What to wear to the gym | Everything you need for a great workout

Sara Nankivell Sara Nankivell Senior Programme Manager
If you’re curious about what to wear to the gym or enjoy expanding your workout wardrobe, you’re in the right place. From trainers to sports bras, our expert advice will make choosing a comfortable and practical gym outfit a lot easier.

The important stuff

If it’s your first time in the gym you might be wondering what to expect. We’ve put some of the things we wish we knew when we first started into a list below to help you get off to a flying start:

  • Dress for yourself: most people in the gym are too preoccupied with their own workout to pay attention to what others are wearing. Your choice of apparel should be functional and comfortable
  • Avoid heavy fabrics: standard polyester and plain cotton are two of the worst fabrics to wear to the gym. They rub, hold moisture and provide next to no breathability when you start to sweat
  • Don’t be afraid to change: the changing rooms are there for a reason. If you need to change in the middle of your workout, that’s perfectly fine. Taking a few choices with you in case of rubbing, heavy sweating, or chaffing can help avoid ruining your first trip to the gym
  • Stock up: having a wide selection of workout gear (especially t-shirts) is a must if you’re serious about cardio. You’ll soon find yourself doing multiple washes a week for your gym clothes alone if you don’t.

Popular clothing choices

Below you’ll find a list of things gymgoers typically wear to the gym. Athleisure and sportswear companies are constantly developing sport versions of all different types of garments, giving you a wide range of shapes and styles to choose from:

  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Joggers
  • Hoodies
  • Sports bras
  • Leggings
  • Compression shorts
  • Base layers
  • Trainers
  • Specialist socks

Function over fashion

What you wear to the gym should be functional and comfortable above all else. That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t wear workout gear that looks great.

Within the last few decades, workout gear has taken the fashion industry by storm. Athleisure, tracksuits, hoodies and yoga pants are all commonplace on the high street now, allowing you to essentially wear your gym gear all day long.

It is important to remember that you need to dress for your workout. Whilst you can get away with a bulky hoodie for a weights session, it’s best to leave it at home if you’re running hill sprints on a treadmill.

I feel self-conscious in the gym

Some people feel more self-conscious than others about exercising in public. If you’re anxious ahead of your first session or you’ve just started and are unsure about whether to continue, you’re not alone. 

Take a look below for some practical tips that can help you get the most out of your experience at the gym:

  • Choose a gym you feel comfortable in. Don’t be afraid to shop around using trial memberships before you find somewhere that works for you
  • Remember that you’re not the only one. The fittest and biggest people in the gym have all felt inadequate and conscious of their appearance at one point or another
  • Go when it’s quiet. This is a great tip that helps you avoid the post-work rush. Going after eight pm or first thing in the morning means fewer people to worry about and optimal access to machines
  • Work with a personal trainer. This is a great way to concentrate on your workout and your goals without worrying about what’s going on around you.

If you’re interested in hearing what our professional personal trainers have to say about feeling self-conscious in the gym, you can watch the short video below:

Choosing the right footwear

This is an age old question. The answer really depends on what you’re doing at the gym. The battered trainers you wear day in and day out are probably fine for a yoga class. Try them out on a treadmill however, and you’ll soon find yourself in trouble. 

We recommend a good quality pair of cushioned running trainers that are available at a price point that works for you. Running shoes are typically lightweight all-rounders that are perfect for everything you’ll be doing in the gym. 

If you’re confused about what’s on offer and don’t know what you’re looking for, click here to view our in depth running shoe guide.

Moisture wicking fabrics

Moisture-wicking fabric simply refers to lightweight and breathable materials like nylon, polyester and polypropylene. Most big sportswear brands manufacture their own version of this material, meaning you might hear names that sound similar. Essentially, they all do the same thing.

These fabrics are designed to allow the most amount of air possible through the garment to prevent sweat and moisture from pooling on your skin. They don’t hold moisture like a heavy cotton t-shirt and feel great against your skin. 

