Red or Blue? What Color Runner are You?

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Close-up of Salty looking at tanks on the Brooks website

With her fall goal race right around the corner, one of my best running friends went in search of the perfect versatile tank to wear on her big day. She fell in love with the Brooks Pick-up Running Tank Top, but couldn’t decide whether to go with the red or the blue. She was leaning towards the blue, but asked my opinion. I remembered hearing somewhere that red equals fast.

“Really?” she asked skeptically. “With all my training, strength work and mental preparation, could something as simple as the color of my shirt affect my running performance?”

She had a point. I had to investigate. When I did, I was shocked to discover an entire sect of psychology devoted to studying how color affects us. And guess what: psychologists say wearing the color red can improve athletic performance. But, so might blue! So what’s the right color shirt when you want to race your best? Well, it depends.

The rumor I heard about red was only sort of right. Red won’t make you faster, but it might improve your performance in some situations. If you are racing for place, red could help you come out on top. That’s because studies show that red has an intimidating effect on some of your competitors, but even this isn’t always a sure thing.

Red is a great choice for men who aim to compete against other men. Ladies, if your goal is to chick as many guys as possible, definitely wear red. But, if your goal is to race for place among other women, then red might not help you very much. That’s because the intimidating effect of red is far more pronounced in men than in women.

Red is a risky choice. Before you put the red shirt in your cart, you’re going to want to consider this: research shows that some people are prone to choking during performances when exposed to the color red. This might counsel against wearing red where you see it on yourself the most, like on long sleeves perhaps. And because the color red is stimulating, you might reconsider wearing it if you tend to get too keyed-up or anxious before races.

What about blue, you ask? Blue is a safer choice. While a blue shirt might not make you look intimidating or feel more energized, there are definitely benefits to racing in blue. Particularly if you tend to be one of those people who tends to get overly excited, who overthinks, or is easily distracted, blue might look great on you. In contrast to red, scientists suggest exposure to the color blue makes us feel safer, more open-minded and more at ease, which might help those who are looking to focus on executing a race plan while quieting negative thoughts or other distractions.

Cilantro wears a blue Brooks Pick-up tank

And what about all those other colors?

It might not be what you expect, but the best color for optimal performance could be green. One study found that cyclists who were exposed to the color green had lower perceived effort than those exposed to red or gray.

Yellow might be your color if you’re heading to a race and looking to make new friends, as people associate yellow with friendliness.

Interestingly, black, purple, and pink are all associated with sophistication according to researchers, which might make them good choices for coaches. Choose black if you want to also convey power, purple if you want to also convey authenticity, but opt for pink if you want to convey warmth along with your sophistication.

And what color should you wear if you want to run happy? It might come as a surprise, but science says the happiest color is … white.

What color did my friend decide to choose for her Pick-Up Tank? She went with her gut and bought the blue. No matter what the studies show one thing is clear: there is no one-size-fits-all-runners when it comes to color. If there’s a color that makes you feel great when you wear it, then it’s the right one for you.

What’s your favorite color to wear on the run?

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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25 comments

  1. I like to bust out all black on race day. It makes me feel like a bad a$$. Although, I posted a pre-race picture of myself all in black and my friend photo shopped my head on to the terminators body… I guess wearing black did make me look tough!

  2. It’s funny, but my favourite colour has been purple ever since I was little, and I have several purple tops in which I’ve set a few PRs. I’ve always wondered how much of color psychology/ effects have to do with cultural context: in some cultures white has really negative associations, particularly.

    1. Same here! I have all different colors (except for red, actually – I don’t wear red because it brings out my rosacea blotches) and never thought I’m faster with any particular color.

    1. Yeah, that’s a really good point. I have a lot of bright colored things because I run on the roads a lot. I won’t wear anything muted or drab on road runs.

  3. Interesting, I never really thought about how/if the color shirt I was wearing affected my run. My favorite is yellow, that’s what I used to always wear when racing for the Army, and like it because it stands out.

    1. I love yellow! My mom told me it was the color of happiness when I was little and so I always associated them together. Plus, it’s a fun under-appreciated color :)

  4. I can’t handle the brights, though I grew up wearing neon fishnets. It seems they’re here to stay, especially evident in current footwear color schemes and race shirts. My go-to is black, so I appreciate that research says its indicative of sophistication (;

  5. I bought a green shirt for my race last weekend only because I didn’t already own anything green, and I like the color. A few times during the run, I made a point of looking down at the top in order to feel its calming effects. Perhaps it worked!

  6. I’m an orange kind of girl myself — I have several orange tops that make me feel fast. I doesn’t hurt that I ran my marathon PR in an orange singlet, so now I have all positive associations with that color. I like green too, though, but mostly because it looks good with my hair. . . .

    1. There wasn’t a ton of science on orange, and what I could find was so meh – just that it’s a stimulating color. I love all the warm colors and am pretty partial to them, myself.

  7. I gravitate towards anything bright, so my drawer is full of hot pink and neon yellow gear! My racing kits have varied, but I’ve set seven PRs wearing a black top this year so … (But we have new tops on the way that are black, yellow and HOT PINK — I get everything!)

    1. Cinnamon swears the brighter the color the faster you run! Most of the studies control the colors very carefully in terms of lightness, darkness, intensity, so I could not find anything about neons per se. But, maybe that should be the next frontier of color psychology :)