What Should You Wear to Work Out?

Active wear is having its moment, leaving behind the days when drab T-shirts and baggy shorts were the norm for working out. Here’s our essential style guide

Activewear is really in the spotlight right now—you’re just as likely to see the rich and famous in spandex leggings as in designer pieces, while “athleisure” wear is becoming acceptable in the office. 

But do these trendy looks offer any real health and exercise benefits, or have they become completely enslaved to style and fashion? When looking for gymwear, should you prioritise trends, comfort or practicality, and does it really matter?

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology says it does—revealing a direct correlation between what we wear and how we perform, as well as our motivation levels and even likelihood of injury. So let’s look at how what you wear to the gym can impact your workout, the top tech trends of workout gear and—of course—how to look your best!

Gym Bag Essentials

  • Workout clothes
  • Sports bra
  • Trainers
  • Breathable socks
  • Workout-friendly headphones
  • Sports watch
  • Hair ties or clips
  • Quick dry towel
  • Toiletries
  • Water bottle
  • Combination lock

Dress For Success

The psychological phenomenon known as “enclothed cognition” suggests that what a person wears can trigger mental changes that positively affect their performance and confidence.

Use this trick to up your workout game next time you hit the gym. Instead of a baggy t-shirt, which can actually make your workout feel harder, opt for a sweat-wicking tank-top made specifically for exercise. It will trick your brain into feeling confident about the squats you’re about to do, and as a result, help you get a better ‘leg day’ workout.

Many sports injuries occur because of the lack of appropriate equipment, and this includes clothes. Whatever you’re doing, look for clothing for that specific activity—this will protect against impact, strain or overheating.

It’s also a good idea to invest in good quality compression wear, which will increase circulation and blood flow to the heart—delivering much needed oxygen to working muscles, reducing fatigue and soreness by managing lactic acid accumulation, helping to improve power, endurance and recovery.

Smart Shoe

As we work our way towards the tech golden age, it’s starting to seem more and more likely that we’re going to run there. Trainers that sync with your smartphone have been 

available for a while now, providing useful information to athletes such as distance run, total steps taken and calories burned.

However, Nike is pushing the frontiers further with the Adapt BB—a shoe that uses pressure sensors in the sole to trigger automatic lacing. Nike designed the shoe specifically for basketball players, as their feet can expand almost half a size during play.

A level of fit that feels comfortable at the beginning of the game, might not 20 minutes in. 

The shoe received a serious vetting by the company before hitting the market—including from Boston Celtics’ ‘small forward’, who put the shoe through an exhaustive training period.

If you’re not going to splurge hundreds of pounds on top-of-the-line, high-tech trainers, you should make sure that the pair you are wearing to workout aren’t worn out.

Old shoes provide less cushioning and shock absorption, which can throw off the alignment of your feet and, as a result, your knees and hips.

The rule of thumb is to wear your shoes for about 300 miles before replacing them. 

If you’ve lost track of your mileage, examine the treads on the soles of your shoes. When they start to wear out and you can no longer see the design of the tread, it’s time to get a new pair.

Control Your Temperature

An intense gym session will get the sweat flowing and your heart rate and core temperature raised. Wearing light, breathable and sweat-wicking fabrics will leave you feeling dry and comfortable, maintaining your body temperature and ensuring your perform at your best.

Low quality and cheap active wear can contain synthetic materials that irritate the skin. Exercising increases the flow of blood to your skin, so it’s important to wear light, breathable fabrics to avoid itching and rashes.

Sweat, dehydration, and washing your workout attire in harsh detergents can all contribute to skin issues. Another thing to watch out for is whether your clothing is too tight—leggings that are too small can cause leg cramps, and tight sports bras can actually constrict your breathing. Small shorts can cause chafing on the inner thighs, which can even lead to infection. Avoid all of these problems with appropriate active wear.

Stay Supported

Research shows that women change the way they run, depending on the type of bra they are wearing. A good sports bra, perhaps one of the most important pieces of your workout gear, not only provides you with vital support—it could help you set a new personal record as well.

When dressing for a workout, skip the old, stretched out sports bras (and never wear a regular bra), as the movement from exercise can lead to upper back and shoulder pain post-workout.

Sports bras generally fall into two categories: those for low to medium-impact sports and those for high-impact sports. If you’re going to be doing a high-impact sport, like running, aerobics or mountain biking, make sure that you’re wearing a high-impact sports bra.

Leave your jewellery behind when you hit the gym—you risk damaging your ring by banging it against a weight or snagging it on a machine and sweat can dirty up the metal of a necklace or cause an allergic reaction. However, wearing a dedicated sports watch will take your workout to the next level.

If you’re not committed to investing in a FitBit, or one of the many alternatives currently on the market, opt for a simple and cheap watch that offers a stopwatch function for you to time your mile splits.

If you’re looking for more sophisticated data about your workout, consider a fitness tracker or smartwatch. These devices can help you track steps taken, distance covered, calories burned and your heart rate.

Gym Bag

An often-overlooked but equally important part of your gym excursion is your gym bag. A sneaky trick for making sure you actually get to the gym is to pack your workout bag ahead of time. Fill it with all necessities like a good water bottle, headphones, a quick-drying towel and a protein bar, and then leave your handily packed bag in plain sight. It’s so convenient, it will be harder to come up with a good excuse to skip your workout.

If, like most of us, you are trying to fit your workout into your already busy day, it feels tempting to just wear your gym clothes to the office. Luckily, trends are headed in this direction with the rise of ‘athleisure’. 

If you’re planning to sweat in the clothes that you’re also going to be answering emails in, try to pick muted colours and simple designs. It also helps to invest in pieces made of quality fabric and to accessorize well. 

An elegant coat or statement shoes  will bring your outfit from the gym to the office. 

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