You go to the gym to look good out of the gym. Or at least, you did. What was once a private communion with your own pain has become a social space, where your efforts beneath a barbell are now the background to someone else’s mirror selfies. Which means one thing: it’s time to rethink that salt-stained band tee.
Looking good while standing in a puddle of your own sweat is no mean feat, but with these 16 tips, your wardrobe can at least do some of the heavy lifting for you.
KEEP THINGS MUTED
Sports brands have a predilection for nu rave colour palettes. But what looks good on the rail won’t necessarily do the same in your gym bag.
Take a lesson from your wardrobe by sticking to neutrals. If all your kit is white, black or grey, it all matches. Which is one less excuse not to hit the weights.
If your gym membership is mothballed, the darker you should steer. “Black is your friend,” says style and fitness writer Matt Hambly. “It hides sweat patches and looks good on anyone: slimming if you’re not yet in the shape you want to be; flattering if you are.”
DON’T LOOK IN THE MIRRORS
Gym mirrors are counterintuitive. Ostensibly there to help you check your form (and, yes, your guns), they’re actually bad for your performance. Canadian research found watching yourself exercise has a negative impact on body image, even if you’re confident in how you look; and a similar US study found using a mirror while squatting distorts your perception of body position, which wrecks your form.
“Too much checking yourself out also cuts into valuable training time,” adds Dylan Jones, a personal trainer and founder of P4 Body. “There are mirrors in the changing rooms too, you know.”
Russian lifters used to train blindfolds to hone their proprioception – the body’s sense of where it is in space. So make like the strongmen: if you want to monitor your form, use video. If you want to monitor your other ‘form’, wait until later.
GET THE RIGHT SHOES
Your running shoes are great, but only for precisely that. Cushioned trainers compress when you load up, which puts you off balance and means you can’t generate as much power.
“For weightlifting and any strength work, you need a flat, stable base,” says Hambly. “Your best bet is to take them off altogether. Just wear socks, for god’s sake.”
If your gym bans bare feet – and frankly, that’s no bad thing – you need training shoes with firm soles. Converse has long been the weightlifter’s go-to, but the rise of Crossfit has popularised a new, hybrid trainer, with a flat sole for heavy metal but which also offers support when you’re running.
THROW ON & GO GET ‘EM
In recent years, sweats have sprinted off the treadmill and into the wardrobes of every well-dressed adult. But that’s not to say they don’t still belong inside the iron paradise.
When it’s cold as balls outside, having a crew neck jumper or throw-on-and-go hoodie to hand can be all that separates you, the snooze button, and, ergo, your goals.
Pick a style in a neutral color that will wash well (particularly if you plan on showering at home or in the office) and looks just as good in the coffee shop as it does in the weights room, so you’ll never have to worry about being caught short after a session again.
FORM IS EVERYTHING
The only person who appreciates you lifting more is your chiropractor. Save your money for stocking up on new kit by learning when you’ve bitten off more than you can bench.
“You might have stacked the bench press bar with all the weight in the gym, but lifting your hips until they’re almost touching the ceiling means it’s too heavy for you,” says Jones.
If your form’s off, lighten the load. Lifting less weight correctly doesn’t just make it look like you know what you’re doing, it also means bigger gains. “Get your back flat on the bench and you’ll get much more chest activation. Then one day, you’ll be able to lift that weight properly.”
BUILD A HEAVY LIFTING WASH BAG
The scourge of modern-day living is that we barely have enough time for a full workout, let alone a proper post-squat shower routine.
Just as combination exercises are great time-savers, dual-action grooming products can help avoid logging extra hours in the gym.
A 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, plus a face cream that soothes, hydrates, and mattifies all in one go, will save time and space, making room for a high-quality hand cream that repairs the damage done by heavy lifting. And don’t forget some styling product so you leave not looking half as destroyed as you feel.
CUT THE CORD
The body of research on workout music and the positive effect it has on #gains has swelled considerably in the last decade.
But this legal performance-enhancing drug can quickly have you testing positive for class A gym newb if your headphones get snagged on the squat rack or fall out after every burpee.
Cut the cord with a pair of wireless in- or over-ear headphones. Some of the best on the market even double up as fitness trackers or sync with coaching apps to give advice in real-time. So you can drop your PT and afford to splash out.
DON’T JUST SIT THERE
If you take a minute’s rest between each 40-second set, then most of your session is spent sat down.
Rather than using this time to admire your new trainers or workout pants, work smarter by training opposing muscles in supersets – pair a chest exercise with a back move, then perform one set of each before resting. You give your muscles time to recover and use your time more effectively.
