February 8, 2012
It's certainly true that clothes don't make the workout, but having the right apparel can definitely help enhance your exercise experience.
There is no shortage of fitness apparel options — and prices — out there, so one of the most common questions I receive is, "what's worth saving on, and what's worth splurging on?"
I have worn and broken a sweat in a wide range of apparel as a product tester and during my years of working as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer and yoga teacher, so I've been able to identify which items should be investments and which don't have to break the bank. Here are my tips.
From how they look to how they feel, quality athletic pants — whether cropped or full-length — are a staple in any fitness wardrobe. Seek out versatile pants that can be used in any workout — Pilates, rock climbing or running — by looking for breathable fabric that wicks away moisture and reduces chafing, allowing you to work up a sweat comfortably.
Over the years, I have found that high quality athletic pants look great, are very figure flattering, and more importantly, are dramatically better able to withstand numerous, repeated trips through the wash — all while retaining their color and integrity, especially through the waistband. (There's nothing worse than pants that sag while you're trying to hold your favorite yoga pose.) Two of my top choices are the Vivi Capri by prAna and the Revelation Pant by Athleta.
All shoes are not created equal! While there are tons of options out there, selecting the right athletic shoes boils down to deciding what type you need based on your chosen activity and unique foot type. For example, while running shoes are great for running, since they don't offer much lateral support, they may not be ideal for athletic pursuits that involve a lot of side-to-side movements like tennis.
When it comes to your feet, individuals with low-arched feet (also called "flat" feet), will want to seek out shoes that provide greater heel control and support in the mid-foot region. Individuals with higher arches tend to need shoes with more cushioning for greater shock absorption. Having the right shoes can help prevent pain, reduce the risk of injury and also help ensure you're getting the most out of every step you take.
Take the guesswork out of choosing sneakers and have your gait analyzed! I promise it's not as scary as it may sound. Many stores, like Road Runner Sports, offer free gait analyses to help determine the right shoe for you. The results of my analysis found that stability shoes work best for me, so my sneaker of choice is the ASICS GT-2150.
Just like pants, shorts tend to be another staple. So look for shorts that are lightweight, comfortable and durable. The good news is that a great quality pair of shorts doesn't have to break the bank! You can find cost-effective options that incorporate some additional comfort features — built-in briefs, durable drawstrings and quick-drying materials.
I love to run outdoors, so I specifically seek out shorts with features like small, hidden zippered pockets that are perfect for storing a car key or house key while you're out on a long hike or run. Many companies, like Adidas and Nike, carefully construct their shorts to include these functional features while also providing maximum comfort and coverage for any kind of movement — all at a very reasonable price. I'm personally partial to the Tempo Track Shorts from Nike.
When it comes to fitness apparel for women, sports bras are extremely important! Sports bras are designed to minimize breast discomfort during exercise. They also reduce the risk of breast sagging, sometimes caused by damage to the ligaments, tissue and other supporting structures. With that being said, finding the right fit, quality of design and construction are very important.
For larger-busted women, opt for an encapsulation style bra (like the one pictured above) because the heavy-duty construction and molded cup design tend to provide more support. One of my top picks is the Ta Ta Tamer II from lululemon athletica because it's supportive and offers great shaping.
Since you'll have the support of a sports bra underneath, the main factor to keep in mind when buying short- and long-sleeve shirts is comfort — both in terms of material and overall fit. Give special consideration to the armpits where chafing tends to occur. New Balance, Under Armour, Reebok, and Champion are good places to look.
I have found some reasonably priced t-shirts and long sleeve shirts that are comfortable, breathable and durable. A few of my favorites are the Women's UA Tech™ Team Long Sleeve from Under Armour and the Heathered Short Sleeve from New Balance.
Much like sports bras, if you're opting for a tank top with a built-in bra (meaning you won't be wearing a sports bra underneath), support is key. So search for tops that include either a full-shelf or built-in bra (removable cups are always a plus!) that provide comfortable support and added contour. It's important to also keep fabric in mind since the tank top will be in direct contact with your skin. If you normally work up a good sweat, seek out fabric — synthetic or polyester material — that helps wick moisture to keep you dry and comfortable.
The two important qualities I look for are the straps' comfort, support, and material quality for breathability and overall stretch. I personally like the Morning Glory Tank by Patagonia as well as the Scoop Neck Tank from lululemon athletica. I have found that high quality tank tops tend to keep their shape and retain their vibbrant colors longer.
A good quality jacket is so important for your outdoor athletic endeavors. Aside from overall fit and comfort, it's important to consider the kind of material you will need based on your chosen activity and the time of year. For example, the kind of jacket you may wear on a cool fall morning bike ride will likely differ from the type of jacket you'll wear when running outside during a winter snowfall. To keep yourself dry against the elements — rain, wind and snow — opt for a jacket that is lightweight and wate-repellent. This will then allow you to add layers underneath if exercising in colder temperatures.
You can find some great, affordable jackets at major sporting goods retailers like Sports Authority, and even more general retail stores like Target! This makes the process of gearing up for the outdoors super convenient. The C9 by Champion Women's Hooded Soft-Shell Outerwear Jacket and the Sequence Jacket by New Balance are two examples of quality, reasonably-priced jackets.
Tips for being a savvy, yet thrifty shopper
- Search for sales: Many companies, such as prAna, offer amazing sales on quality apparel several times throughout the year. Most manufacturers will deeply discount last season's apparel to make room for next season's, so there's opportunity to score some top-of-the-line gear at a fraction of the cost.
- Browse outlet stores: Want great apparel at a reduced cost? Search for outlet stores in your area, or when you're out of town on your next vacation! For several years, I lived about three miles from a Nike outlet, so needless to say, the majority of my fitness apparel at the time came from there. Not only can you get the same clothes you see online for less, outlet stores allow you to try on clothes. And you can also take advantage of knowledgeable staff who can help you sort through the options.
- Keep an eye out: Sometimes you may stumble on quality, affordable fitness apparel when you least expect it! Stores like Target, Old Navy, Kohl's, and even Costco all now carry fitness apparel.
Remember that at the end of the day, having fun and being active it what it's all about, but no one said you couldn't look good while doing so. Happy shopping!
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »