Pick the Right Athletic Socks, A Case Against Cotton

Don’t skimp out on good socks — they may be more important than we think to steer clear of injury and perform at our best.
Pick the Right Athletic Socks, A Case Against Cotton

Fitting, breathable tank top? Check. Sturdy, comfortable shoes? Check. Excellent, high quality socks? Wait. It’s true: Don’t head to that next workout without a good pair of athletic socks. Having a good sock will benefit the athlete in and for the long run!

Sock It — The Need-to-Know

 

To help prevent injuries and boost athletic performance, we may want to head to the top drawer Managing blisters in competitive athletes. Brennan, F.H.  Primary Care Sports Medicine, Dewitt Army Community Hospital, 9501 Farrell Road, Fort Belvoir, VA. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 2002 Dec;1(6):319-22.. Foot problems are common among athletes, yet many don’t realize socks could be the culprit. The feet need support beyond the shoe: Excessive pressure (as the body pounds up to three times its body weight on the ground), as well as jumping, lunging, and running, all put extra stress on the feet. Luckily, socks can help repel some of this extra force. 

Athletic socks cushion feet, protect them from irritation and blisters, and, shocker, keep em’ warm. For most athletes, acrylic or synthetic socks may be the way to go, since they’re lightweight, durable, and less likely to bunch up. And it looks like fiber isn’t just important for digestion. Choosing sock fibers with a good wicking gradient will help trap and transfer moisture, which will keep feet nice n’ dry Sports dermatology part 1: common dermatoses. Freiman, A., Barankin, B., Elpern, D.J. Division of Dermatology, McGill University, Montréal, Canada. The Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2004 Oct 12;171(8):851-3. . (Acrylic or polypropylene fibers do this best.) Some studies also show that when running, acrylic socks are better than cotton to keep blisters away Friction blisters and sock fiber composition. A double-blind study. Herring, K.M., Richie, D.H. California College of Podiatric Medicine, San Francisco. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 1990 Feb;80(2):63-71..

Despite what commercials say, there are a few more reasons cotton may not be the fabric of our lives. Besides of the tendency for fibers to trap sweat (a recipe for blisters!), cotton is also made of absorbent hydrophilic fibers, which may cause socks to lose their shape and lead to skin irritation. Studies also show that cotton doesn’t do the job against foot fungus, and that tight wool may be a better choice Preventive effects of various socks against adhesion of dermatophytes to healthy feet. Watanabe, K., Taniguchi, H., Nishioka, K., et al. Department of Dermatology, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Tokyo, Japan. Japanese Journal of Medical Mycology, 2000;41(3):183-6.. Wool also preserves heat even when wet, making it a popular choice among hikers. (Don’t want to get cold feet when out in the woods!)

Head to Toes — Your Action Plan

Before grabbing the cheapest option in the sock aisle, acrylic or synthetic blends might be better bets since they hold their shape, stay dry, are comfortable, and even repel odor (win!) The Effect of Two Sock Fabrics on Perception and Physiological Parameters Associated with Blister Incidence: A Field Study. Bogerd, C.P., Niedermann, R., Bruhwiler, P.A., et al. Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Laboratory for Protection and Physiology, Switzerland. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, 2012 Jan 23. [Epub ahead of print]. But, like specific shoes, athletes should choose socks depending on the sport and conditions. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Hiking: The options are aplenty for hikers, depending on trail conditions and how challenging the hike is. For shorter hikes, lightweight socks emphasize wicking abilities over comfort. Midweight and mountaineering socks with durable padding keep feet warm and are good for longer hauls.
  • Cycling: When hopping on the bike, slip on very thin socks to wick moisture away and reduce friction to avoid foot chafing, recommends Victor Jimenez of Bicycle Lab. Cycling is a non-impact sport so extra padding isn’t necessary.
  • Lifting: It may just come down to personal preference at the squat rack, but according to Greatist Expert and trainer Jordan Syatt, wearing higher socks is definitely wise when deadlifting to avoid the bar scraping the legs.

No matter what sport or activity is on the agenda, be sure to put those feet first. After all, there’s no replacing them!

Which are your favorite go-to socks? And what’s the most you’ve shelled out for them? Tell us in the comments below!

Illustration by Elaine Liu

 

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