If you struggle with mobility, switch to ‘active’ rest periods. Avoid the temptation to check Instagram and instead stretch out tight hamstrings or hip flexors. You’ll knock off that 20-minute flexibility session you always ignore – and look like a pro who doesn’t waste time.
KEEP FITS TRIM
It’s a lesson that applies equally to your in- and out-of-the-gym wardrobe: baggy fits don’t mask a baggy body. “Your clothes should fit right so that they don’t flap around when you’re running or get caught on dumbbells when you’re lifting,” says Hambly.
Loose kit also hides your limbs, so you can’t keep an eye on how deep you’re squatting, or if your knees are tracking over your toes properly.
“Wear leggings. It sounds weird, but nobody wants to see your pasty/knobbly/bruised legs,” says Hambly. “Plus, they’ll make you feel like you’re at UFC training camp.” No matter what shape you’re in, shorts over the top are not optional.
Stale sweat is an unpleasant cologne. But an unpleasant cologne is arguably far worse.
When your skin heats up, your fragrance intensifies before burning off. No one wants to work out in a cloud of oud and tobacco, so on gym days, switch to a sportier scent.
Citrus notes are fresh, light, and less overpowering, so you won’t fumigate the gym. And because your body stays warm for hours after your session (if you’ve worked hard enough, that is), you won’t fumigate the office, either.
WEAR ENOUGH CLOTHES
On the list of why people come to the gym, ‘to see your rippling muscles’ sits somewhere between ‘to catch a verruca in the shower’ and ‘to taste other people’s sweat’.
Slim-fit clothes leave little enough to the imagination, but still keep you decent. What we’re trying to say here is: you don’t need to get your nipples out.
“Racerback vests, tiny shorts and caps worn back to front are unacceptable,” says Hambly. “Unless you’re actively looking to become a gym bro.”
GET A BAG THAT WORKS IN & OUT OF THE GYM
It was kind of the gym to give you that free bag when you joined. But it’s time it went the same way as your enthusiasm for Pilates.
If you train at work, your kit bag needs to go with your office wear. If you’re a weekend warrior, it should match your off-duty looks. And never stow grimy gear in the same backpack you take to the office. “You want to avoid your gym bag smelling like a locker room,” says Mr Porter editor Tom Ford.
As with their apparel, sports brands’ accessories tend towards neon. Stick to muted shades instead, they go with everything in your wardrobe. You’ll also appreciate wipe-clean linings the weekend you leave your bag in the boot of your car.
WASH YOUR KIT, OFTEN
Anything that sits right next to your skin – underwear, shirts, socks – needs washing after every wear. That goes doubly if you’ve sweated through it.
“Invest in the best gym kit you can afford and treat it like you would regular clothes,” says Hambly. “Wash it after each use and don’t leave it in your bag all weekend.”
To help delay that gym bag funk, look for kit with silver sewn in – the metal’s antibacterial properties keep clothes fresher for longer. And for lunchtime sessions or days when you leave your bag at your desk, a spritz of Mr Black’s Fabric Refresh kills germs and their stench.
STAND TO ATTENTION
The quickest way to lose weight? Stand up. If you spend your day sat down, odds are your desk has wrecked your posture. Ditto if you work your chest harder than your back or glutes.
Focus on standing upright, with your shoulder blades pushed together and chest up. Or try methods such as pretending there’s a string attached to the crown of your head pulling you straight up toward the ceiling.
You’ll lose your belly, add inches to your upper body and look, well, like someone who knows what they’re doing. The fact you’ll eradicate all that back pain is just a bonus.
MONITOR & PROGRESS
You have no idea how hard you work. And because pain sucks, odds are you overestimate your efforts. A fitness watch tracks your work for you, so you can’t lie. And so you can see when you need to switch things up.
If your regime doesn’t change, your body learns to do one thing very well. When the weights get too easy, or your run feels manageable, tweak: lift more, run faster, or shift to higher-intensity training.
Look for a monitor with GPS and, ideally, water resistance, says Ford, so you’ve got more flexibility with your training options. By monitoring your heart rate and calorie burn in real-time, you guarantee you’re working hard enough. And you’ll find out that 20 minutes on the cross-trainer doesn’t buy you that stuffed crust.
The guiding principles of looking killer with a kettlebell don’t end at what you’re wearing, they also cover how you’re seen to behave — and that includes putting said kettlebell back when you’re done.
Whether you’re a seasoned gym rat or think that a ‘glute’ is something people are allergic to, you absolutely have to learn the basics of gym etiquette.
By all means, if you want to get hammer-thrown out the door carry out your non-squat activities in the squat rack, or offer that guy over there your unsolicited advice. Heck, even be kind enough to let someone sit in your sweat rather than wipe down a machine. Or, you know, you could not be a total jerk.