Buying Guide

How to Choose Activewear for Peak Performance

Here's what to look out for when shopping for gym clothes, plus a checklist of everything you’ll need to get a great workout.

Last updated: September 29, 2021
How to Buy Workout Clothing

The clothing you wear has a huge impact on your workout. High quality activewear can help you move more effectively while preventing discomfort and even injury.

And the benefits aren't just related to physical performance. Wearing the right outfit boosts your mental game, too. Putting on clothing and footwear that make you feel good can be the difference between a successful workout and skipping the gym.

But with so many options for shorts, tights, strappy-back bras and sweat-wicking t-shirts, what products do you need for your go-to gym outfit? Here’s a handy list of what to look for when shopping for gym clothes.

How to Buy Workout Clothing

  1. 1.Pick Performance Fabrics With Thermoregulation

    It goes without saying that you should dress comfortably for your workout. But if you want to show up to the gym ready to smash past your limits, you’ll need to choose materials designed for working out.

    Cotton clothing can be comfortable — until you get sweaty. Cotton absorbs moisture, so it can get heavy and feel soggy once you get moving. Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, wick sweat away from your body. Not only does this keep you feeling dry, but may help you maintain a lower body temperature when exercising in the heat.

    Some fabrics are particularly conducive to getting a good workout. For example, the unique microfiber construction of Nike Dri-FIT fabric is designed to wick moisture away from the body and spread it across the surface of the material for speedy evaporation. That means with Dri-FIT gym clothing you’ll stay cool and dry, which could put you a step ahead of other athletes.

    While cotton may be sufficient for low-intensity workouts like yoga, you should always avoid rubber-based or plastic materials that aren’t breathable. Those faux leather pants may be stylish, but they have no place at the gym.

  2. 2.Consider Range of Motion

    The amount of movement you need from your workout clothes will depend on your activity. Whether you’re powering through a weightlifting routine or going from downward to upward dog, you’ll want stretchy clothing that moves with you. Look for products with four-way stretch, like the Nike Pro collection.

    For most other workouts, you can wear clothing that is comfortably loose without getting in the way. For example, if you’re cycling, be sure your clothing isn’t so loose that it gets caught up in your wheels.

    Many athletes also find that shorts with compression liners can add a degree of support and stability while wicking away moisture. Compression shorts can be layered under other styles that are loose-fitting and comfortable.

  3. 3.Make Sure it Fits

    Getting the right size is a good start, but you should also pay attention to fit issues that might distract you or cause discomfort. Put your workout wear to the test by performing some squats in the dressing room or running on a treadmill in your potential running shoe choices. Beware of the following:

    • Leggings that stretch out and become sheer when you squat. Choose the right fabric and always perform a squat test in the dressing room.
    • Waistbands that roll down or areas where fabric rides up
    • Shoes that pinch or slip when you run
    • Clothes that pull or rub instead of moving with you
  4. 4.Pay Attention to the Pockets

    How to Buy Workout Clothing

    Many people enjoy listening to music at the gym. If that’s you, you’ll need a pocket for your phone along with a pair of bluetooth earbuds. And if you don’t plan on carrying a purse or backpack to the gym, you may want pockets for your keys and wallet as well.

    While pants and shorts with pockets can sometimes be more expensive, they’ll provide you with better functionality when you hit the gym.

  5. 5.Dress for the Weather

    If you’re exercising outdoors, you may need to dress in light layers and wear garments designed to withstand the weather. It’s a good idea to choose a moisture-wicking base layer, but you may also need to bring a fleece layer for warmth and a water and wind-resistant jacket to protect you from the elements.
  6. 6.Dress for the Activity

    Think about the type of movement needed for your workout and how much you’ll sweat. In general, you’ll need the following:

    • Shorts or leggings
    • Tank or t-shirt
    • Performance socks
    • Moisture-wicking undergarments
    • Compression layers and/or sleeves
    • Running or cross-training shoes
    • A sports bra (for women)
    • A hoodie, fleece or jacket for outdoor workouts

    However, different activities require different types of clothing. For example, if you’re cycling in the cold, you’ll want a pair of form-fitting pants, whereas if you’re running in the heat, a pair of loose-fitting shorts will work best.

    Women should also pay attention to the level of impact when choosing a sports bra. While a strappy exercise top might work for a pilates class, you’ll need a high-impact sports bra to get the most out of your HIIT training.

  7. 7.Dress to Look Your Best

    Once you’ve narrowed down your options to the right fabric and fit for your workout, select active apparel that matches your aesthetic and helps you feel your best. When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you should see a strong and capable athlete ready to tackle anything.

    Try on the workout clothes you feel most drawn to. You might feel sleek and speedy in all black, or you could feel energized by colors and prints. Clean-lined basics might prepare you for no-nonsense training, or you might be more inspired by the look of bold logos and embellished details.

    You can even customize the colors on your shoes with Nike by You. Add a signature pop of color to a neutral shoe or go all-out with a bold combination of brights. If a custom pair of athletic shoes helps you feel stronger, faster and more fearless, you just might reach those fitness goals ahead of schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions About Workout Clothes

What Material Is Best for Activewear?
The best workout clothes are made with moisture-wicking fabrics designed to keep you cool and dry. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and spandex are also stretchy enough to allow you to move freely. You might also consider your impact on the environment and choose recycled fabrics that reduce waste.
Where Can I Buy Nike Workout Clothes?
You’ll find the greatest selection of Nike styles at Nike.com, where you can get free shipping and free returns as a Nike member. You can also shop at a Nike store for the latest looks or a Nike Factory Store for deals on past-season items. Nike workout apparel is also available at national retailers like Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Finish Line, and more.
How Often Should I Buy New Workout Clothes?
Most workout garments will wear out over time. When your leggings or shorts lose their stretch or the waistband no longer stays put, it’s time for a replacement. The same is true for a sports bra that loses its support, which usually happens after six to twelve months. And be sure to replace your athletic shoes every three months to a year, depending on your activity and level of use.
Will the Right Workout Clothing Help Me Get a Better Workout?

If you need something extra to get you up and moving, you might want to try looking the part in the right workout clothing. In a recent survey of 2,000 Americans, 92% reported they’d be more likely to exercise if they had activewear that inspired them. That’s likely because when athletes put on their workout clothes, they experience “enclothed cognition,” a term coined in 2012 to describe the psychological influence clothing has on the wearer's behavior. Because you associate performance clothing with a good workout, you’re more likely to push yourself when you’re wearing the latest and greatest activewear.

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