Look in the mirror, what do you see? A man mountain – a body so taut it looks like a writhing bag of pythons in a shroud of plastic wrap? No, me neither. But I do like my fitness. And in my drawers you will find a fair bit of Lycra, I admit. But I was recently challenged to reveal whether it was getting and staying fit that drove me to exercise, or the desire to look good in my fitness gear…

For some people, buying activity-specific gear is essential for being mentally prepared – as soon as the exercise gear goes on, they’re ready for a workout. It’s the same reason you have work clothes and then casual jeans and T-shirts for weekends – you need that psychological and physical separation between work and play, and sometimes certain clothing is essential for your safety. This is my shirt and tie, I’m going to the office. These are my steel-capped boots, I’m going to the site. Here are my lightweight shorts with mesh inside, I’m going for a run. Just like you wouldn’t go surfing without a wetsuit on, you wouldn’t ride a bike without a pair of fitted and well-padded shorts to keep your scrotum in fine working order.  

For a number of very good reasons, Lycra (or elastane or spandex, as it’s also known) has become an important ingredient in the fitness recipe. A synthetic material that’s usually mixed with other synthetics to make a fabric that’s stretchy but form-fitting, Lycra is admittedly pretty incredible stuff. Able to stretch many times its original dimensions and then go back into shape, it’s also used to make compression stockings for people prone to clots, and compression sports suits. The manufacturer-claimed science behind those is that the tighter material promotes circulation in your arteries, which pushes oxygenated blood through your muscles and gets rid of all the crap that‘s built up at a faster rate than normal.

When you’re shopping for a layer of Lycra, if the garment is three-quarters nylon and one-quarter elastane, it should be snug enough to keep writhing pythons contained.

Importantly, Lycra-containing gear also wicks away sweat compared to, say, a cotton T-shirt that’s going to get drenched, heavy and eventually chafe your pits and nipples (ouch!) as it flaps around your chest and waist.

So, you’ve got your stretchy outfit and it’s feeling good, but do you pass the Lycra-necessity test – running (fine), cycling (okay), football (maybe), cricket (errr…), lawn bowls (too far). As for me, I admit that I am hooked for the most foolish reason of all – vanity.

After months of marathon training, my girlfriend said that my backside looked amazing in some cheap compression gear I’d bought (not that I could hear her that well above the sound of her hand continuously slapping my backside). And that did it. A pair of thigh-length Lycra shorts were soon religiously packed in with my regular, looser, running shorts and singlet, whether I was going for a brisk 5k or a lung-busting 20k, and I justified buying a full-length pair to be reserved for longer runs on weekends – to aid blood flow, of course.

Then, before I knew it, I was adding to my collection frequently and wearing them everywhere – even under my jeans. They had essentially become a pair of man-tights. Yet it seemed a logical step – if my girl couldn’t keep her hands off me, why should I take off the compression gear?

I’ll tell you why – because my like for Lycra had gone beyond a fitness thing to becoming an obsession. I knew I was in trouble when I wouldn’t let anyone peek into my drawers – in case they discovered the one dedicated exclusively to my rapidly expanding Lycra collection. 
So, I’ve vetoed daily wear and any further purchases. 

How about you, would you pass the Lycra-necessity test? 

By Paul Taylor