Change Up Your Workout Socks For the Ultimate Support
As part of your getting-ready routine in the morning, chances are slipping into socks falls somewhere in the mix—and this is especially true if you’re an avid exerciser. Working out without socks can be super uncomfortable for most activities, as bare feet in sneakers can exacerbate sweating, chafing, and even lead to the formation of pesky blisters that can hinder your future workouts. Socks also make your feet feel more comfortable while you’re working out, which can motivate you to exercise harder and for longer periods of time.
“The feet have the second-most concentration of nerve endings in the body aside from the hands, which means that the feedback of information from the feet to the nervous system is essential in determining how we move,” explains Marvin Nixon, MS, NBC-HWC, CPT, certified nutrition consultant, and health and wellness coach. “Wearing socks allows more information to flow from the ground to the brain and helps create powerful movement decisions and better balance and stability while providing protection to the feet.” While you may think being barefoot provides optimal sensory feedback, there is some research that shows compression socks have a similar effect.1
Here is what you need to know about different types of socks, their benefits, and how to select the right socks for your workout.
Different Types of Socks and Their Benefits
Of course, socks come in all shapes, sizes, fabrics, and styles. Just like it’s important to choose the right shoe for your specific workout, it can pay to be smart about which type of sock you wear. Here’s a look at the different types of socks out there—and the benefit they offer for your workout.
This type of sock is one of the most popular socks for workouts, as they help wick away moisture, keeping your feet comfortable and dry during exercise. This characteristic also can help reduce the risk of blisters and other pesky foot problems.
If you’re performing a workout that involves walking, running, or jumping, a cushioned sock may be your best bet. These socks are lined with a thick layer of padding in the heel and toe that provides extra comfort and support, especially in the midfoot and forefoot, which experiences the most impact during exercise.
Compression socks are designed to apply gentle pressure to certain areas of your feet, thus improving circulation and even reducing swelling. This type of sock is often recommended to pregnant people as well as individuals with certain medical conditions to help reduce the risk of blood clots. It can also be helpful for people who have foot pain or who are at risk of developing foot problems. They are also used frequently to speed recovery post-workout.
As their name suggests, no-show socks are very short and tend to be invisible above the shoe line. These are a great choice for anyone looking to conceal their socks or with low-cut shoes like sandals or sneakers.
While a less popular choice for exercisers wearing shoes, since they can reduce the moving room within the shoe itself and tend to be slightly less comfortable, these socks have separate compartments for each toe. This type of sock can be more comfortable for people with sensitive feet. Another key benefit is the fact that toe socks allow the toes to splay more and help to avoid skin to skin rubbing.
How to Choose Your Socks Based on the Workout Activity
Choosing the best sock for you will depend on your personal preference as well as the activity you are participating in. But, no matter your workout, we’ve got your feet covered with these expert-recommended sock suggestions that’ll improve your comfort and performance.
The best type of sock for running is one that is designed to keep your feet dry, provide extra support, and prevent blisters, according to personal trainer Roger E. Adams, PhD, CISSN, owner of eatrightfitness. He recommends opting for those made of synthetic materials, as they tend to wick away moisture from your feet the best. Additionally, dual-layered socks made with extra padding in the heel and toe areas can help absorb shock, prevent blisters, and reduce friction.
One of the most common complaints when it comes to socks for runners (and walkers) is when socks slip down your feet into your shoes. Selecting a non-slip sock that grips your feet well, while remaining comfortable, is important. You’ll want to test out a few options before investing in the perfect pair.
Dr. Adams recommends wearing calf or mid-calf height socks during weightlifting and resistance training because they can help prevent scrapes and cuts from picking up barbells or other pieces of equipment. While you might think a padded sock could help enhance your comfort while you’re lifting weights, Dr. Adams recommends against them, as many lifts, like squats, require you to really feel your feet on the floor to properly perform the lift. He suggests that weightlifters opt for flat socks and shoes.
Most yoga instructors recommend performing this type of workout barefoot, which allows for maximum grip and helps prevent injury. If you do prefer to keep your feet covered for comfort or sanitary purposes, definitely make sure they have grips on the bottom to keep you stable and grounded while you’re performing different poses. As far as material, certified strength and conditioning specialist, Reda Elmardi, founder of The Gym Goat, suggests opting for a breathable material that’s sweat-wicking like cotton.
When it comes to pilates, you’ll want to choose socks that are low on the ankle area and that have grips to help keep you firmly grounded.
“The whole point is that you’re using all of the little muscles in your feet, [so] you need to be able to move your toes freely in order to be able to strengthen the bottom of your feet in order to reduce your risk of plantar fasciitis,” explains Alicia Jones, national coach of Canada (NCCP), advanced sport nutrition-certified group fitness instructor, and personal training specialist. While you can typically opt for grippy socks or bare feet in a pilates class, grippy socks can help you to gain extra traction on a reformer, particularly if your feet are sweaty. Plus, some studios require them for sanitary purposes.
Barre is also very similar to pilates. You’re doing basic dance movements where your feet for the most part would not have socks on them at all, explains Jones. She recommends low-cut socks that have grip pads on the bottom to help reduce the risk of slipping and injury. Higher cut socks are coming into fashion, particularly in the barre world, but low-cut grippy socks tend to be required in most barre classes. Jones also suggests opting for cotton socks because the material tends to be more breathable.
Similar to running, if you are a frequent cross trainer, you’ll want a good cotton blend sock that will stay put and provide a cushion against impact and weights, according to Rachel Welch, certified health coach, yoga instructor, and founder of Revolution Motherhood. It’s also important that your sock is lightweight enough to allow your feet to articulate (or move freely) within your shoes.
When cycling, you tend to sweat a great deal, especially in the foot area, which is why Jones recommends opting for a sock that is sweat-wicking as well as lower on your ankle. Other cyclists prefer a higher sock to avoid getting bike grease and gravel on their skin.
Comfort is also key, as you’ll be able to feel your sock fully while cycling and if you’re uncomfortable it may throw you off track. A compression sock may also be helpful because it hugs your feet tightly and can extend your ride by providing relief from minor aches and pain.
Sock Maintenance and Care Tips
Taking care of your socks by washing and storing them appropriately may seem like a minute step, however, it is an important step to maintain your foot health and overall performance.
How to Wash (And Dry) Your Workout Socks
To increase the longevity of your workout socks, wash them in hot water with a natural, fragrance-free soap to wash out sweat and germs without chemicals and additives. To preserve the elasticity of your socks, Welch recommends either hanging or air drying instead of putting them in the dryer.
Resist Folding, Roll Instead
“When folding, resist the urge to stretch them over each other into a ball,” she says. Instead, experts recommend placing one sock on top of the other on a flat surface and then rolling them like a jelly roll and placing them in a drawer.
These tips should help enhance the quality and promote the longevity of your socks. However it’s important to replace your workout socks every so often—ideally every six months to a year, according to Dr. Adams.
“The materials and fibers of the socks can break down and lose their elasticity, which can cause them to lose their shape and support,” he says. “If your socks are no longer staying in place while wearing, it is time to replace them.”
Choosing the right workout sock can not only make your workout more comfortable and promote healthier feet, but it can also enhance your athletic performance. Just as you would when purchasing a shoe or clothing for exercise, consider purchasing one pair before buying in bulk so you can test them out and see if they help or harm your workout. Trust your gut, as you know what feels right and what type of sock you’ll be most inclined to reach for in your drawer before working out.