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What to Wear When Working Out

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Women's Wear
Since the 1980s, more and more women have begun flocking to the gym. In the early days, it seemed as if women were wary of "looking like men" and overemphasized their femininity in their dress instead of focusing on the fact that they were athletes working out. This may (or may not) explain the popularity of the thong that scores of women wore to the gym.

In case you missed it, the thong was (and is) a one-piece leotard cut extremely high on the hips with a thin strip of cloth wedged uncomfortably between the buttocks. In gym parlance it was known as butt floss. While many women looked downright sexy in the thing, it had to be one of the cruelest fashion hoaxes this side of platform shoes, because essentially you were walking around with a self-imposed wedgie.

Luckily, these days the thong is mostly a collector's item packed neatly beside your collection of Jane Fonda's Greatest Aerobic Hits. Today, most women who exercise regularly wear a sports bra or T-shirt with sweats, leggings, or shorts.

If you do go the sports bra route and are amply endowed, make sure you can jog and/or take an aerobics class without doing yourself bodily harm. Similarly, causing a traffic accident might be good for your ego, but it could be bad for your conscience.

The Treads
If you hadn't already noticed, a trip to a well-equipped sporting goods store will reveal just how specialized workout gear has become. This is especially true in the footwear realm. In fact, never-throw-out-a-pair-of-running-shoes jocks like Jonathan and Joe each have at least 44 pairs. (Okay, maybe more, but we don't have the time to tally them all.) Think we're exaggerating? Here's a basic outline of the footwear you could find in our collective closets:

  • Running shoes for the road (lots of them!).
  • Trail running shoes.
  • Cycling shoes for biking on the road.
  • Cycling shoes for mountain biking and touring.
  • Basketball shoes.
  • Tennis shoes.
  • Cross-training shoes, which are hybrid sneakers designed to do a bit of everything.
  • Water shoes, which are slipperlike footwear designed for kayakers.
  • Approach shoes designed for easy hiking.
  • Sports sandals.

With the obvious exception of cycling shoes that feature protruding cleats that leave you walking like a petrified tree, most of the previously mentioned footware is fine for just lifting weights. Remember that there have been many Olympic-level marathon runners who ran like the wind barefoot. So while the sport specificity in footwear does have its place, you can wear just about anything as long as it fits and gives you adequate support.

Herein lies the rub. Ideally, your footwear should provide you with ample arch support as well as proper medial (inside aspect of the foot) and lateral (outside) support. If you've ever had any foot pain, your best bet is to go to a store known for its sneaker savvy. Be specific with the salesperson about what you'll be doing in these sneakers. If you know that you're flat-footed (have no arch), pronate (walk on the inner portion of your foot) or supinate (walk on the outer portion), inform the salesperson; if he knows what he's doing he should recommend shoes designed for those specific conditions. If you don't understand pronation, buy whatever feels best and, over time, monitor where the majority of the wear and tear on your footwear occurs. (If you're a runner this will quickly become obvious.) Generally speaking, when you're weight lifting, a cross-training shoe would be your best bet for appropriate support.

Don't Mention It
If ever there were a perfect place to discuss the ins and outs of sports bras, here it is. The three things to remember are proper fit, comfort, and structure.

  • Fit. When shopping for a sports bra, always try it on before you get to the gym. Once you've got it on, clap your hands overhead; if the plastic band moves up your chest, it's too tight. You don't want to start working out and discover you're wearing an iron corset that doesn't allow you to breathe. And you don't want to fret about peekaboo bosom while you're lying in the middle of a bench or performing another cleavage-revealing exercise.

  • Comfort. To continue on our sartorial theme: Looking good doesn't equal feeling good. Besides, the better you feel when you work out, the more apt you are to keep training!

  • Structure. Basically, there are two types of sports bras to choose from: compression and encapsulation. While neither sounds terribly forgiving, the latter tends to be the most comfortable. True to its name, the compression bra presses (read: squishes) the breasts against the chest in a single mass. This style is more appropriate for small- to medium-breasted women. Like a brassiere, the encapsulation type is built to hold each breast in a cup. This works better for full-figured women.


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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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