Can women focus and wear revealing workout clothing at the same time?

Sam shared an article with our bloggers, from the University of Toronto’s website. The article is about a study that “finds that tight, revealing workout gear can negatively impact physical performance”.

Did this study look at whether men who run without shirts on are slower? No. Did it look at whether men who wear tank tops instead of t-shirts at the gym show lower progress with their heavy lifts. No. Instead, Catherine Sabiston and Timothy Welsh, both professors at U of T’s ’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), wanted to see if existing research that suggests women who wear tight or revealing clothing perform more poorly on cognitive tasks – as compared to women wearing loose or more concealing clothing – could be applied to physical performance as well. I’m not sure if there’s existing research that suggests men who wear tight or revealing clothing perform more poorly on cognitive tasks, but I doubt it.

Picture of a man running in shorts, no shirt.
A woman with blonde hair, tied in a braided ponytail, wearing a blue headband, sports bra and shorts, a pair of yellow with white sneakers, smiles as she lifts a purple dumbbell on both hands.

Now, I am not an academic. Out of all of the bloggers at FIFI, I am probably the least academic. Maybe I’m not down on why some studies are carried out over others, or why some research is considered necessary and other research isn’t. Nor am I an expert in setting up studies fairly and making sure they are carried out in a scientifically sound way. But I have some questions in relation to the point of this study.

A girl in pigtails, wearing black framed glasses, holding a book, with her arm raised. She has questions.

Why is this a necessary study? What good does it do to carry out this type of study? Do women need more attention from others about what they should or should not be wearing? Will it benefit society somehow for women to know that they may not do as many reps at the gym if they are wearing shorter shorts or a crop top instead of a baggy t-shirt and leggings.

The article quotes Welsh as saying, “It is thought that these differences may emerge because the tight clothing activates body image and objectification processes that may shift cognitive resources to the body and away from the task.” It also says, “Using a sample of 80 women, aged 18 to 35 years, the researchers randomly assigned tight and revealing athletic clothing to some women and loose and concealing athletic clothing to others. All participants completed the same visual-motor aiming task to assess measures of motor performance in time and space. In addition to the clothing, participants were primed to be conscious of their bodies via measurements of height, weight and waist circumference.” So my question here is, did they do the same study without priming the participants to be conscious of their bodies via measurements of height, weight and waist circumference?

Perhaps, the results are related to a persons predisposition to be primed for such distraction, rather than the type of clothing they are wearing.

Also, who decided what is revealing? I bet if you asked 20 different people, they would all have a different idea about what should be considered revealing.

And, maybe if the study included women over 35 you would have a different result also. Maybe women who are older, are less likely to be distracted by what they are wearing and are more likely to be wearing whatever they are wearing out of function? I don’t know if that is true, just a thought.

When I do my HIIT workouts I wear a tank top and tights. When I’m running in the spring/summer I wear shorts, a tank top, my fashionable 🙂 water belt and hat. The clothes serve a purpose. Keeps me moving easily. Wicks sweat away. Don’t rub me the wrong way. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to workout in baggy clothing as it would feel clunky and would make me sweat more than I already do. That said, I see other women wearing long sleeves, baggy t-shirts, etc. all the time and they seem perfectly comfortable. I also see women wearing short Lycra shorts and bra tops, and not only do they look comfortable, they are working their butt off. I can’t imagine them working out any harder than they are.

What about you readers? Do you think these types of studies serve any benefit? Help women perform better? Or does it sound like just another way of policing what women should wear, or feel comfortable wearing?

Nicole P. is enjoying her socially-distanced park workouts these days and not distracted by what she is wearing while doing lunge rows, sprawls and deadlifts.

3 thoughts on “Can women focus and wear revealing workout clothing at the same time?

  1. Nicole, you’ve make so many astute points! The sheer ridiculosity of the “science” is boggling. And, for the record, I’m with you, a big baggy shirt is not going to improve my run or ride!

    1. Thanks, Mina. There are just so many variables and the benefit of doing this in the first place is unclear. Just seems like another way to police women’s bodies to me. And from academics, to make it seem like it has more credence.

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