Gear That Helps Prevent Chafing
Compression gear like compression tights and compression shorts has increased in popularity among cyclists, runners and triathletes recently even though the research on whether or not the tight-fitting high-tech garments is mixed. A study by Indiana University created quite a stir last year when it found compression did not, in fact, boost performance in runners. But many professional athletes stand behind the benefits of compression. And, some research has been positive, such as an Australian study of cyclists wearing lower-body compression garments. While the jury is still out on the performance abilities of compression gear, there is no doubt that compression shorts, compression shirts and even compression socks, can help reduce chafing.
Many athletes use compression shorts to help prevent chafing during running, cycling, and hiking. Compression shorts, sometimes called “bike shorts” or “biker shorts” – are typically made of spandex, nylon and Lycra to compress legs in order to support muscles and aid blood circulation. But compression shorts can also act as a barrier between your skin and the friction that causes chafing. Look for compression shorts that have flat seams to prevent thigh chafing and built-in padding in place of underwear. Wearing conventional underwear during long or intense workouts can cause chafing. Also, make sure the shorts fit snugly on the skin, but not too tight. Shorts that are too loose or too tight can actually cause chafing. Some compression shorts even include anti-microbial technology to help prevent body odor and moisture-wicking properties to remove wetness from the skin (which can cause chafing), such as Under Armour’s HeatGear® compression shorts.
- Men’s vs. women’s compression shorts: You may think compression shorts are compression shorts when it comes to gender, but there are differences. An article on MyRunningShorts.net points out the differences between women’s and men’s compression shorts: Men’s compression shorts have a straighter hip and a thinner waistband, for starters. Women’s compression shorts are cut for a female body. Women’s compression shorts have a different inseam, and, in general, a lower rise and a higher cut than men’s compression shorts.
Compression tights are essentially the same thing as compression shorts, except they cover the entire leg. Many athletes use compression shorts in the summer and compression tights in the winter, but some favor the tights year-round for the benefits of compression over the entire leg – muscle support and circulation. Different compression materials can also keep the wearer cool or warm, as needed.
Compression shirts come in both long and short sleeves, and can offer muscle support for the upper body. Compression shirts can help decrease muscle fatigue that the upper body can experience from the natural up-and-down movement sports. Makers of compression shirts also claim they can improve circulation throughout the upper body resulting in increased stamina. A properly fitted compression shirt can help prevent chafing in the upper body, such as under arms and on nipples. Most compression shirts come in high-tech sweat-wicking material that can help regulate body temperature, and reduce or eliminate body odor.
Compression sleeves are available for many different needs for arms and legs — arms, elbows, calves, knees, ankles and thighs. Companies that specialize in compression gear, such as Zensah, say that compression goes beyond simple muscle support, and claim it can help deliver more oxygen to muscles, which results in faster recovery. Compression sleeves don’t necessarily help prevent chafing, but may help prevent, or at least reduce, the opportunity for sports injuries. For more information on sports injuries, see our injury prevention page.
The best socks to help prevent foot blisters and chafing will fit well, and keep feet cool and dry. Remember, socks should fit snugly, have synthetic materials that help keep feet dry and cool, and should not have any padding or seams that can rub or chafe.
Socks made from moisture-wicking synthetic blends, such as CoolMax® polyester, Supplex® and Polypro, help keep moisture away from the foot. Sweaty or wet skin can cause chafing or make chafing worse. Merino wool and mohair are two natural sweat-wicking materials that may also help keep feet cool and dry. Drymax® Sport Socks and Smartwool are two popular brands that use stay-dry technology to prevent foot chafing and blisters.
Chafing skin between toes can cause blisters. Toe Socks can help keep each individual toe cool and dry, thus eliminating the warm, sweaty environment that increases friction and chafing. Injinji® is one of the most popular brands of toe socks.
The primary reason to wear compression socks may not be to prevent chafing, but this tight-fitting tall sock that helps support lower-leg muscles also stays snug on the foot, decreasing the opportunity for friction, which is what causes chafing. Other benefits of compression socks can be found in an article from Running Times Magazine on why athletes choose to wear compression socks during races: “…they may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity. And there is the notion that because muscles are kept more compact, balance and proprioception are improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.”
Compression Sports Bras:
An article from Run the Planet offers tips to prevent chafing from sports bras, including avoiding bras made with moisture-loving cotton and finding a bra that fits and is made well. Even with high-tech fabrics and good construction, some athletes use anti-chafing lubricants under the bottom band of a sports bra as a back-up measure.
Cotton sports bras soak up sweat and keeps it on the skin, which can cause chafing. The best anti-chafing sports bras have good ventilation, and keep skin dry and cool. Look for sports bras with high-tech moisture-wicking materials, such as polypro fabrics like CoolMax®.
A Note on Fit: An article from Runner’s World magazine, says a too-tight sports bra can chafe, so look for a bra that fits snug, not tight. Put on the bra, instructs the article, “…and clap your hands over your head. If the band of the bra slides up your torso, it’s too tight.” You can test a bra by jumping up and down, according to the Runner’s World article. “Select the one that allows your breasts to move the least, but still feels comfortable.” A guide from Triathlete magazine defines the two types of sports bras for women:
- Encapsulation bra: Encapsulation bras hold each breast in separate cups, ideal for women with larger chests.
- Compression bra: Compression sports bras push the breasts against the chest to hold them in place, something that may work for women with smaller cup sizes.
Seamless: The best sports bras are seamless and do not rub anywhere. Rubbing causes friction that causes chafing.
Nipple chafing occurs after repetitive friction of a shirt rubbing on the chest. It is more common for men to experience nipple chafing since most women wear sports bras. Men use a variety of methods to prevent chafing, including anti-chafing lubricants like those from this website, waterproof bandages, Duct tape or even going shirtless. Nip-Guards™, however, are made specifically to prevent nipple chafing and adhere directly to the base of the nipple.
Any cyclist that has pedaled long distances knows how important their bicycle seat is. Those who don’t, have the chafing to prove it. A proper seat that fits your style of riding (fast or casual), and your body type, height and gender, according to an article by cycling author and expert Jim Langley, will help relieve uncomfortable pressure and reduce chafing.