Monday, April 27, 2009

Form Follows Function: Running Equipment and Clothes

CM SEAL Team Blogger: Tim Grizzell

Completing a Marathon: III(b) Running Equipment: CLOTHES

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law

Author, Louis Sullivan - Great American Architect

No question – clothing design and aesthetics often play a key role selecting running apparel. We all want our running clothing to perform, but we all want our clothes to look good on us while we are performing. Right? I get it – I am starting a running apparel company. Yet – I subscribe to the theory that form follows function and that running apparel design should be based on its intended function or use. In this post, I am going to focus on function because clothing design is a personal preference. Look at women’s options for running shorts these days. There are skorts (shorts with a flap of fabric in front designed to look like a skirt), “buns,” tights, regular old running shorts and a number of other options. Some women swear by skorts. My wife who was also a middle distance runner growing up would not be caught dead in a skort. Like I said, design is a personal preference!

So, let us discuss function (NOTE: I am going to focus mostly on the base running layer in this post). When you run, the most important function of your clothing is to stabilize your core body temperature because you will ultimately be more efficient, more comfortable and perform better. Decreasing or increasing your core body temperature to extremes is not good for your health. When running in hot weather, you want clothing that promotes heat loss. When running in cold weather, you want clothing that prevents heat loss.

How does this work? The function of clothing is to trap a thin layer of air between your skin and the fabric of the garment. The thin layer of air will match the temperature of the body. Since air is a poor conductor of heat, it will act as a layer of insulation.

Light, thin, porous fabrics will circulate air more quickly in between your body and the fabric (promoting heat loss) as where heavier fabrics, less porous fabrics obviously will have the opposite effect (preventing heat loss). Regardless of the fabric’s thickness, it needs to allow for breathing and it must allow for sweat evaporation (the ability of the fabric to move sweat from the skin to the outside of the fabric where it can evaporate). The ability to promote heat loss or prevent heat loss relies on your garment’s ability to keep the area between your skin and the inside of the fabric as dry as possible. When you run, your clothes are bound to have a certain amount of sweat on them. You just want a high rate of sweat evaporation. Some fabrics do this better than others.

You have to also consider the elements (i.e., wind, rain, snow) and how they play an integral role in what to wear. Most of the discussion here is focused on the base layer. Yet -- it does not matter how well that base layer can move moisture away from your skin if you are running in a downpour. The fabric will not be able to keep up. If it is windy outside, the effective temperature will decrease. The bottom line is that you will need to think about a second (protective) layer if the elements are strong enough.

In today’s market place, there is a lot of clothing made from performance fabrics (e.g., polyester, wool, performance cotton). Most of these fabrics get their performance capabilities from a chemical finish. Chemical finishes wear off after multiple washes and then you ultimately will lose the performance capability of your garment. In addition, they are not as effective as new technology whereby the performance capability is hardwired into the fiber of the fabric. I recommend that you search out garments made from this type of fabric because they will last longer. More to follow on this topic at a later date.

I would like to close by discussing compression clothing. Although it is not a new concept, compression clothing has garnered a lot of attention lately in areas outside of football and other team sports. The main area that you see it in running is in shorts and socks. The two main benefits of compression clothing are the following:

-Larger muscle groups move a lot when in motion and compression lessens this movement. Less movement, less energy expenditure.

-Compression increases blood flow in the body. More blood flow means more oxygen going to the muscles, which makes the body perform better and ultimately more efficient. More blood flow also helps muscles recover quicker.

I am sure that some of you might have some more specific questions for me.

Go ahead…fire away!


CM SEAL Team blogger Tim Grizzell is a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer who led SEAL units in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. He is currently starting a running apparel company that will be officially launched in second quarter of this year. He has run numerous marathons. Tim resides in San Marino, California with his wife and their three young children.

Tim met Alden when Alden had just graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training and he had just arrived to begin BUD/S training.


Joe G. said...

Great article, Brotha Al.

I just finished reading Hal Moore’s We Are Soldiers Still – the sequel to We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, which had a pretty good movie version starring Mel Gibson, as you probably know. In this latest book, Moore, who is still active in his late 80s by the way, writes a section on leadership that is worth the price of the book. One thing in particular caught my attention, and I don’t have to quote him because it is a principle that is priceless:

There is always something you can do to better your position; and THEN AFTER THAT THERE IS ANOTHER, AND THEN ANOTHER, and so on.

He writes, for example, that in games like baseball, three strikes and you’re out. In many things there is no second chance. You can’t make a second first impression; that is a good example. But life is not like that! In life, you can ALWAYS better your position – and then do it again!

I think athletic apparel falls into this category of things you can always improve. They won’t change the NFL football, for example – not often, at least. It has very specific physical properties. But shoulder pads, helmets, all the rest? Think of how plastics have improved equipment.

We live in an exciting time.

Here’s Hal Moore at Pritzker, if you’re interested:

Nancy B. said...

Hi Tim,
Recently a friend of my daughters was diagnosed with "Compartment Syndrome" after he collasped while running.He is a swimmer who never ran or played any other sport in his youth. He is just finishing his third year at West Point and obviously has been pushing muscles in his legs that he never used before his training at West Point.Do you have any input on this condition?How is it usually treated. Thanks so much.

Tim Grizzell said...

Thanks Joe. I agree with you. I will check out Hal Moore.

Fired Up,


Tim Grizzell said...

Hello Nancy:

First, I will say that I am not a physician. When I was in BUD/S (short for SEAL training), we had a few guys get bone strains from running, but not true compartment syndrome. Here is what I know.

Compartment Syndrome is an uncommon injury and is usually confused with a bone strain. In compartment syndrome, running will cause an abnormal rise in pressure in one or more of the muscle compartments in the lower leg. Under normal circumstances, our muscles swell with fluid when we exercise and the compartments in our muscles have enough room to account for this swelling. Some people are just born with tight muscle compartments and cannot account for this excess fluid. Yes – it is hereditary. When an individual with tight muscles compartments exercises and swelling occurs, the increase in pressure might cut off blood flow to the muscles. This is obviously very painful. Nerve function could be affected as well.

The first step is to ensure that the injury is in fact compartment syndrome and not a bone strain. A bone strain (depending on the severity) can heal over time with no specific treatment other than rest – maybe three months or so. The only effective treatment (because it never gets better even after months of rest) for compartment treatment is surgery in which the lining of the tight compartment is split to allow the muscle to expand freely inside the compartment. It is effective and will allow the person to run again pain-free.

So, I would recommend that your daughter’s friend ensure that he gets more than one opinion on his condition. The last thing you want to do is undergo any unnecessary surgery.

Have a great weekend.

Fired Up,


Nancy B. said...

Thank you for your concise and clear explanation of the syndrome. I will pass this on to my daughter's friend and his parents.
Again I really appreciate your input.
I've learned something.