Chafing. It’s the brutal, not-often-talked-about punishment that happens when skin rubs against skin or cloth, getting severely irritated in the process. Typically, it’s not a problem on short workouts. Ask any endurance athlete, however, and they’ll tell you tales about bloody nipples and raw thighs.
Hearing these horror stories might make you think twice about running your first marathon or riding your first century. But don’t lose hope. These five tips will help you prevent the pain before it starts.
A sports lubricant cuts down on the friction that causes chafing. If I plan to run for more than an hour, I preemptively roll a few swabs of Body Glide onto my nipples and inner thighs. Cyclists like to use a chamois cream to keep their nether regions happy when they’re spending hours on a bike seat. If you don’t have a sports lube, remember that Vaseline also works great. I ran a half marathon in the rain in a pair of jeans and didn’t chafe, thanks to the miracle that is petroleum jelly.
Men, if your nipples still chafe with a lubricant, cover them with Band-Aids or an adhesive tape. (The right sports bra should prevent chafing for women.) I’m a fan of KT Tape because it goes on easily, creates a hearty layer between my nipples and shirt, and stays on even when I sweat (the stuff saved me from what could have been brutal nipple chafe on a 100-mile kayak race).
I often use compression underwear to keep the skin on my thighs from rubbing together. I really like Better Than Naked Long Haul Shorts from The North Face because they incorporate underwear that keeps everything separated while providing plenty of support.
Stay Away from Cotton
Cotton holds onto moisture, moisture creates friction, and friction leads to chafing. I’ll wear cotton on hot, short runs because it keeps me cool. But I need something that wicks sweat on longer jaunts. Patagonia’s Capilene Lightweight T-Shirt is great because it sheds water like a champ.
Make sure your workout clothes are snug: Folds in oversized garments cause excess rubbing and chafing. Also, pay attention to straps on things like hydration packs. Straps that are too tight or don’t sit flush against your skin are a guarantee for nasty chafing.