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What to Wear When Working Out

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What you wear to the gym is an issue of the utmost importance that really doesn't matter. By that we mean if it's comfortable, allows a full range of motion, and adheres to gym regulations, you could wear a tuxedo with tails or an evening gown and be good to go. While this sounds ridiculous – and it is – there was a terrific runner a few years ago who ran the New York City Marathon in a tuxedo jacket and shorts. (He discarded the black shoes and went with a pair of Nikes.)

So while you could work out effectively in a burlap bag, what you wear is of enormous personal relevance to who you are and what kind of statement you wish to make – if you wish to make any at all. Are you flashy or modest? A Lycra proponent or fan of organic cotton? Do you go with the neon lime green bike jersey and large silver hoop earrings or stick with the ripped T-shirt that you wore when you went fishing with your Uncle Sylvester? In this section, we'll outline your options and make some recommendations about the workout clothes that might be right for you.

Do Clothes Make the Athlete?
Although we adhere to the philosophy of "to each his own," some people's workout attire can be perplexing. Deidre and Joe frequently find themselves working out next to a hulking guy who can lift a compact car and the kitchen sink. However, no matter how hot it gets he wears an XXL sweatshirt and long baggy pants. Though he has the body of an NFL linebacker, the self-effacing chap refuses to show skin. Another full-bodied woman they know wears Pamela Anderson-type skintight outfits.

Even more confusing is the dignified gent who works out in the same immaculate outfit every time: red tank top, blue shorts, white socks, and white sneakers. While this is a perfectly fine outfit, Joe and Deidre are dying to know if he has two dozen of the same items (and if so, why?); and, if he has just one of each, does that mean he's laundering them after every workout? These, dear reader, are some of the questions that can weigh on a petty man's mind.

Simply put, picking an outfit to exercise in at the gym can be purely perfunctory or a fair bit of fun. While we have more than a few biases on the subject that we'll gladly share with you in the following pages, the bottom line is: If the garment fits, wear it.

The Threads
The best workout clothing consists of any combination of comfortable garments that allow freedom of movement and a modicum of modesty. When Joe began competing in kayak marathons with international paddlers, he was initially surprised to see that the majority of the world-class Australian and South African kayakers he raced against wore baggy T-shirts while the Americans often wore tight tank tops. Why the baggy look? These guys had chiseled upper bodies straight from central casting. It's comfortable, mate! In other words, if you got the goods why compromise comfort for vanity? Before you could say rip curl, many of the Americans started wearing extra-large as well.

Here's a basic list of acceptable gym threads:

  • Sweatpants
  • Shorts
  • Leggings
  • T-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Sports bras
  • Sweatshirts
Although some people find wearing a tank top too revealing, keep in mind that it's always a good idea to concentrate on the muscle groups you're working, so if you're concentrating on your upper body, a tank top may be just the thing. Not only is it easier to focus on the task at hand if you can see the muscle actually lengthening and contracting, it can be a good motivational tool to see your muscles grow before your eyes – a phenomenon known as the pump.

When working her upper body, Deidre usually wears a sports bra and sweatpants, and she dons a T-shirt and shorts when she works her lower body.

Joe, who has arguably the largest collection of race T-shirts in North America, tends to modify his attire according to the aerobic activity he's doing that day. If he's going to run and lift he wears jogging shorts and brings along an extra T-shirt (no problem there). If he's going to cycle or use the Concept II rower, he's likely to wear bike shorts, and, you guessed it, a T-shirt. Also, on "leg" day, he prefers bike shorts because they offer better support when he does squats.

Jonathan, the personal trainer who has been known to dine in trendy Manhattan restaurants in a black warm-up suit (arguing that, strictly speaking, it is a suit), doesn't really care what he's wearing as long as he's working out. In fact, Jonathan probably would lift in a lobster bib if he forgot to pack one of his nine million T-shirts.

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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.

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