Workout gear has come a long way. Gone are the days of gray tracksuit pants (or worse shell suits) and ugly, heavy running shoes. Workout gear looks so good, most brands make a fair chunk of change from people who never see the inside of gym, but like to make a fashion statement. Workout gear doesn’t only look better, it performs better too. Old-school workout gear used to make you slower, bulkier and heavier. Not so anymore. Today’s gear doesn’t hamper, but improves, performance. The right gear should make you feel light, dry, comfortable, supported – and safer too.
1. ACTIVITY APPROPRIATE
While you could wear the same clothes for every workout you do, some forms of exercise will be more enjoyable if you use activity appropriate clothing. For example, cycling shorts are padded and can make long bike rides much more comfortable however, they aren’t necessarily the best choice of clothing for running or group exercise classes. Running shorts are equally unsuitable for cycling as they have no padding and are prone to bunching and chafing. Stick with clothing that is designed specifically for the activity you want to do and you will be much more comfortable. This “rule” also applies to footwear which will be discussed later in this article.
Thick seams, restrictive or tight sleeves, a back that rides up whenever you lean forward; all of these comfort issues can make your workout experience less enjoyable. Make sure your workout clothes are as comfortable as possible by trying them on before you buy. Workout clothes should be unrestrictive, easily vented to prevent overheating, be “forgettable” once they are on and designed specifically for your chosen workout.
If you exercise outdoors or even in doors in some instances, you may find that you need to wear not one but two layers of exercise clothing during the cold, winter months. While you could have a winter-exercise wardrobe especially for the colder months, it’s more cost-effective to be able to combine layers from your regular collection. Layering also means that, as you warm up, you can peel off an item of clothing to regulate your temperature. If you are going to layer, make your base layer close fitting and wear looser fitting garments on top. Also, don’t forget a hat and gloves if you are heading outdoors to exercise in the cold.
Workout clothes come in a variety of materials – from good old-fashioned cotton to scientifically designed synthetic fibers that let sweat out but not rain in. Cotton is generally very cheap, easily available, is hard wearing and can be very comfortable initially but it soaks up sweat like a sponge which can make it heavy, clingy and cold. Conversely, some synthetic materials can feel hot and may not be as breathable as cotton although they tend not to soak up water so well although they dry faster once wet. Pick materials that you find comfortable and are reflective of the workouts you will be doing and the temperature in which you’ll be exercising. If you don’t sweat much, cotton-based workout gear will be fine but if you are a heavy sweater, a more technical material may be best.
Wicking is the ability of a material to divert sweat away from your skin and through the material for easy evaporation. This helps to keep your skin dry and comfortable. Cotton and other natural fibers are not naturally good wickers but many synthetic and so-called technical materials are excellent at wicking. If you run, cycle, or hike in warm climates and are likely to sweat a lot, wicking materials are a good buy.
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 in the first place? It’s not that your workout gear is still dirty as such, just that there are microbes trapped in the fibers that washing will not remove. You could soak your clothes in white wine vinegar to kill these microbes but as that’s not especially practical you could choose to buy clothes that have anti-microbial properties. These specially treated clothes are much less likely to develop unpleasant odors that won’t shift with normal washing.
If you work out at night outdoors, your clothing should make you easily visible to other road users. This means bright colors and reflective strips. Black may be flattering but it could end up being flattening if you are invisible to other road users. Make sure you are highly visible by wearing bright reflective clothing for your nighttime workouts.
8. UV PROTECTION
If you work out in the sunshine, you may benefit from clothing that offers UV protection. Twenty to thirty minutes of sunshine exposure is often considered to be very good for you as it triggers vitamin D production but if you are especially sun-sensitive, live somewhere the sun is really strong, get enough sun already or are going to be out for an extended period, you might be better off shielding yourself from the sun. Like sunscreens, UV protective clothing is rated using the SPF system which simply means that the higher the number, the more protection you will be afforded. Of course, UV protective clothing only protects the skin being covered so you’ll still need to apply sunscreen to any exposed areas of skin.
Some workout clothing is specially designed to give you support during your workouts. On one extreme, you have powerlifting support gear which actually makes you stronger because it is so very stiff and strong and on the other there are Lycra-type material shorts and shirts that compress your muscles and are designed to minimize muscle vibrations and keep you warm so you are more resistant to fatigue. Unless you are a powerlifter, you don’t need that level of support clothing but recreational exercisers may benefit from compression shorts and tops especially if you train very hard, are exercising in cold weather or have any aches and pains that just won’t quit.
Everyday underwear is not made to withstand the rigors of working out. Unsupportive underwear can lead to severe discomfort and even injury; some parts of your body just weren’t designed to be jiggled so forcefully! Don’t wear your regular underwear for exercise and buy more activity appropriate undergarments instead. Sports bras, running briefs and even sports socks will make you feel much more comfortable.
Lots of people buy one pair of shoes for exercise and use them for every activity they do. It’s amazing how many pairs of running shoes you’ll see being used for activities that they really aren’t suited for. Running shoes are designed to be shock absorbent but this quality means that they are not ideal for cycling or heavy weight training as they will distort and compress, robbing you of valuable energy. Likewise, a firm pair of shoes ideally suited for weight training (weightlifting shoes traditionally have wooden soles and heal blocks) would be very uncomfortable to run in. If you are a Jack of all trades who does a variety of workouts and are serious about your training, consider buying cross training shoes instead running shoes. Buy shoes that match your chosen activity. Not only will they aid your performance, they will also last longer as you’ll be using them for the activity for which they were designed.
If your clothes are making your workouts uncomfortable, you are much more likely to quit than you would do if everything felt fine. Being uncomfortable is an excuse waiting to happen. Nix that excuse by selecting your workout clothing carefully. You don’t have to spend a fortune on workout clothing – although you can if you want! Stock up at sale time, hunt down bargains online and check out discount stores. Good quality exercise clothes can last a long time so consider your purchases carefully, and as an investment in your health and fitness.