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What to Wear to the Gym for Extra Motivation — And Even Up Your Performance

Buying Guide

Workout clothing is made to enable optimal performance. Finding the right gym outfit can boost your motivation, especially when you’re feeling sluggish.

Last updated: March 14, 2022
5 min read
What to Wear to the Gym

When you step into the gym, you want to feel confident. Whether you’re hitting the weights or running on the treadmill, you want to be sure that your workout outfits will enhance your performance and help you feel great.

What you wear to the gym should be based on the type of exercise you’re doing, but figuring out what to wear is a balance between finding the right fit, identifying the best materials for the activity, and picking styles that bolster a positive mindset.

What to Consider When Shopping for Gym Clothes

  1. 1.Choose Materials Wisely

    Gone are the days when gym-goers only had cotton and spandex to wear. Now, most activewear is made from synthetic materials like nylon, acrylic, or polypropylene. These provide a good balance between functionality and comfort, as they help pull moisture away from your skin. Nike Dri-FIT, for example, is an innovative polyester fabric designed to wick away sweat and disperse it across the fabric's surface to evaporate faster, keeping the skin cool and dry.

    Apparel made with moisture-wicking materials tends to be lightweight and made for a variety of moves, whether you’re stretching in yoga class or pumping out a CrossFit WOD. If you tend to wear cotton during exercise, consider switching it up. Fabrics made of cotton tend to hold moisture instead of wicking it away from your skin.

  2. 2.Select Workout Tops and Bottoms

    As part of your workout outfit, consider tops that are loose fitting — not too baggy or excessively tight. You want to be able to move your arms and legs freely without feeling constricted.

    For example, if you’re taking a yoga class, a fitted tank top might work better than a flowy workout shirt as you lift into downward dog. Similarly, yoga leggings are probably a better option than gym shorts, especially in poses like happy baby.

    If you plan on running on the treadmill, opt for dry-material joggers or running shorts. For men, consider shorts that sit right above your knee so they don't hinder your movement.

  3. 3.Assess Your Old Sneakers

    A general rule of thumb is to replace your running sneakers every 300 to 500 miles. If you’re not tracking your mileage, examine the soles of the shoes. If the treads are smooth or have started separating, it’s probably best to recycle or donate your old shoes and get a new pair.

    Even if you feel that your shoes are in good condition (or you really don’t want to let go of your favorite pair), old shoes provide less cushioning and shock absorption than new ones. When the treads are worn down, it can throw off the alignment of your feet, which puts more pressure on your knees and hips.

  4. 4.Pick Out the Right Shoes for the Gym

    Picking the best gym shoes depends on the type of workout you’re doing. Running and weightlifting require different types of shoes. And a shoe that lacks the support you need may put you at risk for injury.

    Cross-training shoes are a common all-around gym shoe. They work well for a variety of movements such as running short distances, walking and group exercise classes, and they offer flexibility and lateral support.

    If you’re running on the treadmill, find a running shoe that provides stability and cushion. However, outdoor long-distance running may require a different kind of shoe. The exact shoe you choose should depend on the terrain, the shape of your foot, your gait and your arch.

    If you’re doing deadlifts or another form of heavy weightlifting, a flat-soled shoe with a minimal arch is probably best.

    Before you decide which shoe is best for your gym outfit, try it on with the kind of socks that also match your exercise routine. A moisture-wicking sock may be your best bet, but the thickness and length depend on what feels most comfortable for you.

  5. 5.Get Moisture-Wicking Socks

    An often-overlooked part of a gym outfit, sport socks have evolved to be thinner and more durable, while maintaining the right thickness in the ball and heel of the foot for cushioning. Just like your workout attire, opt for socks made from materials that pull moisture away, which can help mitigate sweaty, smelly feet.

    There are a few different styles to choose from, such as the standard ankle sock, which sits below your ankle bone, or crew socks that hit several inches above your ankle. Compression socks increase blood flow to your legs and are common among runners. They can also facilitate recovery after your workout, as they can help decrease swelling and soreness.

  6. 6.Find the Right Sports Bra

    A well-fit sports bra can prevent excessive bouncing — especially if you’re all about high-impact exercise.

    When you try on different kinds of bras, look for comfort, support and breathable material. A sports bra that fits well will minimize breast movement when you’re jumping or running, and won’t distract you from your workout.

    The kind of sports bra you choose depends on your breast size and type of exercise you plan to do. For smaller breasts (A to B cup), consider a compression bra, which is meant to hold breasts close to the chest to minimize bounce, typically without individual cups built into the bra. Compression bras in general are great for low- to moderate-impact workouts.

    If you have larger breasts, consider an encapsulation sports bra with individual cups built in for more support. Choose a bra with wider straps to help distribute weight evenly. And be mindful of spillage — you want a bra with enough coverage not just for the front but also the sides.

    Don’t forget about your post-workout routine — when you’re sweaty and ready to throw that sports bra in the wash. Do you want a bra that pulls over your head, clasps in the back, or has zippers in the front for an easy removal? For larger breasts, bras that have zippers and clasps may be easier to take off.

What to Avoid Wearing at the Gym

When in doubt, keep things simple. Avoid the following in your outfits so you’re free from distraction and can focus on fitness:

  • Jewelry: Dangly earrings and long necklaces with pendants can bounce around while you run or jump. Rings can also affect your grip on weights and may potentially pinch or leave indentations on your skin.
  • Overly baggy clothes: While it may seem comfortable, clothing that hangs too loosely can get in the way and hinder your movement.
  • Too-tight clothes: On the flip side, clothing that’s too restrictive may not provide the flexibility and stretch you need to run, jump, and bend easily. Choose a fit that’s snug but gives you room to move around.

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