I’m an activewear addict. I probably spend more on activewear and running kit than I do on normal clothes, and I definitely spend more time wearing them and perusing internet shopping sites for good deals on my favourite brands. But how much of this is necessary for good athletic performance, and how much is just me pandering to my vanity?
In the majority of cases, the clothes I wear to workout in are picked for their comfort, and for their ability to make me feel better at what I do. This doesn’t mean that I pick the most expensive brands, or the best fabrics, but I pick things which I know will support me in my running and my lifting. The reason why I spend a lot of my day-to-day life in them is that they are made to feel comfortable in the most stressful of circumstances, to not rub or chafe or pull, meaning that they also feel unrestrictive and easy in my normal life.
I’d suggest that is no need to invest in “proper” running gear or lifting gear if you are a hobby jogger or someone who maybe goes to the gym once or twice a week. Comfortable shorts and an old T-shirt will do just as well as anything else, and will give you time to decide what you want to spend your money on, and what you like to wear whilst working out. Sure, you might not look as stylish as someone who rocks up wearing matching leggings and a sports bra, but until you work out how you like to exercise, there’s no point in buying things.
Apart from, for a runner, two things.
- RUNNING SHOES
- SPORTS BRA
Whatever you wear on your body, you need to make sure that you take care of your feet and, by extension, your legs. This starts with the most basic piece of equipment: shoes. A good pair of running shoes is expensive, but will make all the difference to your stride and support, and is an important factor to ensuring that you don’t get injured.
When I first started running, I just went to a shop, picked some nice-looking shoes which I’d read online were good, and thought that was it. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a single week that went by when I didn’t suffer from awful blisters. I also got shin splints whilst wearing these shoes which I thought were supportive and perfect for me.
So, I learnt my lesson the hard way. The next time I bought a pair of shoes, I got my gait analysed and realised that I needed a narrower shoe with medium support for pronation. I bought my first pair of Saucony running shoes, and I am now on my 5th pair of the same line! When you find something that works for you, stick to it. But make sure you find the perfect shoe and don’t just “settle” for something that has been recommended to you by a friend or that you’ve seen being advertised.
Obviously, my second point only applies to those of us who have breasts that need supporting. The right sports bra can make or break your enjoyment in exercising, as no one wants the extra stress of having to worry about things bouncing around when all you want to do is run in a straight line.
Do your research, and find a brand and style that works for you. I love my Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Bra, because it’s fitted just like a normal bra, so I don’t have to wrestle with it over my head, and it’s fully adjustable. It is made with running in mind, so it is extremely high impact, and I never feel bouncing or out-of-control movement from my chest. It is also sized like a regular bra (32-36/A-FF) so it is easy to find the exact fit that you need, without having to resort to a generic S / M / L.
It is when you get into running for longer and doing higher intensity workouts that your clothes really make the difference between enjoyment and pain. Not because they are made from anything performance enhancing, but because certain materials and styles of shirts and shorts will chafe and rub, or fall down, or ride up.
The last thing you want to be worrying about on a long run is how your outfit is going to impact your time and your happiness. Put down those cool coloured leggings which have no drawstring so will fall down after a mile, consider how hot you’ll be in the long-sleeved hoodie once you get past the warm-up. It might look cool, you might look like all the gals and guys on Instagram, but those things were never meant for serious cardio.
On my long runs, I have a go-to outfit, and it is definitely not the aesthetically pleasing all-matching outfit that I see on my feed. I wear lycra shorts which are so well-used that they are starting to fray and go see-through. I wear an old t-shirt I got from my very first half-marathon, which is greying and too big for me. I wear old trainer socks I bought for £3 from H&M. I carry my phone in my hand, and my snacks and keys in my one pocket.
But I will always wear them because those shorts have a zip-up pocket in the back, big enough for a set of keys and a gel, and some money. And they are tight enough that they won’t slip down, but they are also the perfect length for me – they aren’t too long that they are hot, but they also don’t ride up and chafe.
And the top is loose enough that it doesn’t chafe, even when it gets sweaty, and lets enough wind through that I don’t get too warm. It is an inspiring top because of how hard I had to work to get it, to make it over the finish line of my first race. It’s the top I’ve worn for my PB half-marathon, and the one I wore for my marathon. It’s not the most pretty, it’s not colour coded with the rest of my outfit, it’s not even made from fancy fabrics. But it does the job, and it does it well.
Having matching and attractive exercise gear may help motivate you to work out, and I’m not going to tell you that’s wrong. In fact, I love climbing because it allows me to wear the sorts of attractive leggings and sports bras which are just plain unsuitable for long distance running. But, you shouldn’t feel like you have to spend money on all of the popular brands, simply because it is the “done” thing.
In the end, you should just follow your body and your progress, and exercise in whatever you feel most comfortable in. Even if that happens to be fraying shorts and a ratty old t-shirt.
What do you wear to exercise in? Do you feel a pressure to “look good” whilst exercising? What are your most essential pieces of kit?
I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have any particular questions of your own, so comment below, or send me a DM on either Instagram (@primallyimperfect) or through my email.