You can get moisture wicking almost anything. From t-shirts and base layers to yoga pants and socks. If you shop around, you’ll find a kit that works best for you.

Loose or fitted?

Again, this comes down to personal preference. You might find that you feel a bit more comfortable in something baggy, but that it’s not as practical as a more fitted garment.

Compressive garments like a well-fitted sports bra or base layer are comfortable for some people but too restrictive for others. Conversely, baggy clothes make some people feel heavy and weighed down. Tailor your outfit based on what you’re comfortable wearing and what exercise you’re going to be doing. 

Long or short sleeves?

Shorts and a T-shirt have always been the traditional choice for gymgoers. This is because exercise warms the body up quickly, making longer sleeves a less attractive option for cardiovascular exercise.

Nowadays, you can find athletic versions of almost any garment to really tailor your gym outfit. If you prefer leggings and a long-sleeve top, almost every sportswear company out there will have something for you. 

Changing at the gym

Absolutely. All Nuffield Health fitness and wellbeing centres are equipped with premium quality changing rooms for you to change and store your belongings in whilst you exercise. 

You can take a bag of clothes in with you and get changed before working out. This makes hitting the gym right after work easy. When you’re finished, feel free to freshen up and take a shower using our top of the range facilities.

Let’s talk sports bras

Sports bras are regularly worn both in place of a traditional bra to provide more support and alone as a top. A good sports bra should fit a little tighter than a normal bra. A lot of women find sports bra sizing difficult to navigate, as standard cup and bust sizes don’t necessarily correlate given the added support.

There are a lot of different types of sports bras out there with different strap styles and elastic strengths. Shopping between brands can be tricky too. Because clothes sizing isn’t universal, you may find that the same size in a different brand doesn’t fit you correctly. This can be frustrating and time consuming, so take the time to physically try before you buy.  

If you find a brand and style that provides a level of support that you’re comfortable with, run with it.  

Socks and why they’re so important

Whilst not the most exciting thing in your gym bag, a good pair of socks can go a long way to improving comfort when you’re working out.

Socks should be grippy and moisture-wicking to stop the build-up of odour and sweat. Allowing air to pass through the fabric also prevents blisters and calluses from forming on the sole of the foot.

Grippy socks are a must if you’re attending a yoga or Pilates class. You can even purchase specific socks designed for these classes that feature an additional layer of grip on the underside.

Why we love second hand

Provided the garments are washed and in good condition, there’s no reason to be afraid of buying second hand gym apparel. 

Shopping around in charity shops and online on second-hand websites can help you get some unbelievable deals on gear and it helps us all be a bit more sustainable with what we’re wearing.

All about accessories

As the sportswear industry continues to grow and expand, so too does the array of exercise accessories and tools that are available.

The truth is all you need to take with you is a towel and a good quality water bottle. Use the towel to wipe yourself down between sets and machines. If you need to clean the machine itself, most gyms have cleaning equipment dotted around for exactly this reason. 

With regard to hydration, all gyms have water fountains and refill stations for you to refill your bottle as and when you need it. Invest in a good quality water bottle that’s easy to drink from and that won’t break if dropped. 

Gym bag essentials

Aside from a change of clothes and your accessories, there are a few things you might want to consider keeping in your bag:

  • Any medication you take
  • Painkillers
  • Another bottle of water or sports drinks
  • Headphones
  • Showering essentials if you are washing after your workout
  • Replenishment bar or protein shake
  • Key for your locker and entry fob

Why train at Nuffield Health?

Whatever your fitness goals are, we can help.

At Nuffield Health, we are the proud owners of over 100 health and wellbeing centres up and down the country. Whether you’re into swimming, running or weightlifting, we’ve got something for you.

Our gyms come equipped with the latest and best equipment and you can access a range of classes and personal training sessions as a member.

Last updated Monday 30 October 2023

First published on Monday 14 December 2015