It doesn’t matter what you wear when you work out…does it? I’ve long been fascinated with how I feel in certain running outfits (fast, tired, calm, competitive), and recently I decided to do a little research on the matter. Turns out, color does matter.
For example, red color in nature signifies male dominance, aggression and high testosterone levels. In humans, wearing red seems to have a similar effect. In the 2004 Olympic games, contestants in four combat sports were randomly assigned red or blue uniforms. For all four sports, athletes wearing red won far more fights, with 16 of 21 rounds having more red than blue winners (graph shown on right). Similarly, a 2008 study showed that English football teams wearing red win championships to a far greater extent than random chance would suggest. Teams that wear red win more frequently than teams wearing any other color. In fact, simply wearing a red jersey increases heart rate and strength in an athlete (graph shown on right).
And then there’s black. A 1988 analysis of data from the NFL and NHL showed the following two trends:
- Teams wearing black had the most penalties. For example, the LA Raiders and the Philadelphia Flyers topped the penalty list from 1970-1986.
- Switching from non-black to black uniforms resulted in an immediate increase in penalties. When the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Vancouver Canucks switched to black uniforms, their penalty minutes increased as well.
Authors of the study also performed some laboratory tests to confirm these findings and concluded that black uniforms increase aggressiveness in the players and perceptions of aggression in referees. So players play more aggressively and referees become more sensitive to these differences.
Other color characteristics seem to influence performance, too. For example, Nike reports that contrasting colors increase an athlete’s perception of speed, so many of their new uniforms and shoes contain contrasting color blocks under arms or on the soles. And overall color associations mean that blue evokes relaxation and confidence whereas yellow may indicate optimism and positivity. But the caveat to all of these data is other compelling research finding that while “…athletes relate to colors on an emotional level and uniform color is a direct channel for this connection…Not one participant score[s] every uniform the same.”
In other words, each athlete relates color to emotion and physical function differently, and reacts accordingly. As we often say, if the shoe fits, wear it. And to this I’ll now add: If the clothes work, work them!