All About Activewear Materials

All About Activewear Materials

The last thing you want to worry about when you’re in the middle of a workout is what you’re wearing and how it’s making you feel. Sure you’re likely going to get sweaty, but in the right gear, you can actually stay dry and comfortable. It all starts with what your workout wardrobe  is made of, and knowing the differences between fabrics and their properties will help you choose what to wear, wisely.

Man in workout gear sweating

Activewear Qualities to Consider

When you’re on the hunt for new workout attire, there are a few factors to keep in mind – not just how things fit and feel, but also how well your fabric, sweat, and movement get along together. Here are some of the qualities to look for when choosing the best activewear for you and your needs:


Materials that have wicking properties do not absorb or retain moisture but rather wick it away from your skin and carry it to the outer layer of the fabric where it quickly evaporates. This not only helps regulate your body temperature, but also prevents chafing, and keeps you dry and warm in the winter as well as dry and cool in the summer. In short, when material is moisture-wicking, you can count on being comfortable (which is pretty much key to enjoying your workout and performing your best).


Fabrics that are lightweight and breathable allow air to flow through them easily which helps sweat (and sweaty clothes) dry more quickly. Breathability also keeps your body from overheating and reduces bacteria growth that can cause your clothes to smell long after your workout is over!  Bottom line? The ability to breathe is as good for fabrics as it is for all of us!


Ever try to run in a soaking wet shirt? It’s not fun! If you’d rather not feel like your clothes are  heavy, stuck to your body, and incredibly uncomfortable, make sure you’re choosing fabrics that dry quickly when you’re sweaty or working out in the rain. (Hint: they’re likely wicking and breathable!)

Flexible and Stretchy

When you move, you want your clothes to move with you, otherwise it’s tough to stride out, down dog, squat, bend, or even just step! That’s why it’s important to find clothes made of fabrics that are non-restricting and offer flexibility and stretch. That way, instead of limiting your range-of-motion, what you’re wearing allows you to move freely, and most of all, comfortably.   


Compression clothes are form fitting yet flexible, and designed to be tight to your body, which is beneficial if you have tired and sore muscles in need of recovery. The snugness helps minimize inflammation while improving blood flow, both important factors in healing and rebuilding muscle. 


If you’re an outdoor workout enthusiast – and especially one living in Michigan, where the weather is unpredictable to say the least – you need activewear that provides protection against the elements. Look for water-resistant or water-proof fabrics that wick and breath so you stay dry and comfortable no matter what Mother Nature has in store.

Some materials offer UV protection as well, and reflectivity to keep you safe if you’re out there when it’s dark.


Hey, it happens. There are times when you can’t quite squeeze in a shower and you have to go from workout to, say, having lunch out, or from running to running errands. These are the times when wearing something made from a material that offers odor-resistance is highly appreciated, not only by yourself, but also those around you! 


Let’s face it, if you work out a lot, you wash your clothes a lot too, and that’s a lot of wear and tear. At the same time, when you invest in workout clothes, you want them to last, which is why durability is definitely a big deal. Make sure you choose styles made from high-quality material designed to not only keep up with you, but keep going and going.


There’s a bonus to durable clothes – because they’re long-lasting, you buy and waste less, which is good for the planet, not just you! Sustainability is a quality more and more people look for in their clothing, and the good news is more and more brands are making activewear from sustainable materials, and in sustainable ways.

Activewear Fabrics and Features

Now the question is, which fabrics have the qualities that fit your needs? Below is a rundown of materials to help you decide which option to choose for the way you move.

A chart of properties for commonly activewear materials including Cotton, Polyester, Polypropylene, Spandex, Nylon, Wool and Bamboo Click to view full size chart


Best for low-sweat activities

Cotton is comfortable, lightweight, and breathable, which is great for things like yoga or walking  in moderate temperatures, but it also absorbs – and worse, retains – moisture. So, if you’re summer running in cotton or doing something else that entails a lot of sweating, well, let’s just say you won’t be comfortable for very long! Not only does cotton absorb sweat, but it traps it against your body too, making your skin hot, sticky, and easily irritated. On the plus side, cotton is resistant to odor, so while you may feel like you’re wearing a soggy, heavy, blanket, at least you won’t be smelly!

Bonus summer running tip: When it’s hot outside, light-colored, lightweight clothes that wick are your best choice for any workout – dark or heavy clothes will attract and hold heat and if you’re already sweaty, you certainly don’t want that!


