Posted by Kat, February 2015
Buying exercise gear can be an overwhelming process. With labels carrying words like sweat-wicking, clima-cool, dri-fit, breathable and – as scary as it sounds – Lycra, it can be hard to know where to start! To help you cut through the hype and glitz of sports clothing and make practical choices, we've compiled a list of elements to look out for when you next hit the shops.
Natural vs synthetic
One of the best ways to pick exercise gear is through fabrics. Cotton retains moisture, so it's better to choose a fabric that encourages the sweat to move away from your body and evaporate.
Most exercise gear is made out of synthetic fibres, such as polyester, Lycra and spandex. Synthetic fabrics have developed to such an extent that they're no longer the polyester nightmares of the 1970s; high-tech breathable fabrics can be found in lightweight gym gear, windbreakers and raincoats. Look out for stretch fabrics which allow freedom of movement especially for yoga.
If you're looking for natural fibres, wool is very effective at wicking away moisture and retains warmth when wet. Finely woven wool is particularly good for exercising in winter as it is breathable and warm.
Close fitting stretch fabrics are the best choice for exercising, as they move with your body without falling open (if you've ever done downward facing dog in a yoga class while wearing a baggy top you'll know what I mean!). Also, make sure clothing is well ventilated, especially in the case of raincoats, jackets and underwear.
If you're running or doing a sport where your legs rub together, look for pants without inner seams to avoid getting rashes. Some men's pants will also include underwear built into the pant to prevent chafing. When trying on tight pants for activities such as yoga, make sure they're not transparent when you bend over!
Shoes and socks
Shoes are one of the most important purchases when exercising as they need to be appropriate for the mechanics of your feet and the type of activity you are doing. Besides, nobody wants the pain of a blister which can put you out of action for days! Talk to an experienced retailer to get expert advice, or if you have specific foot problems, consult a podiatrist. Certain brands are targeted to wide or narrow feet, so if you haven't had your feet measured for a while, get a measurement done. It's also good to try on shoes at the end of the day when your feet are largest. Take a pair of socks that you would normally wear when exercising to try the shoes on.
If you're doing any sport that applies a lot of pressure to your feet, such as running or hiking, it's worth investing in a solid pair of socks. Many include additional padding in blister-prone areas, such as the toes and heels. Look for socks which include ribbing across the arch, that way they won't slide in your shoes.
If you're doing outdoor sports in the sun, try looking for SunSmart gear, such as shirts with a collar and long sleeves and sunglasses. Polo shirts are great for team sports. Wear a broad-brimmed hat; hats specifically for exercise often have mesh ventilation and are made from synthetic fabrics. And don't forget to wear sunscreen!
You should consider wearing hi-vis gear if you do any sports at night near roads, such as cycling or running. Instead of wearing a bulky hi-vis vest, keep an eye out for built in reflective strips, hi-vis straps and wearable lights.
Finally, always remember that you can exercise in almost anything – don't let your lack of fancy gym gear become an excuse for not exercising.
Kat Clay is a fabric fanatic who makes her own clothes, once worked in sports retail and loves being active outdoors.