Unlike in previous generations, where a t-shirt or tank top were the go-to items for workout clothes, the modern fitness industry has begun designing purpose-made clothing to maximize your results in the gym. Because of this, the so-called “activewear space” has exploded in value, with workout clothes for women alone bringing in almost $200 billion per year and gear for men not far behind.
To identify the best workout clothes, however, we need to find where comfort and style meet. While some people may care less about how they look at the gym, the majority of us get better gym workouts when we’re comfortable and confident. In a group fitness setting such as a yoga or cycling class, these qualities are even more important.
So, in order to clear up some of the confusion about what to wear to different exercise classes, we’ve compiled a quick, handy guide on the best workout clothes for each. From fabric and fit to how to care for gym clothes, we’ll help you prepare your wardrobe for even the most challenging group fitness classes.
Choosing the Right Fabrics for Your Gym Clothes
Even more than a piece of clothing’s fit, finding gym gear made from the right fabrics can dramatically improve your comfort levels while exercising. Below, we’ll list some of the most popular types of fabric you’ll find. It’s important to note that the best workout clothes may combine multiple elements from this list, so keep an eye out for athletic brands that advertise multi-purpose workout gear.
Often, many of these different fabrics will be labeled as “technical performance fabrics.” Even so, it’s important to research exactly which fabrics a brand uses before buying, as certain people will be more comfortable when wearing a specific type of material.
When it comes to high-impact exercises like weight lifting or HIIT classes, compression fabrics can provide the structure and support you need to add stability and prevent injuries. Additionally, studies show that compression shorts, leggings, and shirts can improve oxygen flow to your muscles and reduce exercise-related soreness.
Because compression fabrics, by design, fit closer to your skin than other fabrics, finding athletic wear that offers a combination of compression and moisture-wicking is your best bet for comfort and performance.
Most modern exercise clothing offers some degree of sweat or moisture-wicking fabric. Usually, these fabrics consist of either synthetic or natural materials like recycled polyester, merino wool, and bamboo fiber, and many brands combine multiple sweat-wicking materials to provide maximum quick-drying capabilities.
Regardless of which base material you prefer, clothing advertised as moisture-wicking works via the “capillary action,” a natural phenomenon where some fibers transfer liquids to their surface. Once moved to the outside of your clothes this way, the moisture evaporates, leaving you dry and comfortable even during the most sweat-inducing workout sets.
Just like you need your workout clothes to let sweat out, you also need them to let air in. For longer cardio sessions that leave you gasping, choosing fabrics such as linen, cotton, or rayon can keep you comfortable even during high-performance exercises.
If you like a little more room in your workout attire, consider choosing slim-fit clothing that doesn’t cling as tightly as compression fabrics. That way, you can maintain relatively medium support for strength-based exercises while ensuring minimal chafing or discomfort.
Best Workout Clothes for Different Classes
Just like different fabrics work better in different circumstances, different types of workout clothes work better in different group fitness classes.
While yoga pants have transitioned into everyday wear for many of us, they serve a special purpose during actual yoga classes, with form-fitting materials providing support and maximum mobility. This allows you to move through poses with the stability you need without compromising comfort or flexibility. For style purposes, we suggest high-waist yoga pants to create an even sleeker silhouette and boost confidence while at the gym.
For tops, breathable workout tanks or low-impact sports bras can keep you cool and comfortable throughout most types of yoga classes.
When it comes to weightlifting and strength-based classes, support reigns supreme. Compression clothing like leggings or rash guards can help stabilize your muscles, protect joints during a bench press or deep squat, and even improve performance on certain lifts.
Still, it’s crucial to find the right balance of support and comfort in order to ensure a good workout. While you may want to avoid relaxed-fit clothing, you also don’t want overly-restrictive garments that reduce blood flow or mobility.
Cardio is all about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, which is why the right outfit is so important for these types of classes. If you’re the type of person who tends to overheat quickly during exercise, consider a breathable tank or cute crop to maximize airflow during a class. For bottoms, mid-thigh or bike shorts provide the perfect length, and many are made from recycled materials like polyester or rayon that wick sweat to keep you comfortable.
