What Should I Wear to the Gym?

Answering all the questions you are too afraid to ask about dress code and function!

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

If you are venturing into the gym for the first time, or the first time in a long time, worrying about what to wear might seem silly, but it’s a valid question.

With social media saturated with thin models in coordinated outfits, it can be hard to feel like you fit in with your shorts and t-shirt.

Not to worry, I’m here to break it down for you. Function, support, fashion, and some of my favorites that will not break the bank!

Some Tips

Check the dress code. If you want to avoid the embarrassment of being called out on your outfit, check your gym’s dress code before you go. Some gyms require things like shoes at all times, no open-toed shoes, covering your midriff, no offensive language, etc.

Ask yourself what you feel good wearing. If you feel more comfortable in t-shirt rather than a tank top, wear a t-shirt. If you like pants instead of shorts, wear the pants. The less time you spent pulling and tugging at your clothes, the better your time will be spent.

Vary your wardrobe. Have a few different outfit choices that you can mix and match so that you aren’t constantly doing laundry. Take seasonal changes into account as well.

Fabric matters. Cotton may be the fabric of our lives, but it is not the fabric of our fitness (this also applies to undergarments). Nylon and polyester are better choices.


I’m putting shoes first because they are so important! Working out in the wrong shoes can impact performance and lead to injury. If you are going to spend more money on one thing, make it shoes.

Most important thing: running shoes have no place in the gym unless you are on a treadmill. Running shoes are not recommended for lifting or multi-directional movement. They are really good at one movement: running.

If you are lifting, you want flat and sturdy shoes. Running shoes have a lot of cushion throughout the whole footbed, but especially the heel. This can make it difficult to balance for single-leg movements like lunges, single-leg deadlifts, and step-ups. This padding can also make proper gripping through your feet pretty impossible for squats and deadlifts. If that isn’t enough, any type of lateral movement can easily result in a rolled ankle with running shoes.

Minimalist or “barefoot” shoes can also be a good option for lifting.

My favorites:

No Bull® Trainers: $129. Link here.

Reebok® Nanos: $70-$129. Link here.

Vibram® Furoshiki Barefoot Shoes: $110. Link here.


You have a few options here. Obviously leggings are the most popular choice and for good reason. Leggings stay put, cover your whole leg, eliminate chafing, and are easy to find the right fit no matter what you body type. Personally, I’m a fan.

For some people, shorts are preferred. Before you wear shorts to the gym, do some basic moves and ensure all your lady bits stay covered during squatting, using the adduction/abduction machine, reverse crunches, lunging, biking, using the elliptical, etc.

If your shorts move around, add a compressive layer under looser shorts. This entails you don’t have a wardrobe malfunction and they help wick away sweat.

Others like looser athletic style pants. Any of these options are fine.

Bottoms to avoid: baggy sweatpants, pajama pants, jeans, jean shorts, too short shorts, see-through leggings, athletic pants that don’t stay up when you move, etc.

My favorites:

TSLA® Leggings from Amazon. I have four pairs of these leggings and I love them! They come in a ton of color options and don’t break the bank at only $19.98. (Link here.)

Fabletics® High-waisted Powerhold Leggings. These leggings have the right amount of compression and really stay put (even when running). The only downside: no pockets. Retail price: $69.95. (Link here.)

Yogalicious® High-Waisted Leggings. Weird name aside, these leggings are super comfortable and have the all important pockets. Amazon price: $24.99.(Link here.)

90 Degree by Reflex® Leggings. I have one pair of these and really like them. I do find they are serious about “high rise” and as someone with a short torso, these act like a full corset. Amazon price: $24.99. (Link here.)

Under Armour® Women’s HeatGear Armour Bike Shorts: these are a fantastic addition to your summer wardrobe to wear under looser shorts for biking and running. Under Armour price: $29.99. (Link here.)


Because gym temperatures and seasons may vary, having a few different options for tops can be nice.

When running outside or lifting weights, I prefer tank tops. It is easier to move my arms without sleeves and I don’t get weird tan lines.

If you prefer a long-sleeved t-shirt or regular t-shirt, those are completely fine options as well.

Aim for shirts or tanks that are a little looser around the hips and stomach. If they are too tight, they will ride up as you move and you will end up in a battle for the entirety of your workout.

My Favorites:

Three-pack athletic racerback tanks: $19.99. Link to purchase here.

Under Armour® tanks (here is one that is similar to one I have): $24.99.

Under Armour® 1/2 zip long sleeve: (similar to one I have): $44.99. Link here.

Others I found on Amazon:

Hanes® Sport Long-Sleeve Tee: $8-$21

Under Armour® Short sleeve tee: $19.99


Alright ladies, let’s chat about bras. They are super important, especially for high-impact workouts such as running, using the elliptical, or circuit training with jumping.

A few tips:

  • Adjustable straps are a huge plus. If the rib strap is adjustable too, that’s even better.
  • You want compression, but not too much compression.
  • Using padding is up to you. Most sports bras come with removable pads. These ensure some modesty in cooler temps, but are not a necessity. (Everyone has nipples. This isn’t breaking news.)
  • Before buying a bra online, actually take your measurements to ensure the best fit possible and read the reviews.
  • If you are well-endowed, you will most likely prefer moderate to high impact for everything.
  • Always read the washing instructions, but a good rule of thumb is to wash your bras in cold water and hang to dry.

My favorites:

Brooks® Rebound Racer: $50.00. Link here.

Fabletics® Ella High Impact: $49.95. Link here.

Gaiam Women’s Strappy Racerback Bra: $17.99. Link here. (This one has a nice high neckline to keep everything in place.)

(I’ve heard great things about SheFit® and feel comfortable recommending them, due to the adjustable straps and rib strap. Link here. $65-$78.)


Yep, we are going there!

So first things first. Some people choose not to wear underwear with leggings, some wear thongs, and some wear regular underwear. This is a preference thing and there is no right or wrong answer.

Going commando or wearing a thong ensures not panty lines. Wearing any type of regular underwear will give you a panty line in tight leggings. That’s just the way it is, gals. Some people care and some people don’t.

Others want to wear underwear and don’t want to deal with panty lines, so they don’t wear leggings and opt instead for a compressive layer/ looser top layer combo or just looser shorts or pants.

Again, there are no right answers and I can tell you from spending many hours in a gym that outfits vary greatly.

So if you choose to wear underwear, the thinner the fabric, the less it will show. You also want to avoid cotton like the plague (too soon?).

Repeat after me: moisture-wicking.

My Favorites:

New Balance Mesh Thong: 3-pack, $14.98. Link here.

New Balance Women’s Breathe Thong: 3-pack, $25.00. Link here.

Reebok Women’s Seamless Hipster Panties: 5-pack, $26.95. Link here.

New to the gym? Let me help!

If tackling a new exercise regime on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have experience with a wide array of clients.

I will coach you through an individualized plan to meet your goals and help you gain strength and confidence, while cutting through the confusion. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, motivation, and guidance to make lasting change.

In-person or online coaching available! Send me an email at jsfncoaching@gmail.com and let’s chat about your goals!

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