Picking an outfit should be the easiest part of going to the gym.
Sweating it out on the treadmill, attempting to survive the stairmaster or squatting half your bodyweight should certainly be more strenuous than finding a cute & appropriate fit to wear to the gym. Yet time and time again many of us find ourselves overwhelmed and frustrated with the online babble and lack of consensus on what the fuck we’re all wearing to the gym these days; finding a fit that doesn’t make us look like a MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) but is actually somewhat functional (and sustainable!) seems to be an unachievable feat.
Are booty shorts the best for lifting, or is that showing too much skin? Is lycra really the best material to sweat in, or are my leggings giving me thrush? Should I wear running trainers or just my socks to do my squats? Are people still wearing pump covers? What even is a pump cover?
The questions go on and on…and nobody seems to have an answer. Or, if they do, their articles are wildly misleading and contain problematic and somewhat misogynistic sentences like: “for women booty shorts can send the wrong signals” and that working out in just a little top can “attract unwanted attention”. Yikes, I wish I was making this up.
For those of you who want to cut through the bullshit on the internet and find out the real fitness-fashion faux pas, then I’ve got you. As someone who’s worn all the wrong things, and paid the price (physically, mentally and emotionally), I’ve had to trawl the internet (and the shelves) to finally figure out what works for me when it comes to athleisure garms. Note my emphasis on that I've discovered what suits me best. I don’t want to fitness-guru preach to you that wearing hot pants will catapult you to peak performance. It might, but crucially you have to figure this out for yourself. What I’m here to do is help you avoid the more serious blunders so you don’t get injured, super-stinky or in danger because of your fashion choices.
Read on, let’s get physical.
1. 100% Cotton Clothes
Some research shows that cotton clothes stink less than synthetic fabrics, but cotton garms are defo not your friend when it comes to workout gear. This is because cotton literally absorbs every single ounce of sweat that comes off your body. Like - Every. Single. One. This means you’ll feel like you're working out wearing a damp wetsuit or a soaked towel. Ew. Plus, the sweatier your garms, the more likely it is that your bod will become a breeding ground for bacteria. Did someone say fungus? So, ditch the cotton, and invest in some synthetic based athleisure to keep you clean, dry and bacteria free!
2. Worn out trainers
Did you know that trainers can go off? Well, not literally. But they do have a limited amount of mileage in them before they’re no longer considered to be supportive trainers - they’re just flappy trainer-socks, one thread from snapping off your feet. Even though your trusty old trainer might look somewhat in one piece, I can guarantee that your ankles are screaming for the support of a younger, fresher trainer. As a general rule, trainers usually last for 300 miles. If we do the maths, that’s about 100 5k runs. So, if you were to run one 5k per week, then your shoes would run out in just under 2 years. For most regular runners, however, this is a very conservative estimate; most running enthusiasts seek to change their shoes between every 3 to 6 months. When was the last time you bought new trainers? Not since your nan gifted you a new pair for Christmas four years ago… Yeah, time to haul ass to Decathlon - or AllBirds, if you’re a sustainable shopper.
Tbh, if you’re just in the gym to lift weights, wearing trainers might not even be the best option for you. For my pump-obsessed weightlifting baddies, opting for a flat-soled shoe is your best bet. Shoes like Converse or Vans which have an almost non-existent sole provide much more stability for you to complete exercises like squats and deadlifts safely. There are even specialist weightlifting shoes that have an in-built heel support. This is a good choice for weightlifters who struggle to reach maximum depth in their squats due to limited ankle mobility.
Basically, invest in some adequate footwear based on your exercise needs. It’s better to be safe than sorry; turning a heel and face planting on a treadmill because your shoes were too will be so mortifying you might not be able to return to the gym. Do not do that.
3. A normal (or worn out) bra
The importance of a sports bra cannot be underestimated. As your boobs are composed of tissue, they are mainly supported by just the skin and fragile ligaments. This means that they require extra support during high impact activities such as running, HIIT and even weightlifting. This has nothing to do with aesthetics, and everything to do with making sure you avoid discomfort and injury. Much like trainers, sports bras can also wear out and become ineffective. So, if when you’re bouncing about your tatas feel like they’re yo-yo-ing from your chest, you probably need to invest in something a lil’ more supportive, if you know what I mean.
