!
Motion control for any other parts of the body that move a lot when you run is also important. Me, I’ve got some junk in the trunk, so I can’t resist a good pair of compression tights. Not the $120 ones from fancy brands like Stabilyx (because they don’t come in true plus sizes) but rather light compression from brands like Old Navy and Target. It’s not a vanity thing, it’s a comfort thing. A little extra support for your, ahem, wobbly bits, can mean the difference between a good run and an uncomfortable run.
Oh, this is a true hot-button issue for me. Please, please, please wear running clothes that FIT! I understand the desire to cover up your body in big, baggy clothes. Unfortunately, you’re not fooling anyone about your size. If anything, you’re drawing more attention to it. But most importantly, when you dress in oversized gear, you’re telling both the world and yourself that your body doesn’t deserve to be seen.
I’m not saying you need to strip down to a sports bra and short-shorts, just wear stuff that sends the message: “I am proud of what my body can do, and I dress it accordingly”. Why? Because when you start dressing with confidence, you’ll find it leaking into other areas of your life – like your running. Dress the part and you’ll feel more like a runner. And when you feel like a runner, you’re more likely to run.
So buy some cute (or manly) clothes that fit.
Now that I’ve convinced you to go shopping, the next challenge is finding stores that carry plus-sized running gear. It’s not easy to locate places that carry these things in person (although Old Navy and Target almost always go up to a size XXL in-store). Really, your best bet is to order online. Many places offer free shipping if your order is $50 or above and even allow you to return to a brick-and-mortar store so you don’t have to ship back your unwanted items (of course, always double-check the return policy before you order).
Also, make sure you check the sizing charts on every website until you’re familiar with the brand. There are always differences across retailers, and this will save you a lot of hassle up front.
Here are some of my tried-and-true favorite online retailers:
That’s it – all my size shopping secrets for plus-size running clothes. Hope you find something you like!