When exercising, what you wear can be just as important as what you do. Having the right footwear and clothing for your sport can give you both comfort and safety.
Thinking about where and how you exercise can help you choose the best clothing and shoes for your workouts. You can find many of the items you need at your local sporting goods, department, or discount stores or online.
Exercise Clothing Basics
When choosing exercise clothing, consider both fabric and fit.
You can enjoy longer workouts and avoid overheating or getting too cold by choosing the right fabrics.
To help you stay comfortable and dry, choose fabrics that pull sweat away from your skin and dry quickly. Many quick-drying fabrics are synthetic and made of polyester or polypropylene. Look for terms like moisture-wicking, Dri-fit, Coolmax, or Supplex. Wool is also a good choice to keep you cool, dry, and naturally odor-free. Some workout clothing is made with special antimicrobial solutions to combat odor from sweat.
Socks also come in quick-drying fabrics that absorb sweat. They can help you stay cool and dry, and avoid blisters. Choose socks made with a polyester blend or other special fabric.
In general, it is best to avoid cotton. Cotton absorbs sweat and does not dry quickly. And because it stays wet, it can make you cold in cooler weather. In warm weather, it is not as good as synthetic fabrics at keeping you cool and dry if you sweat a lot.
In general, make sure your clothing does not get in the way of your activity. You want to be able to move easily. Clothing should not catch on equipment or slow you down.
You can wear loose-fitting clothing for activities like:
- Gentle yoga
- Strength training
You may want to wear form-fitting, stretchy clothing for activities like:
- Advanced yoga/Pilates
You may be able to wear a combination of loose and form-fitting clothing. For example, you might wear a moisture-wicking loose t-shirt or tank top with form-fitting workout shorts. You can choose what is comfortable for you. Just make sure the material you choose helps pull sweat away from your skin.
Shoes to Match Your Activity
The right shoes can make all the difference between feeling refreshed and having aching feet after your workout. It is worth the extra money you may need to spend for a good quality athletic shoe.
Make sure your shoes fit your activity.
- For running, buy running shoes. They are light, flexible, and supportive for simple forward strides. Make sure they have good arch support and cushioning for impact. For walking, choose stiffer shoes with good support and thick soles.
- For strength or CrossFit training, choose training shoes with good support and rubber soles that are not too bulky.
- If you are playing a sport like basketball or soccer, get shoes that match your activity.
Every foot is different. You may have wide or narrow feet, low arches, trouble areas, or flat feet. Even in adults, foot size can change, so get fitted every year. Also, you will need to replace shoes when they start to feel uncomfortable or the soles look worn.
Your shoe salesperson can help size and fit you for the right athletic shoes. Many stores will allow you to return shoes if you find they do not work for you.
When Exercising Outside
If it is cold, dress in layers. Wear a fitted layer that wicks sweat away. Add a warmer layer, like a fleece jacket, on top. Wear gloves, a hat, and ear coverings if you need them. Take off the layers as you warm up. If you will be out running or walking, you may want to add a backpack. Then you can take off layers as you heat up, as well as carry a water bottle.
In the rain or wind, wear an outer layer that protects you, like a windbreaker or nylon shell. Look for the words "waterproof" or "water-resistant" on the label. Ideally, this layer should also be breathable.
In the hot sun, wear light-colored clothing that dries fast. You can also buy clothing made to block out the harmful rays of the sun. These clothes come with a sun protection factor (SPF) label.
When exercising in the evening or early morning, make sure your clothing has reflective parts so drivers can see you. You can also wear a reflective belt or vest.
Protect yourself from Lyme disease if you exercise in wooded areas. Wear long sleeves and pants and tuck your pants into your socks. You can also use an insect repellant containing DEET or permethrin.
Fitness - exercise clothing
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Divine J, Dailey S, Betz BE. Exercise in the heat and heat illness. In: Madden CC, Putukian M, McCarty EC, Young CC, eds. Netter's Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 21.
Riddick DA, Riddick DH, Jorge M. Footwear: foundation for lower extremity orthoses. In: Chui KK, Jorge M, Yen S-C, Lusardi MM, eds. Orthotics and Prosthetics in Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 7.
Skin Cancer Foundation. Sun-protective clothing. www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sun-protective-clothing/. Reviewed June 2019. Accessed December 1, 2022.
Review Date 8/15/2022
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.