Knowing what to wear to the gym can help new gym-goers have a more productive, enjoyable experience…

So you’ve decided enough is enough; you’re not getting any fitter lounging on the sofa. You’re not getting any leaner with your occasional Couch to 5K efforts. And you’re not getting any stronger with sporadic squats and dumbbell curls at home. It’s time to head to that most intimidating of paces: the gym. But you’ve put it off so long because you don’t even know what to wear to the gym or what the best workout clothes are.

Don’t stress, though, because our handy guide on what to wear to the gym is here to help. Once you’ve got your head around what kind of kit you’ll need for the type of workouts you’ll likely be doing, there’ll be nothing stopping you getting regular gym sessions in – and getting fitter, leaner and stronger as a result.

And once you try your first session, you’ll realise gyms aren’t really intimidating places at all. They are full of new starters like you, with similar goals and similar concerns. And gyms tend to foster a pretty friendly, welcoming culture. So read on to discover what to wear to the gym and you’ll feel confident and well kitted out for your first sessions.

Gym kit to consider

You may have an old pair of trainers lying around, as well as beach shorts and replica football shirt, and think that’ll do for the gym. But for an enjoyable and comfortable gym experience you need to consider functional clothing. That is, kit designed for gym work.

It’s likely your old trainers were made with style over substance in mind. Or they’re old running shoes that are way past their best. Either way, they won’t have the stability of flexibility required for strength work or the quick, lateral movements required for a HIIT workout.

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Jordan Shelley, head coach at WIT-Fitness, says: “There are three main things I consider when buying gym clothing: function, feel and fit. My main priority is function. It’s so important to find clothes that are designed specifically for your training – these can be the crucial margins for improving your performance.”

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Lily Rice, founder of The Sportswear Designer, adds: “First and foremost, wear what you’re comfortable in. There’s no need to overhaul your current kit until you’re ready. Most regular gym goers will wear a simple combo of shorts and a T-shirt or vest. Stick to more muted colours and steer away from white which will show up all the sweat patches and can easily get marked from the machines.”

An overhead view of gym kit: what to wear at the gym

Likewise your beach shorts won’t have the fit and flexibility for a wide range of movement required for any gym-based sessions. They won’t be made of a breathable fabric either, so you’ll sweat more and they’ll get heavier and more uncomfortable. They’ll also quickly start to chafe.

The same goes for non-exercise-specific tops and T-shirts. What you wear on your upper torso needs to flex or stretch with your movement, not be overly restrictive, allow air flow and be quick drying. You’ll want reliable coverage, too, particularly if your workout involves lots of reaching or stretching.

Best fit for gym clothes

“Not only is the fit of your gym clothes important to how you move during workouts, but it’s also a central to your gym style, which is often overlooked. Look good, feel good, train well,” says Jordan.

Reggie Fassa, crowned the UK’s Fittest Man in 2022, adds: “If you’re running, it’s probably best to have something a bit lighter and potentially tighter so you’re carrying less weight and are more aerodynamic. However, you also don’t want anything too tight around the leg area that can potentially cause chafing whilst running or during longer periods on an assault or C2 bike.”

A man on a treadmill tightening his shoes

Personal trainer and physiotherapist Jonathan Cooke gives the lowdown on what to wear to the gym whether your sessions are based on strength training, cardio, HIIT or mobility exercises…

What to wear to the gym for strength training

For strength training workouts, I like cotton T-shirts with some elastane for stretch. However, if you think you’ll sweat more, I recommend tops made of polyester which absorb moisture and breathe. For bottoms, I recommend cotton and polyester joggers or shorts.

Go for footwear that’s flexible and offers some degree of stretch, as exercises like squats or lunges require more dynamic movement. Also, I’d suggest choosing shoes where the midsole has some cushion or bounce for added comfort and a rubber outsole to provide support for more athletic movements. Some cross-training or a pair of the best running shoes work fine, but should be flexible enough to allow stretch for various exercises.

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What to wear to the gym for cardio training

For cardio workouts. I’d say go for clothing that’s breathable, absorbs moisture well, and has elastic components to accommodate stretch. For men, this could be polyester T-shirts, tank tops or sleeveless shirts, with polyester shorts that have some nylon or elastane for stretch.

For footwear, wear trainers that are lightweight and have foam cushioning to absorb ground forces. Running shoes composed of breathable mesh are are a great choice as they allow stretch and conform to different foot shapes.

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What to wear to the gym for mobility training

For mobility work, you want loose-fitting clothing like regular cotton or polyester T-shirts and shorts to accommodate different mobility positions and often more extreme end ranges for joints. I would stay away from cotton joggers or sweatpants as they can feel heavy and may restrict range of movement with certain lower-body mobility exercises.

For footwear, trainers that are light with little to no curve in the sole work well as they allow grip on the floor, which is necessary for certain mobility exercises.

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What to wear to the gym for HIIT

For HIIT training, new gym-goers should again wear clothing that’s breathable, capable of absorbing moisture, has stretch to accommodate different body positions, and feels light and comfortable. Pure cotton is generally a ‘no’ as it doesn’t breath, stretch or absorb moisture well.

Instead, I’d advise either loose or more form-fitting tops (T-shirts, tank tops, vest tops) made with polyester and nylon or elastane for stretch and mobility. Also, slightly looser shorts made of polyester or nylon would work best compared to more form-fitting bottoms that can stick to the body with sweat.

For footwear, choose a shoe that’s lightweight and breathable, like a mesh material. Also, I like a midsole that has foam or cushion material that can responds to the dynamic movements in a HIIT workout. Trainers with rubber outsoles are also great for providing support with lateral movements.