Exercise Apparel Guide

What sort of clothing do I need for exercise?

Exercise ApparelExercise apparel isn’t limited to an old t-shirt and shorts anymore. Technological advances have lead to new fabrics, designs and innovations for exercise clothing aimed at enhancing your workout and performance. While this is great news athletes, wading through the vast array of options requires some know-how. So read on to learn what to look for in your exercise apparel.

Type of Exercise

Before buying exercise apparel, it is important to consider the type of exercise you will be doing. For example, if you are going to be taking an aerobics class, you need clothes that are comfortable to wear indoors. If you want to run outside in the winter, you need specific cold-weather gear.

Once you have an idea about what exercises you want to do, then you can start shopping for the right exercise apparel to fit your lifestyle.

Materials and Fabrics

Knowing how your gear will deal with heat and cold is incredibly important. For example, if you’re skiing or outdoors in the winter elements, wearing insulating, breathable fabrics is ideal; whereas, if you’re biking or running in the summer, water resistant, breathable fabrics are best.

Taking Care of Your Gear

Keep laundry cycles to a minimum, and when laundering, wash with cold water. Heat, from dryer and washer, will lessen the elasticity of your moisture-wicking clothes.

Deal with armpit stains as soon as possible. Once you spot discoloring, apply vinegar or stain remover as a pretreatment.


Layer your clothing so that you can adjust accordingly as your level of exertion changes or Mother Nature acts up. The goal should always be to keep the core of your body warm and dry. By layering your clothing, you allow yourself to add, remove, or vent layers as your body temperature changes.

The base layer, or layer that fits right against your body, is important when you are exercising. For men, this often means wearing compression shorts and a compression shirt, while women opt for compression shorts and a sports bra as a base layer. If you are exercising outdoors in cold weather, your base layer may also include thermal underwear.

Compression Shorts

Because their tight fit, compression shorts offer many benefits to athletes who choose to wear them as part of their base layer. Compression shorts can:

  • Separate muscle groups: Separating the groin muscles and the thigh muscles prevents them from rubbing together. When these muscles rub, it can cause pain in the lower back and in the sciatic nerves that run along the outer thighs.
  • Prevent chaffing: Sweaty thighs can lead to chafed legs. Compression shorts prevent chaffing, and some compression shorts also wick away moisture, preventing bacteria growth.

Compression Shirts

Compression shirts are meant for more intense workouts. For example, you do not need a compression shirt for yoga, but you may want to wear one while mountain biking. Compression shirts are available with a variety of benefits, such as moisture wicking, antibacterial materials, temperature regulation, and muscle support.

Sports Bras

For women’s fitness clothing, the most important layer is the sports bra. Like compression shorts, sports bras provide support and motion control. Sports bras can also protect breast tissue from damage and prevent back injuries. Here is what you need to consider when selecting a sports bra:

There are three main types of sports bras:

  • Compression sports bras flatten the chest to hold it in place, which works well for women with small breasts.
  • Underwire sports bras offer a lot of support, but some women find the wires to be uncomfortable when exercising.
  • Encapsulated sports bras, which hold each breast in a soft cup, are the best for women who need the most support.

Sports bras usually are rated for the amount of activity for which they are intended and the amount of support they provide:

  • Low-impact sports bras work well for yoga, weight-lifting, or rock climbing.
  • Medium-impact sports bras are perfect for aerobics, biking, or cross-country skiing.
  • High-impact sports bras are necessary for mountain biking, running, or downhill skiing.

Racer back or traditional straps:

  • Racer back sports bras will provide more support for women with larger breasts.
  • Traditional-strapped sports bras that have straps that run straight from the front to back are best for women who don’t need as much support.

Shorts and Pants

Exercising shorts and pants need to be comfortable and allow you to have a wide range of movement without a lot of extra fabric that can get in your way. If you plan to bike, or to run on a treadmill, it is especially important for your safety to not have extra fabric that can get caught in a machine. Look for styles that are specific to your sport. For instance, many bikers will chose to wear just compression style shorts.

Women’s exercise pants are similar to men’s, but they are often a bit more fitted for style. Yoga pants can be worn for all types of exercise. Women also have the option of capri-length exercise pants, which offer the same comfort, coverage, and flexibility as exercise pants, while letting you stay a bit cooler than full-length pants. Running pants tend to be more water repellent and insulating than simple yoga pants as they are typically worn during the colder months.


T-shirts: T-shirts have long been a workout apparel staple. A comfortable t-shirt that allows for movement can be a great and affordable addition to your workout attire.

Fitness shirts: With all the technology currently available for workout shirts, you may want something more advanced than your standard t-shirt. For example, some popular fitness shirts have features like anti-bacterial fabric, fabric that wicks away moisture, and fabric that can regulate your temperature. These athletic shirts usually cost more than a regular t-shirt.

Tank tops: Sports tank tops are a great choice if you get hot while you exercise. Look for tank tops that are made of breathable, flexible fabric, and that have the amount of coverage that will keep you comfortable.

Outer layers: If you will be exercising outside, make sure you have cold weather athletic clothing. While sweatshirts and hoodies are a good start to cold-weather gear, it’s important to invest in jackets and zip-ups that are made of insulating, breathable, water resistant fabrics. Despite the cold, your body temperature will rise and you’ll likely need a fabric that can wick away sweat.


Cotton: Cotton athletic socks are comfortable, inexpensive, and great for exercising; however it is important to note that when cotton gets wet, it stays wet. Wet socks can easily cause painful blisters. If you are doing intense exercise, it’s important to choose socks that are not 100 percent cotton.

Synthetic: The best option for athletic socks are ones made of synthetic materials, such as polyester and acrylic fabric because they wick away moisture.

Wool: Wool socks are a great option for outdoor winter exercise. They will keep you warm in cold temperatures, but they do retain a good amount of moisture. This could create a warm-wet environment that leads to bacteria and fungus growth.

It is important to try on sport socks with the athletic shoes you will be wearing. You should consider the thickness of your athletic or tube sock, whether or not they bunch up in your shoes, and if they fit the size and shape of your foot.

Now that you know what you need, head to the Exercise Apparel Buying Guide for tips on purchasing your athletic gear!