Six months ago, Zenobia Madon, 27, decided to start running seriously. The first thing on the agenda was to get kitted up properly, but that was easier said than done.
"I had a hard time finding the right apparel. I went to all the major stores and they had really smart clothing, but none of it was practical," says the HR professional.
If you're a fitness conscious woman who likes to work out regularly, you probably know just what Madon is grumbling about.
Shilpa Hinduja certainly does. "When I'm working out I want to be comfortable. I don't want to wear a short T-shirt that will rise every time I bend or lift a weight," says the 26- year-old.
It's simple details like these that women miss in the workout apparel available at leading stores.
Naina Lal, 46, co-founders of running group RunnerGirlsIndia has a grouse with the running slacks available at sport stores. "None of them have pockets. If I want to carry my house keys and some money, where do I put it?" she asks.
Another item on her wishlist: Track pants with broad, non-fussy elastic bands, without bells and whistles like buckles or strings.
Importance of right gear
Many women find it simpler to use cotton tees and capris while working out, but that ends up hampering their performance.
According to Sakshi Juneja, manager, business development for Black Panther sportwear, wearing the wrong type of clothing can hinder one's running ability. "It's important to wear clothing that is breathable, stretches and has moisture wicking properties."
Unlike cotton, which absorbs sweat, wicking fabric brings the sweat to the surface and allows it to evaporate. "Regular fabrics will stick to the body causing chafing and even rashes in those who have sensitive skin," says Juneja.
Most sportswear is made of stretchable fabric, reduces body odour and has softer seams, a Nike spokesperson told us. While running clothes are lightweight, gym clothes are sturdier and closefitting, to provide the muscles support.
A matter of support
Another major gripe amongst women who exercise is the limited choice in sports bras. According to Roshni Rai, 29, finding a comfortable exercise bra is a difficult proposition. "If I get a good fit, I don't get the right material," says the corporate lawyer who ran the Mumbai marathon last year.
"Vigorous exercise can cause the Cooper's ligaments (muscles that support the breasts) to stretch and make the breasts sag," says Manisha Malhotra, a former tennis player who is now the administrator for the Mittal Champions Trust. To prevent this, it's important to have a well-fitting sports bra that provides both support and comfort.
A good sports bra also prevents tension and strain in the upper back.
"Indian brands only sell a version of sports bras," she says. Globally, there is far more range available, customised to the impact level of your sport. "The variety allows you to try different brands and find one that suits your body structure," says Malhotra.
The lack loop
The demand seems to be there, so what's causing the shortage? According to sportswear companies, the problem is that a large part of the market is still very conservative when it comes to the women's segment.
"Limited choice of comfortable sportswear for women is mainly because of lack of awareness," a spokesperson for the German sportswear company Puma said.
Since fewer women buy it, less is available. In addition, women are price-conscious and tend to shop from the unorganised market. Consequently, women's clothing comprises just 15 per cent of the entire sportswear market.
But things seem to be changing. "If we're willing to spend on proper shoes, of course we'll buy proper bras too," says Lal.
Perhaps sportwear companies will spot the changing trend and start offering more suitable apparel. Till that happens, women will find their solutions, like Madon did.
"I bought my running tees from the men's section. They were a better length, didn't have sissy details that chafe and cost lesser," she says.
All you need to know
Working around it
If the women's T-shirts are too short for you, shop in the men's section. Look for dark colours, and breathable fabric wicking properties. Do the same for shorts. While buying trackpants, shop around till you find something that has a wide waistband and a small pocket for your keys and money. They're hard to find, but they're there. The other option is to use a waist pouch to carry your stuff. It's better than a side sling bag as it stays close to the body. If you're uncomfortable with polyester and prefer cotton, look for cotton tees that have been given wicking treatment. Log on to www.decathlon.in that is importing sportwear based on the inputs provided by members of RunnerGirlsIndia.
Choosing a sports bra
Try on several different sizes. If the material bunches, the bra is too big. If it cuts into your skin, it's too small. Go for a bra with a snug fit for maximum support. If you need a lot of support, select a bra with wide straps to prevent painful digging in. Select a sports bra made from wicking fabric that breathes. Fabrics that absorb sweat, such as cotton, can get uncomfortable. Opt for seamless cups to prevent nipple chafing. When you try on a bra, jog in place or do jumping jacks to test their support. The bra should minimise breast movement. If you have found the perfect sports bra, don't wear it forever. Ideally, you should replace bras after about 72 washes, when the elasticity is lost.