Finally, chafing can be an unpleasant reality for cardio that involves repetitive motion. In these instances, prioritizing ultra-soft fabrics can significantly improve your enjoyment of a cardio class.
As the name might suggest, HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is designed to provide a more intense experience than your average workout. Usually, this means more sweat and more high-impact movement, so stabilizing, moisture-wicking fabrics like four-way stretch spandex can help keep you healthy and comfortable during a HIIT class. For women, a more supportive sports bra with adjustable straps is also an excellent choice.
Other Types of Workout Gear
Every outfit deserves the right accessories, but some types of bonus gym gear can help take your performance to the next level.
Finding the right sports bra can be a lifesaver for back health, confidence, and overall comfort. For high-impact activities like sprinting or HIIT classes, a compression sports bra with crossover straps is usually best. With low-impact workouts such as yoga or walking, a less rigid sports bra is perfectly fine.
When most people think about gym clothes, one of the first items that comes to mind is a good pair of shoes. “Good,” however, means different things in different settings, so it’s important to put thought and research into your selection of shoes.
Cycling classes, for instance, may warrant a flat-bottomed shoe designed for comfort, whereas jogging or sprints may demand more support. With squats or deadlifts, many gym-goers prefer a neutral sole that doesn’t affect posture.
And, while purchasing shoes specifically for the gym may seem expensive (especially if you get multiple pairs), remember that many gym shoes are also perfectly suited for everyday life so long as you give them the proper care and cleaning.
Wearable fitness trackers have come a long way in the past decade, and it’s now possible to find a solid product at an affordable price. In addition to tracking your step count, these devices can also monitor heart rate and sleep patterns, with some trackers offering a huge range of bonus features.
No workout wardrobe is complete without a gym cover. This type of clothing usually consists of a lightweight sweatshirt or cropped hoodie that you wear over your gym clothes and take off once you’re ready to begin exercising. For those who want to sweat it out even more, a gym cover can be worn during cardio to increase body heat (just be sure to wash them frequently).
How to Maintain Your Workout Gear
High-quality workout clothes don’t come cheap, which is why it’s even more important to take extra good care of them when doing laundry. Below, we’ve included our tips for getting the most value out of your gym clothes:
Wash Them Often
Unlike the clothes you wear around the house or while running errands, gym clothes are meant for heavy-duty, sweat-inducing work. Because of this, it’s important to wash your gym wardrobe more often than typical clothes in order to prevent lingering odors or stains.
Wash Them Separately
Because they’re made from specific fabrics, clothing intended for exercise often has different laundry instructions than other garments. Consider dedicating one load entirely to workout gear rather than mixing it in with your day-to-day outfits.
Many activewear brands use synthetic materials like polyester or rayon, which offer qualities such as compression or moisture-wicking. These features, however, rely on the structural integrity of a garment’s fabric, so drying workout clothes in a low-heat setting can help keep them in peak condition for longer.
Use a Sport-Specific Detergent
Activewear typically sits closer to the skin than other clothing, which means any irritants from laundry detergent may be extra uncomfortable. Additionally, strong scents like those used in traditional detergents may become unpleasant or cloying if carried away by evaporating sweat. Because of both of these facts, it may be best to find a sports-specific detergent with minimal irritants or scents to maintain your workout clothes.
The Best Fit Wins
When push comes to shove, the best workout clothes for you will always be the ones that make you feel the most comfortable and confident. While certain fabrics or styles may offer more stability, what’s most important is how you feel while wearing them.
Regardless of what you choose to wear, your wardrobe should never hold you back from enjoying the things you love or trying new experiences. Even if it’s only shorts and a tank top, you should always feel free to try one of Crunch’s no judgment group fitness classes. And, if you’re wondering what to wear or whether a class is the right fit for you, talk to one of our personal trainers or group fitness instructors to find more answers!
Crunch’s group fitness classes and personal trainers promote a culture of fun with no judgments. It is an environment built for all types of individuals with various goals. Find a Crunch gym near you to try our free trial membership, or join Crunch now.