Workout gear should work as hard as you do. Yes, it should look good. After all, it’s another motivator to get you exercising. But more than that it should physically (not just psychologically!) feel good on. If your workout gear is making your workouts uncomfortable, you are much more likely to quit, or feel self-conscious or restricted in what you are able to do during your workout. Indeed, the perfect workout clothing is the kind you forget about once you start exercising. Whether it’s the guy lifting in jeans and flip-flops or the girl in spin class who obviously left her sports bra at home, nothing screams “I don’t know what I’m doing” like wearing everyday clothes to the gym. Since they’re not usually stretchy, you can rip everyday outfits if you wear them while exercising, and even injure yourself if you don’t have the right footwear or supportive clothing.
So here’s a run-through of what you should look for when buying workout clothes.
Just because a pair of shorts looks good on the rack or a top fits well in the dressing room doesn’t mean it’s cleared for deadlifts in the middle of a public gym. Before you take your new workout duds out on the town — er, mat — do some test exercises in your room to make sure they don’t ride up too high or fall down too low as soon as you bend over in downward dog. While you could wear the same clothes for every type of workout you do, some forms of exercise are more enjoyable, and you’ll be able to work harder, better or longer, if you wear workout clothing that activity appropriate. For example, cycling shorts are padded and can make long bike rides so much more comfortable but. Running tights and yoga pants may look pretty similar, but are made of different fabrics and have a different fit. For example, running tights are tighter in the waist, often have a drawstring to keep them up while you run, and sport a pocket in the back to hold your key. All these things seem minor, but can quickly become irritating if you’re wearing running tights to a yoga class and vice versa. If your budget allows stick with clothing that is designed specifically for the activity you want to do and you will be much more comfortable.
Thick seams, restrictive or tight sleeves, a back that rides down when you lean forward; all of these comfort issues can make your workout experience less enjoyable or self-conscious. Try workout clothes on before you buy to ensure they are as comfortable as possible. Workout clothing should be nonrestrictive, easily vented to prevent overheating, be “forgettable” once they are on and designed specifically for your chosen workout.
High-Visibility & Reflective
If you exercise outdoors at night or sunrise, or on poorly lit routes, your workout clothing should make you easily visible to other road users. This means bright colors and reflective strips. Black may help you look skinnier, but basically leaves you invisible to other road users.
It’s tempting to grab one of the ten thousand big cotton t-shirts you got from various events and souvenir pick ups during travel, but 100% cotton clothing isn’t the best choice for a sweaty workout. Cotton absorbs moisture easily, so you’ll be stuck with a heavy, sticky shirt that can cause irritation and will get cold as soon as you’re done exercising. Plus, baggy clothing is actually a safety risk since it can get caught in a machine. Cotton is generally incredibly cheap, easily available, is hard wearing and can be super comfortable initially. However, cotton and other natural fibers are not naturally good wickers. Wicking is the ability of a material to divert sweat away from your skin and through the material for easy evaporation, helping to keep your skin dry and comfortable. Cotton, being a poor “wicker”, soaks up sweat like a sponge, making it heavy, wet and clingy. However, many synthetic and so-called technical materials are excellent at wicking. So go for breathable fabrics that wick the sweat away from your skin, keeping you cool and dry in the summer and warm in the winter.
If you workout outdoors, especially in the colder winter months, it can be tricky to wear just the right amount of clothes so that you’re neither too cold nor overdressed and overly hot and sweaty. The trick is to layer with fabrics. Layering also means that, as you warm up, you can peel off an item of clothing to regulate your temperature. Make sure your base layer wicking and close-fitting, and wear looser fitting insulating garments on top. Also, don’t forget a hat and gloves if you are heading outdoors to exercise in the cold.
Have you ever noticed that, however much you wash your workout gear, as soon as you put it on and start to warm up, it starts smelling like it was never washed? The answer could be anti-microbial or anti-odor workout clothes. However, recent research suggests that the particles in the clothing meant to kill the bacterial and hence the odor, may come with health risks attached. So, instead of going high-tech, try the tricks of old. For a cheap and effective odor remover, simply add a cup of white wine vinegar to the rinse cycle or use to pre-soak.
Despite our best intentions, most of us rarely follow the rules with sunscreen. If we do apply it every time we go out, we often forget to reapply it enough. Hence, sportswear manufacturers have come up with sun-protective clothing. While regular clothing does provide some protection from the sun, UV-protective clothing is an especially good idea if you have sun-sensitive skin, are exercising in the middle of the day, live somewhere the sun is really strong, or are going to be out for an extended period. Like sunscreens, UV protective clothing is rated using the SPF system; so the higher the number, the more protection you will be afforded.
To get some sun protection without specialist sun-protective workout gear, go for darker colored clothing in tighter weaves and made of synthetic fabrics, as they are better at blocking the sun than lighter, loosely woven clothes made of natural fibers. Don’t forget to protect the rest of your body with a broad-spectrum SPF on any exposed areas
A sports bra is absolutely essential if you’re planning to do any high-impact exercise. Not only will a well-fitting and supportive sports bra avoid humiliating chest-bounces, but more importantly will help prevent the stretching of the supporting structures of the breast. As there are no muscles in the breasts, if there a lack of support, the ligaments absorb most of the shock, which can cause them to be permanently stretched.
Some workout clothing is specially designed to give you support during your workouts. One such type of supportive workout gear is made from a Lycra-type material that compresses your muscles. Known as compression clothing, which includes apparel such as compression socks, calf sleeves, shorts, full tights and shirts, it is meant to improve performance and expedite recovery. Recreational exercisers can benefit from compression garments, especially if they train very hard, exercise in cold weather or generally suffer with aches and pains that just won’t quit.
Most of us buy one pair of (usually running) shoes for exercise and use them for every activity. But what makes shoes good for one activity can make them ineffective for another. Running shoes, for example, are designed to be shock absorbent, but that makes them not ideal for cycling or heavy weight training. Ideally you want exercise shoes that match your chosen activity. However, if you do a lot of different types of workouts, cross training shoes instead of running shoes might be the answer.