Group of women doing Pilates exercises.As I sit writing this blog, I am wearing sweatpants, a gray t-shirt and a sweater. All are pretty nice quality and in good shape. I feel professional. Considering I am a Pilates instructor, sweats or yoga pants are my pencil skirt and toe sox are my heels. But, does what we wear when we exercise really make a difference? I say yes. Now before you roll your eyes and say why should I pay $100 for workout pants unless they do the exercising for me? I will tell you, you don’t necessarily have to mortgage your home for great workout gear, but sometimes, it really is worth the price.

There is something to be said about looking the part. I used to take a really early Pilates class in New York and I would roll in there in a ratty t-shirt, crinkled up yoga pants which may or may not have had holes in them (they had holes). Sure I worked out fine, but I definitely didn’t ‘feel’ tall or accomplished afterward. In fact, most times I would go back to bed when I went home.  When I make an effort to dress the part when I work out, there is something about the psychology of it that makes me work a little bit harder and overall I feel better afterward.  I am speaking to men as well as women here.

Materials Matter: 100% Cotton doesn’t breathe. It just doesn’t. Once it is wet, it is heavy and it traps moisture and sticks to your skin like, well skin; but not in a good way.  I can see the difference if I wear cotton workout clothes to a cardio class versus these new ‘fangled ‘moisture-wicking’ fabrics. Yes, I still sweat. I sweat a lot, but I don’t get overheated and they are pretty dry in no time.  Why?  The fabric pulls moisture (or sweat) away from the skin, through the fabric to the outside of it.  Once your sweat is exposed to the air, it dries rather quickly.  Cotton also wears out much faster, traps more odors and loses its shape. There is really sophisticated technology behind all of this moisture wicking business-hence the higher price tag.  I don’t really understand the chemistry, but if it works, I am all about it and I don’t question the genius. If I am going to a gentle yoga class, I will do cotton, but if I think I am going to sweat with any significance, suit me up in that new stuff.

Quality Matters: You don’t have to go crazy buying the real expensive stuff. But you shouldn’t go cheap either. The saying you get what you pay for definitely applies here. I have purchased items from places like Old Navy and the fit just isn’t great. But that may just be me. Target and Sports Authority carry the Champion brand and I find their materials to be comparable to the higher priced brands.  Though you do have to watch the quality.  Try it on first and make sure the seams are even, zippers work, etc.  If it fits well, get it in a couple of colors.  If you do want to splurge-say you meet a weight loss goal or another workout goal for yourself-do it.  It’s a nice moral booster. Plus you can always find good deals on the sale racks at places like Lululemon (for both women and men) and Lucy (women only). Especially Lululemon as they turn their inventory over so frequently.  Check on-line as well as they often have items on sale that are still full price in the stores. And you don’t need a million and one things either. Think of one outfit for every time you workout during a 7-day period. Then you will do your laundry and be ready to go. If you don’t do laundry weekly, I can’t help you out. You can do the math on that one. If you end up running out of clothing, take some detergent in the shower with you and hand wash. This is what I do on vacation and it works perfectly.

Maintenance Matters: Yes, these fancy new materials do require a little extra maintenance or TLC if you will. I do wash everything in the washing machine on cold but air dry. However I did accidentally dry a Lululemon top on high and it came out the same size as it went in because the material is pre-shrunk. I wouldn’t recommend that though.

My two cents is that what you wear working out can make a difference both psychologically and physically.  As long as you invest wisely, you can look good and feel good without emptying your wallet.

–Jessica Kuiken

Jessica Kuiken is a Certified Pilates Instructor in Los Angeles

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