Dress for success at the gym: Find the right workout gear

Although it’s great to wear the latest fashions in athletic gear (it’s all about neon these days, my friends), what’s really important is to dress for the specific type of exercising you’ll be doing to give yourself the best chance to be comfortable and successful.

I’ve come a long way in my fitness journey over the past few years, and my workout attire has advanced too.

In college in Gainesville, I wore Soffe shorts and t-shirts to run on the treadmill at my apartment complex, which is where I spent about 45 minutes, four times a week as my only form of physical activity.  There were many things wrong with this plan.  I didn’t care what I was wearing, I liked to be covered up and I had a plethora of t-shirts in my drawer.  How did I ever get sweaty wearing a cotton t-shirt and not go into a full panic?  To this day, I do not know.

Fast forward to the early years of my professional career, and my brother invited me to join his gym in Orlando.  This was a “real gym” with group fitness programs, equipment and a lot of young people.  Although I started out wearing my usual workout attire, I noticed most people had dedicated athletic gear, like Nike black pants and tighter fitting tops in shiny fabrics.  Little by little, I started to add these types of items into my rotation, just as I began attending classes, using different equipment and progressing my workout regimen.

From the early years as a treadmill rat, to a gym member, to a group fitness instructor, I’ve learned a lot about dressing for success at the gym.  Here it is:  Fit and fabric are the two most important elements of a workout outfit, and each outfit must be chosen for the day’s different activities.

  1. Fit = Not too loose or too tight for both tops and bottoms.  Tops must be long enough to go at least a couple of inches past the waist of your pants.  No exceptions.  You will NOT enjoy your workout, nor go hard, if you are constantly pulling down your shirt or pulling up your pants.
  2. Fabric = Dri-FIT.  Breathable.  Some sort of a blend of fabric with polyester, spandex and something that wicks the sweat away from the body.  You’ll breathe easier when you feel a breeze through your clothing.  Trust me.  You just will.

So how should one dress for different group fitness workouts?

  • Cycling, Les Mills RPM or other spinning class:  Spandex bike shorts, which are at least mid-thigh in length.  A long top, with a zip-up long-sleeve top to wear during the warm-up and remove as you get going.  Cycle shoes are preferred, but sneakers are fine.  Black and blue are the official RPM colors for instructors.
  • Abs-core, Les Mills CXWORX or other pilates-type class:  Spandex capris or long pants.  Long tight-fitting top that won’t ride up. You need to have capris or pants rather than shorts, because you spend a lot of time laying on the ground and lifting your legs in the air.  For the gentlemen, please wear some spandex under your loose gym shorts.  Please.  Any type of sneakers are fine.  Black and orange are the official CXWORX colors for instructors.
  • Resistance, Les Mills BODYPUMP or other strength-training class: Spandex capris or pants.  Long tight-fitting top.  It’s optional to wear gloves to protect your hands from the bar, which is something I always do.  Because you’ll be laying down on the bench for at least a couple of tracks, it’s better to be in pants that stay tighter to the legs and keep your upper-thighs covered (ditto on the need for undershorts for the guys here).  Any type of sneakers are fine, but I’ve found that flat-footed sneakers work best for me to keep a strong base.  Black and red are the official BODYPUMP colors for instructors.
  • Boot camp, Les Mills BODYATTACK or other sports-inspired cardio class: Athletic shorts.  Loose tank top.  High-impact sports bra.  For any class with plyometric moves, you want to be supported and also able to move freely. Thick-sole and supportive cross-training sneakers are a must.  Because there are so many much jumping and side-to-side agility movements in BODYATTACK, you should wear sneakers that are designed to support your feet on all sides, not your average light-weight running shoes.  Shorts are key, because it is an incredible sweat-fest and you don’t want your legs covered. A sweatband can be helpful too, especially in a bright color.  Blue and yellow are the official BODYATTACK colors for instructors.

Here I am in a BODYATTACK outfit, just before removing the jacket and starting class.

BODYATTACK workout wear

Note the tall socks, which although not required, sure help put a little extra sportiness into my get-up.

And if you’re a runner …

I know some people don’t like to spend time in the gym and prefer to be outdoors, and if that is the case, you still need to be equipped with the right gear for your chosen activity.

Dave and I recently went to Fleet Feet in the Marina neighborhood so he could get new running shoes.  This was part of his birthday present, which I gave him not only because he needed sneaks, but also because he had never been fitted specifically for running shoes before, and it’s such an important thing to do when you run a few times a week.

Fleet Feet Marina

He found out that he runs on his heel, therefore needs more support there, and had been buying his shoes about a half-size too small in the past.  The team at Fleet Feet was incredibly friendly.  In fact, the associate who helped Dave spent nearly half-an-hour with him, measuring his feet, bringing out different styles of shoes and observing him run in each pair.  We walked away with a nice new pair of Nike sneaks tailored to his running, and he’s already taken them on a few challenging Nob Hill runs.

He was excited for his first run in the shoes and went further and faster than his last run.

Everyone needs a little boost to help along their workout journey, and maybe some new gear is just what the doctor ordered.

So, do you dress for success at the gym?

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  1. Hi Ashley,
    I’ve recently started training with a personal trainer at my gym. I’m really enjoying it and am seeing the benefits. At yesterday’s session, we upped the weights and it was my hands that suffered the most, not the rest of my body! My trainer was surprised at the effect on my hands- very red, sore and the beginnings of calluses (I must have very delicate skin!) and suggested I wear gloves. Is there any you would recommend that do not look too bulky?

    1. Hi Karen! That happens to me too, so I ALWAYS wear gloves when lifting weights, especially the metal balls with the rivets for gripping. Nice job on upping your weights, lady. If you buy women’s gloves, they won’t be too bulky. I always pick up mine from the Nike Outlet. They aren’t super feminine, but they work. Here are the ones I have: http://goo.gl/KplSwF Enjoy your training!! 🙂

      1. Thanks Ashley, you’re a star! I’ve got to say how much I love your blog and am so glad I came across it online! I’m getting such a buzz from training at the moment and am getting great results from the ‘clean’ diet my trainer has me on. I’m a big Bodyattack fan but can’t train to teach it in the UK until I have a primary qualification in ‘exercise to music’ first. So my mission this autumn/fall is to get onto this course and get certified…then, fingers crossed, Bodyattack training! K

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