Some gyms have rigid rules on what you can and cannot wear, others are more lax about what you can wear in. When I first started working out I wanted to be as covered as possible, and my usual go-to outfits were shorts or loose capris paired with a cotton t-shirt (usually some sort of promotional tee). While I originally thought looser fitting clothing was more comfortable in the gym, I’ve come to learn that (for me) sometimes the snugger gym clothes are actually better for performance.
Let’s talk about support first (sorry men-folk, this will probably not apply to you, so feel free to skip to the next section). I was a bit more voluptuous when I started working out, and the Goddess sports bra was a cardio game-changer for me (they size C cups and higher). I got fitted for mine originally at Madame Pirie’s, but later ordered them from Amazon because of convenience (Mme Pirie’s prices are pretty on-par with internet prices). The Goddess bra kept everything in place with almost zero movement. It’s not an all-day bra, but when you’re doing intense activities, it’s great.
When my girls got smaller, I’ve since been using compression sports bras which also keep things in place and are usually comfy to wear all day, even. I really dislike sports bras that are little more than spandex with an elastic band – no support, and too much stretch (I’m looking at you, Target sports bras).
Tops/What You Wear to Cover Your Chesticles: If you’re going to sweat, cotton is not your friend. It will retain all of that sweat to keep you hotter during your workouts and eventually be come a bit funky-smelling. Material that wicks is great for keeping you cool and letting you work out longer. I don’t know about you, but when my internal thermostat goes beyond a certain temperature I can’t exercise as intensely as I’d like to and I get all sorts of tired and crankypants.
If you don’t have any shirts that are made from a non-cotton/wicking material, consider checking out your local thrift store (because, hey, restocking your exercise wardrobe can be a bit expensive). Do you know how many races give out free t-shirts, and how many of those t-shirts never get worn and donated? Plenty. I’m sure I seem way more athletic than I am because of all of these shirts. And hey, that anthropomorphic screen-printed jogging hot dog for the 5K for Pig Sweats race at least livens up your wardrobe a bit.
Bottoms: So guys, please wear something with a bit of stretch to it if you’re seriously going to work out. My gym is incredibly lax with their dress code (it’s basically “please wear some form of clothing over your bodies”), so a lot of guys will just work out in jeans or cargo shorts. “Well Albany Jane, what is wrong with that?” you might ask. “I happen to really like my cargo shorts, thank you very much, and I like that my gym doesn’t make me change out of them,”. Trust me, you want a little stretch in your clothes if you plan on doing squats or other leg exercise that require a bit of flexibility. I was doing barbell squats one day, and a chatty fellow asked if he could also try squatting the weight I was doing. He was wearing cargo shorts, and don’t you know it – the back of his shorts split as soon as he hit 90 degrees. If you’re trying to impress someone, you probably don’t want to split your pants within 5 minutes of meeting them. Just sayin’. Also, you just ruined a perfectly good pair of cargo shorts, so that’s a bummer.
Ladies, don’t automatically discount the skintight bottoms as too showy or racy. They are also quite useful when working out. It’s funny – you don’t really notice how fabric gets in the way, but when it’s gone, it’s amazing how much easier it is to move around. I’m not saying you should break out the skin tight booty shorts, but don’t discount the skin-tight capris or bike shorts, either. Sure, they’re snug, but they’ll keep you cooler than long yoga pants will.
I’ve had decent luck shopping at Marshall’s for exercise bottoms. They’re rather durable, and usually $12-25 per pair.
Shoes: Again, if you have a lax gym, you might wear your Timbs at the gym. But dude. Good footing is key! Your feet support your whole body, so you want to make sure you take care of your tootsies. I really like Fleet Feet on Wolf Road. They’re able to help me figure out what kind of sneaker I need for the activities I do. Oh, and worry more about how they function than how they look.
If you find yourself with some knee/back pain, I’d also suggest visiting a podiatrist to see if orthotic inserts could help. Since I started using orthotic inserts, my exercise stamina has increased significantly. Before using them, I would get knee and foot pain after about 45 minutes of cardio. But now I can pretty much go, go, go.