Like you need another excuse to drop your dollars on cute leggings and fancy kicks, here’s one: Your workout clothes and shoes have a shelf life. Depending on how often you exercise, how much you sweat, and how well you care for your gear, you may need to replace some items more often than you realize — especially your shoes and sports bra.
“Your running shoes and sports bras should really never celebrate a birthday,” advises Kirsten Mengden, an ultra marathon runner and general manager for Fleet Feet San Antonio. “You should be refitted for both every year.” And that’s not merely about aesthetics. Lack of support in both bras and shoes can lead to myriad problems, including back, knee, foot, and hip issues to name a few.
If you notice a yellowing under the arms that won’t go away, that’s a pretty good sign that you need to toss your sports bra. If the bra is no longer snug or the straps fall down whenever you move, it’s a goner. Get a new one. And just because the shoe fits doesn’t mean you should wear it forever. In fact, running shoes usually need to be replaced long before they show visible signs of wear.
“The cushioning in the midlayer breaks down between 300 and 500 miles,” says coach Amanda McIntosh, a professional competitive ultra distance runner who won the 2005 World Masters Association 100K Championship at the age of 40. “You should replace them during that time frame.” She also recommends having a couple of pairs of shoes and rotating them.
That 300 and 500 mile guide applies to both indoor and outdoor running and walking, although McIntosh discourages using your running shoes for brunch and errands. “You should really buy a separate pair of shoes for walking around town or fitness activities other than running/walking,” she says.
The quality of the clothes and shoes you buy and how you care for your gear goes a long way toward its lifespan. Invest in pieces that are made to stand up to many tough workouts. Inferior fabrics breaks down more quickly, wearing thin or splitting at the seams. If you purchase quality, you might find that your clothes and shoes start to smell before they start to fall apart.
One way to avoid the stink is to get out of your sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible and either wash them by hand in cold water or in the washer on the delicate cycle using a detergent specifically designed for athletic gear. McIntosh prefers Win detergent, but there are other brands, like the new Tide Studio for activewear, and (our personal favorite) Rockin’ Green Soap.
If you can’t get your sweaty clothing in the wash right away, there are products like The Laundress Sport Spray that you can use before stashing your sweaty outfit in your gym bag or hamper.
And by all means, avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as they can break down the fibers and impede the wicking ability of fabric. In fact, avoiding the dryer period is usually recommended, especially when it comes to bras. “Ideally bras shouldn’t even go in the dryer at all,” Mengden cautions, adding that hooking, zipping, and fastening all the closures before washing, as well as placing bras in a lingerie bag before tossing them into the machine can help extend their life.