If you’re anything like me, you literally do not care what you look like when you’re working out. Some of my best sweat sessions have been while wearing mismatched socks with my hair in some sort of crazy pineapple on top of my head, and my teeth may or may not have been brushed that morning.
I tell you this up front to say that I recognize that “fashion” doesn’t really play a role in what type of athlete we are.
However, knowing what to wear to the gym — or outside the gym — for the right workout can improve your comfort with the activity you’re doing, and actually help you produce a better overall performance.
If you’re an athlete getting ready to try something new, like attend your first indoor cycling class, yoga class, barre workout or CrossFit WOD, it’s important to know the best type of athletic apparel to wear for your activity so that you don’t end up chaffed, bruised, or having something important fall out mid-movement.
What to Wear to the Gym For Your Best Workout
The Workout: Walking and Running
Walking and running are two of the simplest forms of cardio, and two of the most popular! Whether you’re hitting a treadmill at the gym, pounding the pavement in your neighborhood, or taking your cardio to the trails, there are just a few pieces of fitness apparel that every trailblazer needs.
A good pair of comfortable running shoes is one of the most important investments a new runner or walker can make. I highly recommend visiting your local running store (Google in your area for well-known names like Fleet Feet, Fit 2 Run, Endurance House and more) and have yourself professionally fitted for a pair of shoes. A good store will be able to measure your foot, check out your arch, and do a gait and foot-strike analysis to help you find the shoe with the proper support for your activity.
Blisters are no one’s friend, but they can be easily prevented. y having a properly fitting shoe, using a blister-blocker on your feet (personally, I love Body Glide), and wearing a good-quality athletic sock, your feet will love you as much as the rest of your bod after a great run.
Moisture Wicking Top
We all sweat. I look like I’ve taken a swim no matter what type of workout I do because I’m so sweaty afterwards. Choosing to run in a top made of a sport-specific fabric designed to wick away moisture and dry quickly can be the difference between a great workout and some seriously chaffed armpits after the fact.
Running shorts come in a few different styles and varieties, but they all have one thing in common. They allow for complete movement of your legs, giving you the ability to open up your stride and run (or walk) like the wind. In many models, you’ll find a built-in spanky pant (aka underwear substitute), making them comfortable and convenient.
Gals: Supportive Sports Bra
As ladies, we have a few additional needs when it comes to any high-impact cardio activity. Investing in a supportive sports bra is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality and comfort of your workout. Check the labels of your favorite brand for support recommendations (low, medium or high), and choose one that’s right for the impact of the activity.
The Workout: Cycling
Riding my bike is easily my favorite form of cardio. It’s fun and freeing, not to mention a calorie-torcher. To sweat safely, be sure you’re wearing the right gear for your ride.
Here’s the deal — you should never, ever go for a bike ride without a helmet. Ever. Even if it’s just on your cruiser. Even if you’re just going around the corner. Much like car accidents, you never know when they will happen — that’s why they’re called accidents. If you’re going to ride a bike, wear a helmet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $10 version or a $500 version, as long as it fits properly and is safety-rated, it’s a must for any bike ride.
I can’t tell you how many riders I’ve had say to me, “When I invested in my first good pair of bike shorts, it changed my life.” Even the most comfortable saddle in the world can become uncomfortable after enough time spent sitting on it, but a good pair of cycling shorts or cycling bibs with adequate padding in the areas where you need it most are a must for a great workout experience.
As cycling on sidewalks is illegal in most states, it’s safe to say you’ll be riding on the road for your workouts. Being as visible as possible to motorists is important. And let’s face it, where else can you wear a combination of electric orange, yellow, purple, and hot pink, and actually look good doing it?
While they’re not a “must” to keep you safe on a ride, cycling gloves are a great addition to your ride kit. They can keep your hands comfortable, provide support to your wrists, and help you keep a solid grip on the handlebars when you start sweating.
There are no less than a dozen reasons to consider investing in a pair of cycling shoes that will clip directly into your pedals. Among them are increased power and the ability to recruit more muscle fibers during your pedal stroke, which will give you an overall better workout.
For more information on the right gear for cycling beginners, click here.
The Workout: Indoor Cycling Class
While some might argue that riding outside and riding inside are the same thing, I would beg to differ. The workouts might hit similar muscles, but overall they are a completely different experience, and different fit fashion is required to make the most of them.
Fitted Shorts or Capris
Your outdoor bike shorts can absolutely double for indoor rides or you can simply wear a pair of spandex shorts, capris or tights to class. The most important part about your bottoms is to choose something fitted. Anything boot-cut or loose can not only potentially get caught up in the flywheel of the bike, but it could also flap around and cause some serious chafing during class.
Moisture-Wicking Tank Top
When you ride outdoors the wind will rapidly dry your sweat, but in a cycling studio, you’re counting on a few fans and hopes and dreams to keep you cool. My advice? Wear as little as possible, and make sure it’s a tech fabric designed to draw sweat away from your body and dry quickly.
Indoor Cycling Shoes
While they’re not essential to simply take a class, if indoor cycling is your jam, investing in a pair of clip-in shoes makes a big difference in the intensity of your ride.
