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.
Heat and Moisture Management
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) 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. 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.
Reliable Websites that Sell Plus-Size Running Clothes
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:
JunoActive is an online-only retailer that specializes in plus-sized activewear. Their quality is excellent, but their prices are high. That being said, I’ve never worn out a single item that I’ve purchased here. The size selection is superior to any other site that I’ve found, but the variety of styles is limited. Shipping and returns are not usually free. However, one thing JunoActive offers that I haven’t noticed elsewhere is moisture-wicking fabric (they call it QwikWik) that’s slightly thicker than other brands such as DriFit. In other words, when you wear their QwikWik tanks and T’s, you might feel a little more covered up. So, if you tend to be more self-conscious and you’re a size 18 or larger, this site is definitely worth checking out.
Old Navy is great for tights with light compression, lightweight shirts, and jackets. You can almost always find inexpensive stuff, and if you buy on the day after Thanksgiving, they’re practically giving stuff away! Returns to actual stores are allowed and very easy. Another thing I love about Old Navy is their frequent merchandise turnover, which means new styles and colors appear frequently. This also means that, if you fall in love with something, you need to stock up immediately, because it might not be around in 3 months. The quality is also fairly good for the price. Sizes go up to XXL.
Target is similar to Old Navy with regard to quality and selection. Their C9 line is my favorite, especially for tights. The prices are a bit higher and you only have 30 days to return to the store after purchase, but you’re also more likely to find your favorite style of tights sold for more than a few months. Sizes go up to XXL.
Team Estrogen is an online-only retailer, but they have some pretty awesome stuff (they even sell my favorite running bra, the Enell). Prices are higher, but so is the quality, with brands like SheBeest, Moving Comfort, Garneau, and CW-X in plus sizes. There’s usually a sale of some sort going on as well. Shipping and returns are not usually free. Size selection varies by brand.
Kohls is best for running tops (in my opinion), lower in cost, and the quality is pretty good. Returns to the store are easy and you can usually find a free shipping deal (plus they always seem to have something on sale). Sizes usually go up to 3X.
Oh, I could go on and on and on about Athleta! I just love their products and, although not everything is offered in plus sizes (and their version of 2X is a bit smaller than other sites), the quality is flat-out amazing. They also have fabulous sales from time to time and shipping/returns are always free. In particular, their selection of tights is unparalleled. I’m also a huge fan of the Muscle Up tank, which is offered in a continually changing selection of creative and beautiful patterns.
As the name says, this site sells skirts! Running skirts, to be exact. They go up to a size 2X, and the Happy Girl model is my favorite. I love running in skirts because they are cool and breezy, not to mention fun. The skirts at Skirt Sports are a little pricey (although less expensive than other brands), but the quality is very high and, you can occasionally find closeout styles on sale. Shipping and returns are not usually free.
Costco is a great place to get running tanks! Most are $12.99, they go up to 3X, the quality is awesome, they’re CUTE, and they’re made of great wicking fabric. I would suggest buying in-store, however, because there’s usually a wider selection of sizes.
That’s it – all my size shopping secrets for plus-size running clothes. Hope you find something you like!
Photo Courtesy JunoActive.com, IRunFar.com, and TeamEstrogen.com
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Jill is a personal trainer, coach, runner, triathlete, blogger and author, who wants to live in a world where everyone is free to feel fit and fabulous at any size. She writes about the joys and challenges of being a curvy runner, and shares her experiences, knowledge and expertise to help her readers embrace their inner athlete. In addition to running, she has an unbridled passion for kettlebells, cupcakes, champagne, fuchsia and murder mysteries (not necessarily in that order).