Sometimes you’re too lazy to take your earrings out before the gym, or maybe you just like the look of chunky necklaces with your matching set - no hate here! But, bejewelling yourself for a workout can often do more harm than good, for both you and your jewellery. Depending on what type of jewellery you’re rocking, your sweat can be a big problem. The general rule is that if your bling is made from solid gold or sterling silver, then the oils from your skin won’t damage it. However, the majority of less expensive jewellery is made from nickel, copper, brass or precious metal-plating. These metals can corrode and tarnish when exposed to your sweat (regardless of how much deodorant you wear). So, as much as you might like to sparkle when you get your sweat on, if you want to preserve the longevity of your special (or not so special) pieces, it’s best if you leave them in the locker room.
Likewise, wearing heavy or especially large items of jewellery such as dangly earrings or heavy rings can be uncomfortable or, in the worst case scenario, super dangerous when you’re working out. Hoop earrings or long necklaces, for example, can get caught on gym equipment and result in tearing piercings, or causing other pretty serious injuries. Big yikes. If you don’t want to rip your earlobe apart on an elliptical machine, best take care to remove your jewellery pre-workout.
5. A full face of make-up
There’s a time and place for make-up. The gym is not this place. I would never judge someone for wanting to look and feel good, the main issue that I have with this is purely that wearing a full beat will increase your risk of developing blemishes, acne and irritation.
6. Poorly fitting clothes
Whether you're a skimpy-fit lover or a pump-cover enthusiast, it doesn’t matter because either way, ill-fitting clothes are never going to help you in the gym. If you opt for a garm that is too tight, you might be constantly distracted and made to feel self-conscious. Or, worse still, your range of motion might be restricted, meaning that your form is affected. Likewise, if your pump-cover is too baggy, then you run the risk of getting caught in the machinery, or just getting too hot and sweaty from lugging around all of that material. Basically, just wear something that actually fits you - that’s the fundamental rule of functional exercise clothing. You wouldn’t run a marathon in running shoes half your size, so don’t go to the gym in clothes that don’t actually work with your body. You’ll end up self-conscious, distracted, uncomfortable, or worse still - injured.
7. Open-toed shoes
Imagine dropping a dumbbell on your foot. Ouch. Now imagine if you were wearing flip flops. Double ouch. Obviously the first prize is not dropping your weights, but it’s best to make sure you're protected from all potential toe-capitating scenarios. Plus, open toed shoes are even less supportive than your toxic ex. And that’s saying something.
8. Shoes with toes
If you genuinely think these are appropriate for wearing, not only in the gym, but also in life… I seriously question your sanity.
Have you ever run to the bus wearing jeans? It’s horrible. You sweat in places that you didn’t even know you could sweat, there’s hella chafing, and your motion is so limited you feel like you could topple over at any minute… Denim and exercise go together well, like denim and exercise. These two are already juxtaposed. For your own sake, don’t wear denim. You’ll end up stinking to the heavens, and maybe even a bit rashy, too. Not ideal.
10. A full blown suit and briefcase
Otherwise known as the ‘finance bro who makes it his whole identity starts working out’. Leave the briefcase at the office, bruh. The grindset can pause while you get your reps in. I promise that the stock market’s not going anywhere.
11. Hot dog costume
Does this one need to be explained?
The moral of the story…
You can wear whatever the fuck you want to wear to the gym. If denim cutoffs get you in the pump zone, then Canadian Tux up and get your sweat on (tbh this will be easy if you’re wearing denim). If you really wanna jog wearing your thigh-high cowboy boots, then yee haw, giddy up cowgirl. I am not the CEO of gym attire, you don’t have to listen to me. Working out is a unique experience, and nobody knows your body better than you do. So, take my suggestions with a heaping tablespoon of salt, and go smash your workout!