Indoor cycling is a 45-minute to a 1-hour assault on the largest muscles in your body. You’re going to sweat. Probably a lot. Class veterans know to bring a towel with you to keep it out of your eyes when the going gets tough.
The Workout: Swimming
Swimming is an awesome full-body workout that doubles as an impact-free form of cardio, making it darn near perfect for every athlete. If you’re going to hit the lane for some laps, be sure to sport the right stuff.
Swimsuits developed specifically for lap swimming are a must if freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke or the fly are your jam. They are not only designed to stay in place during a workout but are also made of materials that will stand up against the chlorine and other harsh chemicals that keep the pool water clean.
Chlorine is a way of life for swimmers, and it’s important to protect your eyes against the pool chemicals when you’re doing laps. Wearing goggles can keep your eyes healthy, and allow you to see the lane line and work on swimming in a straight line during your sessions.
Men with short hair might not find this necessary, but for everyone else, a swim camp is a must. By securing your hair under the cap you’ll not only keep it healthier, but you’ll prevent yourself from ending up looking like Swamp Thing with wet stringy hair hanging in your face after a few laps.
The Workout: CrossFit
CrossFit is all about workouts that include the “unknown and unknowable.” And while that’s amazing for improving fitness and conditioning, it can make it a bit tricky to be prepared in knowing what to wear to the gym. The good news is, no matter what the movements might be, these apparel staples will never do you wrong.
Fitted Stretchy Shorts or Capris
Being able to move through a full range of motion is key to every workout in CrossFit, so selecting bottoms that allow you to go “ass to grass” on your squats without dat ass falling out is important. For ladies, choose tight-fitting shorts or capris. Guys, look for shorts that have a lot of stretch and movement, or even ones that are weightlifting specific.
Also, both guys and ladies should stick with pants with built in linings. Trust us when we say that between squats, stretches, and handstands, you don’t want anything private making an appearance.
Fitted Moisture-Wicking Top
While it’s totally appropriate to rip your shirt off at any point during a workout in CrossFit, if you’re going to keep it on you’ll want to make sure it’s made of breathable fabric and is close-fitted. It’s important not to wear anything to loose or baggy as you might mind yourself accidentally flashing during close-to-the-body bar movements like the Snatch, or when you go upside down for your handstand push ups. If you don’t mind showing a little skin, just make sure that your clothes are still tight enough not to hinder you when keeping the barbell in the frontal plane.
Low or No Drop Shoes
Reebok makes many widely popular CrossFit shoe models, but you can choose almost any shoe with a minimum drop and be well-equipped for your workout.
Optional: Knee Socks
Booty shorts and knee socks are kind of what comes to mind when most people think of CrossFit, but the truth is, they aren’t mandatory. However, I highly recommend keeping them in your gym bag. In workouts that include movements like rope climbs or deadlifts, they’ll keep the skin attached to your legs, and you’ll be glad you have them.
Optional: Wrist Wraps
Though not required, wrist wraps are common in every CrossFit box, especially during heavy overhead movements. A good pair are an inexpensive investment that can not only keep your wrists pain-free but can also help you lift more weight. Win/win!
Optional: Weight Belt
Beginners probably don’t need to consider wearing a weight belt during class, but more advanced CrossFitters might find the addition beneficial. When used appropriately, it can provide additional spine and core support that may result in being able to lift heavier loads, especially on strict movements like a squat or deadlift.
The Workout: Olympic Weightlifting
There are several key pieces of workout apparel that can help you perform at your absolutely best when you’re lifting. We mention a few above when we discuss CrossFit — the right bottoms, tops, wrist wraps and weight belt can help you score major PRs at the plates. But if a killer snatch is what you’re after, don’t forget this one important piece of gear.
Olympic Weightlifting Shoes
Designed specifically for any movement where you need to be able to transfer as much force from the ground into energy as possible, weightlifting shoes will literally change the way you lift. There are dozens of models available, choose one that is comfortable, supportive, and within your budget to improve your lifts nearly instantly, and to keep the good times rolling as you get stronger.
The Workout: Mind/Body Classes (Barre, Yoga, Pilates)
Getting your zen and flexibility on is an important part of a well-rounded fitness routine. Whether you’re downward dogging in your living room, or attending one of many specialty boutique studios that showcase mind/body wellness like PureBarre or a Reformer Pilates classes, you’ll want to be geared up for the ultimate om-experience.
Fitted, Comfortable Bottoms
Wearing bottoms that are moveable, breathable, and comfortable is a key to having a mind-freeing workout. Choose something that moves with your body, allowing you to achieve deep stretches without your clothes getting in the way.
Again, movement is key. If you’re constricted or uncomfortable in your clothing, it will be difficult to lose yourself in your practice.
Choosing a mat that is appropriate for your class will give you the right amount of cushion, support, and stickiness to get in a great workout. Some studios will provide one for you, and as long as they disinfect them thoroughly after every use, you may want to use theirs.
Optional: Grippy Socks
Investing in a pair of socks with arch support and grip can be a great way to enhance your mind/body workout wardrobe. Having a little extra stickiness can make a big difference in everything from a downward dog to a deep plie squat.