Ideal for high-intensity workouts

If you like working out, you’ve got to love polyester! This plastic-based fabric has performance properties galore. It’s durable, breathable, lightweight, wrinkle resistant (a.k.a. packable!) uber moisture-wicking, and even UV repelling. Oh, and it’s pretty quick-drying too, though even when it’s wet, it keeps you warm. All this makes polyester a great option for any layer, including outer jackets . The only thing this wonder fabric doesn’t do is keep you from smelling like you just, well, worked out.


Perfect if you sweat a lot or train in extreme weather

In addition to having moisture-wicking and other awesome polyester properties, this synthetic material also happens to be highly water-resistant – we’re talking practically water-proof! That makes it the ultimate base or outer layer, especially if you’re running in rain, sleet, or snow, or if extreme heat has got you sweating buckets. No matter how wet and sweaty you get, polypropylene keeps your body dry and body temperature comfortable. It’s everything you love about polyester…and everything you love about not being wet!

Spandex (Commonly known as Lycra)

Wear it for workouts involving high range-of-motion

Stretchy and flexible, this superelastic synthetic material is form-fitting, unrestricting, quick-drying, fairly moisture-wicking, and shape retaining. Yeah, you can call it super alright.  Sure, it’s not as breathable as other materials, but man can it move! And when you consider its rubber band-like ability to expand then return to its original shape, well grab your yoga mat and let’s go! 

Two women doing yoga in stretchy fabric


Great for all types of workouts in all types of weather

Think of nylon as the best of performance fabrics combined. It’s breathable like cotton, but also  has the ability to wick sweat away from your body like polyester, so it keeps you dry and comfortable no matter what you’re doing – whether you’re going for a light jog or hitting it hard in the gym. Plus, it’s soft, durable, quick-drying, and stretchy like spandex, so it moves with you comfortably, however you like to move. Best of all, it’s odor resistant, versatile, and appropriate for all seasons. In a nutshell, nylon is tough to beat!


When you want to stay warm…or (believe it or not) keep your cool

Wool is an all-natural material with built-in awesomeness. Extremely breathable and incredibly durable, it’s also anti-bacterial (think no stink), and it wicks away moisture with the best of them. Wool is a really, really good insulator too, which makes it an outstanding base layer when it’s cold outside. Ah, but contrary to popular belief, wool is not just for winter!

Merino wool in particular is so lightweight and breathable, it can magically regulate your body temperature, keeping you comfortable and dry, even in the summer. 

If you think about it, sheep hang out in all kinds of conditions and don’t seem to mind in the least. Coincidence?


Best for outdoor and Earth enthusiasts

A plant-based, biodegradable fabric made out of natural fibers, bamboo is not only naturally moisture-wicking and odor-resistant, but also super soft, and sustainable! In fact, it’s a great earth-friendly alternative to synthetic wear since it provides many performance properties beyond keeping you dry and stink-free. It’s durable, breathable, lightweight, has the ability to regulate temperature, and oh yeah, it’s incredibly comfortable!

And as if that’s not enough to love, bamboo is also naturally hypoallergenic as well as UV protective –  bonus for protecting skin from both sweat and sun irritation (while also protecting our home planet!)

Performance Blends

Ideal if looking for a combo of qualities

Of course, to be able to provide as many of these sought-after qualities as possible, a lot of workout wear is actually made from a blend of materials in varying ratios, such as polyester blended with organic cotton to make it more odor-resistant, soft, and sustainable; or wool combined with synthetic fibers like spandex to make it more flexible and fitted.

With all of these fabrics and qualities in mind, think about what is important to you and what would work best for your fitness routine. 

Ah, But Don’t Forget About Fit

Of course, you can build your workout wardrobe with all the technical materials in the world, but if your clothes are ill-fitting, you might stay dry but you won’t stay comfortable! Just like shoes, it’s important for clothes to fit properly so you can focus on your workout instead of your shorts riding up, your socks falling down, or your shirt pinching you under your pits.

So, in addition to choosing the right fabrics, remember: clothes that fit well and feel soft and supportive but not binding are essential to ensuring you stay comfortable and happy throughout your workout and beyond.

Gazelle Sports Employee Helping a Customer Make Decisions

We Care About What You Wear!

The biggest lesson to learn here is when you’re going to work out, don’t just grab the first thing you find on your floor or off the rack. Consider what your activity level will be (and how sweaty you’re going to get), then get yourself some activewear from Gazelle Sports . We’ve got a wide selection of technical materials and gear and a team of experts who can help find and fit you with exactly what you need to help you keep moving…comfortably!

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