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Is Your High-Performance Gym Gear *Actually* Helping Your Performance?


When we want to buy those super fancy (read: expensive) new running tights, we're quick to justify the cash. All that product innovation will totally help us run faster, right?! The good news for us athletic gear junkies is that there might actually be some truth to that idea, according to a new study. But not for the reasons we claim.

To find out if the superior performance claims of high-tech athletic brands actually hold any weight, researchers from the University of Notre Dame tested for the possibility of a placebo effect created by marketers when they say "you'll perform better with us." (FYI: Be wary of fitness DVDs that use language that could be sabotaging your gym goals.) Over the course of several experiments—all using identical products—the team of researchers split participants into two groups, telling on that they would be performing activities with a product from a generic brand and the other group that it would be using a product from a superior performance brand (like Nike).

In one particular test, they had participants use a putter to make shots on a putting green. Some participants believed the golf club was generic, and others were told it was a new Nike club. Even though all of the participants were using the exact same club, the golfers who thought they were using a high-tech new Nike club needed significantly fewer shots to sink the golf ball. Hello, placebo effect.

In addition to the placebo effect created by the hype around performance brands, the researchers also found that using strong performance brands caused the participants to feel better about themselves and have more performance-specific self-esteem. This explains why we feel like we're kicking extra ass in our boxing class when we finally cave and get fancy new boxing gloves or why we suddenly have the confidence to try a handstand in our new Alo yoga pants. (Suffering from gym-timidation? Try these tricks to boost confidence.)

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the more inexperienced at the task you are, the stronger this effect is. So if you're about to race your first Ironman, this is basically scientific proof as to behind why you should splurge on the best gear. When you look the part, you'll nix that pesky performance anxiety and just perform.


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