The whole point of working out is to stay healthy and feel good about yourself, so it seems a little counterintuitive to write an article about how to make a fashion statement in your yoga class, right? Don't worry, there will be none of that here.
Instead, I come bearing tips on how your clothes and beauty routine can actually maximize the benefits of your workout. And if you make a fashion statement in the process, that's just an added bonus.
For an expert's opinion on the topic of gym style don'ts, I reached out to Alena Hall, who was a personal trainer at New York Sports Club for two years. Hall shared what she believes are the best attire practices for any type of workout, no matter if you prefer Pilates or pole dancing.
Don't Choose Shoes Solely on Looks
I'm totally into a well-coordinated gym outfit, but when it comes to shoes, we're better off favoring function over fashion. "There's a good reason why today's athletic shoe stores are stocked with so many options — each style caters to a distinct activity," Hall says.
Whether you need running shoes, cross trainers, hiking shoes, or something else entirely, it's important to pick a pair of shoes that'll offer your feet the best possible support. "It all comes down to how they are designed to support your feet, ankles, and bodyweight during your workout, so be sure to lace up with a pair that caters to your particular exercise style." When in doubt, have a conversation with your coach or a trainer at your gym. Sneakers can be expensive, so you'll want to make sure you pick a proper pair.
Don't Be Afraid of Synthetic Fabrics
The word "synthetic" can have negative connotations, but when it comes to gym clothes, synthetic fabrics have more appealing properties than your average cotton tee. "It pays to dish out a little extra money for synthetic fabrics because their sweat-wicking properties will help keep you drier and more comfortable, even throughout the toughest workout," Hall says. And while working up a good sweat can leave you feeling great, a soppy shirt doesn't.
"Once cotton gets wet, it stays that way, hanging heavily on your body and making you wish your workout was over sooner rather than later!"
Nike's Dri-FIT fabric helps wick away sweat to keep your skin dry and comfortable during your workout. (Nike Epic Lux Printed Women's Running Crops, $110, store.nike.com)
Don't Get All Dolled Up
OK, I admit it: During my college days, I definitely put on makeup before hitting the gym for fear of running into a campus crush. But I have to say, since entering "the real world," I always try to go au naturel no matter how unpredictable my skin may be. In fact, Hall told me that keeping a clear face can actually improve your skin.
"One of the best parts of a good sweat is its pore-clearing benefits," she says. "However, if you leave a heavy layer of foundation, power, and/or concealer on your face before hitting the gym, you're preventing your skin from being able to breathe." The best practice for keeping pores unclogged is to skip the makeup entirely and wash your face before and after your workout. Plus, adds Hall, "What's the point of wearing makeup when more of it will end up on a sweaty towel than your face anyway?"
Don't Go Too Tight or Too Loose
If you're opting for spandex, make sure you're buying for the right reasons. "Instead of aiming to make your spandex sexy, focus on its supportive factors," Hall says. No matter if you're into jogging or yoga, finding the right workout gear should enhance your workout, not inhibit it.
"Fitted tops shouldn't be skin-tight or revealing, but instead allow you to distinguish your silhouette in the mirror as you target different muscles during your workout," she says.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have sweatpants, which Hall suggests leaving at home. "Their bagginess will distract you from the work you're trying to do, and they increase your chance of tripping or getting caught in a machine. Pick a pair of pants, leggings, or shorts that are secure around the waist or hips, and as fitted as feels comfortable to you."
This sweat-wicking tank is meant to be form-fitting so you can easily see your silhouette. (Refresh Racer Tank, $42, shop.lululemon.com)
Don't Neglect Layers
Layering isn't just a fall fashion statement; it's also a practical thing to do to ease discomfort during a workout. "It's critical to come prepared to feel comfortable during every stage of your workout," Hall says. "Whether you're running outdoors, heading to the yoga studio, or hopping on a spin bike — layering with a sports bra, a comfortable base layer, and a lightweight hoodie ensures that you will avoid those body-chill and hot-flash moments, focusing instead on having a great workout."
Wear a lightweight zip-up until your body has a chance to warm up. Put it on again post-workout to keep your muscles from tightening up too quickly. (Lightweight Strength Hoodie, $98, athleta.gap.com)
Don't Go Overboard With Accessories
When it comes to accessories, less is more... at the gym, anyway. "You're just going to cover it in sweat and risk losing it," says Hall, adding that it'll weigh you down. You don't want to be jangling during downward dog. Of course, there are always exceptions. "When it comes to the fitness-specific gear, wear a headband if you're trying to hold you hair in place, sport a GPS watch if you're trying to track your miles, and slide on compression sleeves if you need the assistance in improving your circulation."
If it's going to distract you from your workout, then leave it at home or lock it up.
Not only are these headbands an awesomely inspiring accessory, but their grippy silicone band will keep your hair off your face. Win, win. (Women's Under Armour Alter Ego Supergirl Mini Headbands, $15, underarmour.com)
Don't Leave Your Technology Lying Around
"If you're a music junkie like myself, you probably find that once you step away from the row of cardio machines and into your strength training routine, there isn't a designated place for your phone or iPod to sit while you sweat," Hall says.
And isn't that the truth? Some of my most awkward gym moments come when I head over to the weights section of the gym and have nowhere to rest my phone. What usually ends up happening is that I place it on a nearby surface and have to keep a watchful eye on it, instead of focusing on the task at hand: a finicky pair of free weights.
Hall's solution is to invest in a no-fuss, non-slip armband. "Keep your device in place as you move from exercise to exercise. From planks to burpees to hitting the weight room, you won't have to worry about losing your favorite pump-up song in between moves."
Lightweight and sweat-wicking, this arm band is perfect for toting around your phone during a workout. (Nike Women's Diamond Arm Band For iPhone 5/5s, $35, store.apple.com)
Don't Forget to Stay Inspired
No matter if you're a newbie at the gym or a regular, there are bound to be days when your motivation will wane. Hall suggests using your workout gear as a pick-me-up. "I'm partial to workout tanks that have fun, quirky, and inspirational words of wisdom printed on them," she says. "They send a positive message to your brain as you get dressed and head off to do something great for your body. Plus, you'll share that same energy with anyone you pass by in the gym. That little bit of motivation can go a long way!"
And if you need some more motivation to get you to the gym, did you know that working out can improve your memory, increase creativity, and even increase your libido?
You don't have to be a bona fide gym rat to rock this motivational tank. (Women's UA Legacy Graphic Tank, $30, underarmour.com)