What Not to Wear to the Gym

What Not to Wear to the Gym

Getting yourself to the gym requires motivation, but believe it or not, what you wear plays a big part in your success. Baggy sweats and cotton T-shirts may be comfortable, but are usually the wrong choice for the gym. Choosing the right workout clothes and accessories, on the other hand, can wick away sweat, smell less, display movements clearly, and protect sensitive skin. Before you lace up your old sneakers or pull on your college t-shirt, let’s figure out what NOT to wear to the gym!


Avoid clothes made of 100 percent cotton. Cotton absorbs moisture and is slow to dry. That excess moisture weighs you down, can cause chills, skin breakouts, and an increase in chafing.
Instead, wear quick-drying synthetics and moisture-wicking fabrics to draw water away from the skin for optimal evaporation. Whatever fabric you choose, retire it if it begins to take on an odor of it’s own…there’s definitely a “shelf-life” on things that you soak with sweat on a regular basis!


Wearing clothing that is excessively baggy in the gym can be a safety hazard. Extra fabric can easily get caught in machines, or be tripped on. Your trainer or group exercise instructor will have a hard time seeing your body alignment and form when you’re draped in a baggy pair of sweats or t-shirt. If your alignment and form is incorrect, you subject yourself to injury. You don’t have to wedge yourself into an all-spandex outfit, but ditching the big clothing for more form-fitting gear will ultimately make you more comfortable!

If you’re doing a class like Yoga or Pilates, baggy clothing can actually be more revealing, exposing your stomach, and upper thighs during certain poses. Wear close-fitting items that won’t expose more than you’d like in those classes. For anyone who likes a looser-fitting short, wear a compression short underneath to avoid showing more than you’d like.


Shoes with worn-out soles and arch supports can keep you from establishing a solid base when moving during exercise, and can even damage joints. Good, activity-appropriate athletic shoes promote correct alignment during exercise.

For runners, the general rule is to replace your shoes every 500 miles or so. If you run a couple of days a week, a new pair once a year is recommended. If you’re running closer to 5-6 days a week, you should replace them every three months. You can apply the same timeline to shoes used for tennis or basketball, too. Pay attention to how your feet feel after a class, gym workout, or training session. Other activities may not be as hard on your shoes, but the shoe can break down on the inside even if it still looks good from the outside!


A good sports bra is the “foundation” of a great workout! Obviously, we all come in different shapes and sizes, but regardless of size, a great sports bra protects the ligaments and tissues in your chest from excessive stretching or stress so you can train hard without worries.

When choosing a good sports bra, be mindful of the level of impact of your typical workout and the shape of your body. Low-impact sports bras are great for yoga or walking, while high-impact choices are designed for tennis, intense cardio classes, or running. The fabrics should be non-cotton and moisture-wicking to keep you cool and dry.

Just like your athletic shoes and apparel, sports bras have an expiration date. Replace them when they start to look or feel like they’ve lost their elasticity, or the if the fit begins to change.


No one wants to smell while they’re working out, but limit yourself to deodorant. There’s nothing more annoying to your class or gym mates than strong cologne, or perfume. Those scents are actually more intense as you warm up and start to sweat—no fun for someone near you who may not share your taste in aftershave!

Skip greasy lotions before a workout. They can leave your skin slippery making it more difficult to hold a weight or bar, plus, it leaves behind a film on benches and equipment. This residue can make it dangerous for the next person to use that piece of equipment.

Makeup, foundation or a heavy moisturizer can also cause sweat to run in to—and sting—your eyes. Choose light products that are scent free, or designed to be worn during exercise!

We are surrounded with great choices in workout gear, shoes and clothing for any style or budget. You can find some great, exercise appropriate styles from Target to lululemon. Keep your safety AND style in mind when you choose what to wear to the gym!

Annie Farley, MS, CPT; Spinning Certified Star 3 Instructor & Group Exercise Instructor at Elite Sports Club-Mequon

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