What Happened When I Wore Leggings with Built-In Resistance

What Happened When I Wore Leggings With Built-In Resistance
Photo courtesy of Physiclo

I got an email a few weeks ago with the subject line: “Invite: Feel the Burn with Olympic Medalists.” Translation: An opportunity to feel humbly out of shape thanks to a butt-kicking from a major athlete? I clicked.

The pitch wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, though. It presented a pair of pants with built-in resistance bands from a company called Physiclo, designed to up the burn during your workout (hence the subject line).

Wearable fitness gear that makes exercise more effective? Sign me up, please!

Then I thought about it some more. Wait, that means you have to run with your legs practically tied together — as if running isn’t hard enough already? Clearly, I needed more info.

“The gear was originally designed to help obese people drop some pounds simply by walking around in them.”

So I met with one of the founders of this souped-up workout wear, Keeth Smart. The Olympic fencer, who won silver in the Beijing Games, launched the company after his co-founder, Frank Yao, tested the product in med school. The gear was originally designed to help obese people drop some pounds simply by walking around in them. The team soon realized it could also help athletes nail their fitness goals.

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When we emailed, Smart mentioned a study Physiclo conducted with marathon runners. The 19 subjects who trained in the pants finished the race more than seven minutes faster than their previous PRs. As someone training for her first marathon, he had my full attention. But again, running with a resistance band around my thighs? Just not in the cards for this girl, especially when doing double-digit miles. I’m not the biggest fan of torturous treks.

After talking to Smart, I realized it takes a certain kind of person to run 15-plus miles in pants that require extra effort to move — and I didn’t have to be one of them. I could tackle a 5K or less and wear them for some strength moves and still potentially, blast extra calories and pick up my average pace. According to Physiclo’s website, the gear boosts your energy burn by about 14 percent and increases muscle activation by 23 percent.

A potential PR, more efficient workouts and a new pair of pants? Yup, still interested. Here’s what went down when I sported Physiclo leggings for a strength workout and a three-mile run.

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Physiclo leggings resistance
Photo courtesy of Physiclo

What It’s Like to Exercise in Resistance Leggings

Pulling them up was a pain, literally.
Remember the Friends episode when Ross goes on a date wearing leather pants, sweats his butt off, goes to the bathroom and can’t pull them back on? That’s about how it went when I put these on for the first time. In fact, I actually got a side cramp trying to pull them up. Thankfully, I’m not a quitter. I took a quick breather with them wrapped around my knees so I wouldn’t start sweating and have to resort to baby powder as a buffer, like Ross. (Initial thought: Is this where that extra calorie burn comes from?)

Eventually, I wiggled the pants up and once they were on, they surprisingly didn’t feel too tight. Every part was in its correct place — cozy even. (I will say, the process went much smoother the second time around. My advice: Take a deep breath, step in one leg at a time and pretend to do a bent-over row so you give ‘em a good tug.)

“My roommate commented on how my legs looked a little thinner. Bonus points for her — and these pants.”

They felt heavy in my hand, but not on my body.
When I first picked these up, I got a little nervous. Weighing nearly a pound, they’re certainly heavier than your average yoga pants. Plus, because I’m a genius, I tried the full-length leggings, mid-NYC heat wave. (FYI, they do have capris available.) But once I squeezed myself into them, they felt more like suctioned Spanx than weighted bike shorts. Score!

They also don’t look like they have extra material in them. In fact, my roommate commented on how my legs looked a little thinner. Bonus points for her — and these pants. They do, however, give a sort of bulge-like appearance as you move. (Perhaps good for guys; not so great for girls.) I was pretty sure people were staring as I ran past coffee shops and subway stops, but that’s most likely because I was dodging in and out of the crowds. If you’re the more modest type, though, I suggest wearing a longer shirt to cover up.

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I could feel the burn right away.
Almost as soon as I started strolling down the sidewalk toward my gym, I could feel my legs working harder than usual. This makes sense, considering the bands are supposed to add up to 10 pounds of resistance. They work primarily to activate your glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors and adductors. Any direction I stepped, I could feel the pull-back.

This became especially apparent during every exercise I did during my strength training session, and then again when I hit the 1- to 2-mile mark during my run a few days later. Add even a slight hill to my jog and I was fatigued enough to ponder taking a seat on the city sidewalk. But I wasn’t about to scuff up my new $125 secret weapon.

They seemed to shorten my stride.
I recently found out I’m a heel striker and need to get my feet more underneath my hips (instead of out in front), which requires picking up my cadence. The fact that these kind of did that for me felt like a major win. Of course, I took smaller steps to keep my legs from working even harder (after all, the bigger the movement, the more the resistance), so you might consider that cheating a bit. I prefer seeing the glass half full.

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My legs definitely started shaking.
As a fitness editor, I’ve probably done more than 10,000 lunges in my life (#humblebrag). But lunging in these bad boys? Brutal. Toward the end of my strength workout (which was only 30 minutes), my legs were shaking when I hit that 90-degree knee bend. I’m all in on boosting the benefits of a bodyweight move, so the masochist in me was actually thankful.

“I might as well have been floating down a lazy river toward a finish line.”

My muscles seemed to work extra hard during straight leg lifts, too — both out to the side and straight in front of me. (Side note: I didn’t wear these for any group classes, but I totally would… just maybe not for something like CrossFit, which is already tough enough.) One thing I wouldn’t recommend them for: Stretching.

I felt so free for my next run.
Smart mentioned how wearing these pants is equivalent to swimmers doubling up their suits during practice, so they score faster race times. I totally understood what he meant when I went for my next run, sans bands around my thighs. Talk about feeling light and quick on my feet. I might as well have been floating down a lazy river toward a finish line.

While I don’t think I could train in extra resistance for every workout on my marathon plan, I would certainly wear these again — even if just to feel like I have a super-speedy, buoyant stride after taking them off. The side cramp, shakes and running-through-water-like sensation? Definitely worth it for an extra boost toward my goals. Maybe I’ll even feel strong next to an Olympian one day…but I won’t get ahead of myself.

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