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  • Writer's picturePhil Murray

What Should You Wear When Exercising?

When exercising we probably all wear clothes, right? Right guys…? …..?

Okay, well despite the silence, I am going to just assume we aren’t exercising naked most of the time. So, what do you wear when working out?

To answer this, I’ve consulted some of the great minds in the Fitness & Fashion industry to peel back the layers of a perfect fitness wardrobe. And by that, what I mean is, I sat down with a pencil and sticky notes and gave the topic a few moments of my undivided attention… basically the same thing though.

Likely when you are getting ready to exercise, whether at home or the gym, you like to adjust what you are wearing for the occasion. You will probably change some, or all, of your outfit to meet your needs a little better.

I realize that this isn’t the most complex of fitness conversations, it doesn’t carry a lot of importance or impact in meeting your goals… but actually, maybe it does.

You see, the experience you make when working out does have lots of importance to your success. Not simply what exercises you do and how heavy the things you lift are.

In the fitness industry we spend a lot of time talking about things such as time management, staying positive, working out with groups, mixing things up, not getting bored, etc. Each of these things has its own individual benefits – but the greater purpose of having all these conversations is to boost the experience of your fitness journey.

If the experience didn’t matter, then it would be easy to stick to a handful of fitness topics that remain (calories, resistance, form, blah blah blah).

Yes, calories and having good or bad form do make monumental differences. But we’re not robots.

To walk the path of our fitness journeys we need to have experiences that matter to us, experiences that make us want to be on that path, experiences that make our path unique from that of others. It would be like saying we need to eat, but let’s take all the taste, texture, and smell out of everyone’s food. That would suck.

What kind of things create these experiences along our fitness journey? They can be big or small, private or shared, necessary or unnecessary, but no matter what they are, these experiences are what make our journeys our own.

Here are just a few examples of what I am talking about: Working out with others, being creative with equipment at home, pairing exercise with day-to-day items, trying different recipes, and yes, what you wear.

Clothing as Motivation

The first point I want to make about clothing is how we can use it as means of external motivation. Think about when you were just beginning to exercise; you decided to start today, you took some time to think about a plan, where you were going to attack first, and how you were going to do that – and you probably thought about if you had an outfit that would work for this plan.

If you were able, you may have hopped online or ran over to Target to get some new clothes. It was fun right? If you are like me (and especially like my wife), getting a new outfit is exciting, and any excuse you can find for this is a-okay with me.

So, if this is a treat for you too, then use it as a way to motivate yourself to get an outfit for working out that you feel good in and are excited to use. It will be that much easier to muster a little motivation and enhance your experience.

There are two sub-points I will also quickly make here:

1. Use your next outfit purchase as a reward to encourage yourself, i.e., “once I have been consistent with my plan for X amount of time, I will get another new outfit”

2. If you have made a specific investment in a piece of clothing for exercise, it sometimes can be a helpful reason for why you must follow through, i.e., “well I spent $50 on that jogging outfit, I better get my money’s worth”. You want to keep a positive outlook whenever possible – but hey, I say take motivation where you can find it.

What to ACTUALLY wear

By now you're probably saying, “I get it, I get it, I clicked on this to learn about what clothes I should buy for my workouts and it feels like one of those cooking articles where all I want to know is what temp to preheat the oven to, but have to read about the authors day and why the weather made it the perfect recipe for that day…”.

Fair enough, let’s get to it.

With the sticky notes that I mentioned at the start, I have broken down what to wear when you exercise into four primary categories.

· Shoes

· Fabric

· Fit

· Outdoor

Let’s analyze this riveting breakdown.


Shoes may be the most deserving of a discussion when it comes to your outfit and fitness, though I will keep it light here today and stick to giving the main points. Shoes play a big role in a successful exercise experience. Here’s why:

· Proper footwear supports your body. A good pair of shoes that is designed for the activity you’re doing gives your joints and tendons much more support all the way through your body – such as your foot arch, your ankles, and the ripple effects of these up through your legs and back. Not having this support can cause you to get soreness or sustain an injury in those other areas in certain cases.

· Shoes provide balance and traction. It’s true, one of the easiest ways to get hurt while exercising is falling. A good pair of shoes that fit well will give you more stability and will of course be less likely to slip.

· Shoes help you stay comfortable. As will be true in the next few sections, one major purpose of shoes is to help you stay comfortable. Without footwear there are many reasons to believe you would be less comfortable when working out, not too technical here, but important to note.

This could easily become a “How to Find the Right Shoe” article, but, it’s not, stay tuned for that one down the road.

For today, recognize that shoes are very important to staying comfortable and avoiding an injury when exercising. It is worth it to invest in learning what the right shoe is for your specific activity, your specific foot, and your specific budget.


Once upon a time we just wore whatever we had on or was comfortable for our exercise sessions, and now in today’s modern world, that’s still okay!

But there has been lots of work done to figure out what clothes perform the best for working out. It is certainly not necessary to only work out in the most optimal fabrics, but the more intense the workout = the more you will notice the difference.

No need to go overboard on purchasing new clothes, but it can also be nice to have certain clothes that put you in the right headspace for getting your sweat on, even if your sessions are not all that intense right now.

Here are a few factors that you can think of when buying your next outfit.

Moisture-wicking: Different from moisture-absorbing, moisture-wicking takes the sweat, or any other moisture on your body, and releases it as vapors into the air while you exercise.

In addition to moisture-wicking, other terms you will see used are dri-fit or coolmax depending on the brand. You will also find that moisture-wicking clothes will be more breathable due to this technology.

Anti-odor: The sweat we generate with exercise has a body odor to it. That’s certainly normal and one of the main reasons we change before and after exercising.

Moisture absorbing materials (like cotton) trap the moisture and can build up body odor, moisture-wicking materials can often eliminate body odor in its technology, particularly when made of natural materials like bamboo or wool (this isn’t universal to all moisture-wicking materials, so it’s worth checking if it’s also anti-odor).

Stretchy: This is my favorite quality in good clothes, activewear or not. Whether you are doing low intensity workouts like yoga or walking, or high intensity like running or interval training, a stretchy quality to your clothes will help you move better and be more comfortable (heck, even just when watching TV).

Look for clothes with a stretchy quality, I like to use the simple grab and tug method here! If ordering your clothes online use the same method – don’t be afraid to return items that you don’t like.

Any material can be stretchy if done with good quality. But this is often found in synthetic items like spandex or nylon.

At the end of the day, the higher quality the clothes, usually the better they will feel. It is best to invest in a few items that meet these requirements while also being soft and easy to clean, than quickly going through cheaply made alternatives. Find what you like and fits your budget the best and use that!


The #1 thing you want is for the clothes to not get in the way of what you are doing. You don’t want tight and restrictive items. So stretchy and/or loose are the way to go (they don’t usually come together).

Consider what activities you are doing to find the right fit. For things like biking or yoga you want tight but stretchy, for weightlifting you want loose and comfy.

It’s great if you can get a few outfits for the different activities. But my rule of thumb is to always go comfy! No matter if it’s stretchy or loose fitting.


There is typically one factor that makes this different from fabric and fit: temperature. A large percentage of exercising comfortably outside is dressing properly.

Layers: dressing in layers is advantageous because as you exercise you warm your body up. So being able to start warm and be able to shed layers as you exercise is a big plus.

Rain and wind: certain clothes block out the effects of wind and rain much better than others. So having a waterproof and windproof jacket can come in handy when going out to exercise in the elements.

Don’t go too heavy on these. Better to have a light rain/wind jacket with layers underneath so you can remove layers underneath and still have the jacket when needed.

Sun: If you haven’t heard, the sun is hot! Loose fitting clothes and light colors help mitigate the effects of heat.

You certainly want to be careful with heat exhaustion so being aware of these things can help a lot when exercising outside in the sun on hot days.

Miscellaneous: If you are exercising outside at dark, having something reflective like a strip on your sweater or a band around your arm to be seen easily by others is important.

If you are exercising in a wooded area, long sleeves and long pants can make a big impact on protecting against bugs and scratches.

Wrap Up

We could dive in deeper on all the options for what to wear when exercising (especially with outdoor options), but this gives us a good idea of what kinds of things we are looking for and will point you in the right direction.

Wearing the right clothes will always improve your experience. Which is really what we are going for (that and safety of course!).

Be sure to set yourself up for success in all areas you can control, and what you wear is certainly an area of control. Get all the wins you can and eliminate any excuses by dressing properly for exercise, and do so based on the activity you are partaking in.

Exercise should be fun and comfortable. You need to wear the right items to maximize those things. Get clothes that are your favorite color, in a style that shows your personality, and maybe even items that you can wear when you're not exercising too sometimes, this will only enhance the experience you get out of it!


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