What to Wear in the Gym: Female

Woman Wearing Gym Clothing


In 2019,  the UK sportswear market is expected to exceed $8 billion.  

What’s behind much of this growth?

Women’s gym wear.

When it comes to activewear, women have never had it so good.  But a wider range and a bigger selection can make choosing what to wear difficult.  So we thought we’d answer the question: what do you wear in the gym when you’re female?

January is the most popular time to join a gym.   After the gluttony of Christmas and New Year, it’s hardly surprising but whilst a gym membership might be affordable, it’s rarely cheap.  Especially, if you’ve signed up to one with additional health and wellness facilities.

The truth is that 30% of a gym’s income comes from the people who sign up and then stop going.  Your gym LOVES these people.  Why wouldn’t they?  Imagine getting paid for a service that you’re not having to provide.  Anyone who uses the gym regularly will know that it’s usually busier in January and February with numbers inevitably tailing off within the first few weeks of a new year.

We’re not trying to put you off joining a gym. 

Chances are that if you’ve fallen upon this post, then you’re already signed up and raring to go.  Good for you. Making a commitment to improving your own health through exercise is a good thing; it’s a very good thing, in fact.

The point we’re trying to make is that it’s easy to think you have to spend a fortune on gym wear. You’re already going to be paying out for membership and possibly even a joining fee so it’s probably best to be sensible when kitting yourself out until you become a regular gym-user.  We don’t recommend going cheap though when picking out your outfit.  There’s enough affordable women’s activewear available to make smart, safe and fashionable clothing choices without breaking the bank.

One of the biggest things to realise is that gym wear is also there to help protect you from injury.  It can help you perform better, reduce muscle pain and even help reduce sweating, too. Don’t underestimate comfort, either.  You’ll find it difficult to concentrate if a strap is too tight or if a hem begins to chafe. If you’re wearing cotton and it’s soaking wet with sweat, then you’ll find it far tougher to give your best performance. 

And let’s not pretend that we don’t want to look good when we worth out.  There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s been confirmed by science: enclothed cognition is how clothing can have a psychological impact on performance.

What Should Women Wear in the Gym?


Woman in Pink sports bra with towel around her neck


Wear a Sports Bra in the Gym

It’s so important to have a good sports bra and one that’s suited to the intensity of exercise that you’ll be doing.  Don’t think that they’re all made equally, they’re not. It’s no good wearing one designed for yoga if you’re planning on running or doing aerobics.  

According to the website, Run and Become, The breast is connected to the body only by skin and ligaments and during running moves ‘independantly’ to the rest of you. Exercising without a sports bra isn’t just uncomfortable but it can also lead to soreness and permanent sagging.  


Runners World goes as far as to say that the Sports Bra is the greatest invention in running EVER.  High praise indeed and (if you’re a woman) something that’s hard to disagree with.

Runners’ Need offer a fab guide to picking out the right sports bra but there are a few pointers worth remembering:

Decide what level of impact you’re going to be exercising at low, medium or high intensity, and then pick the bra from there.

A good sports bra will be tighter than a regular bra but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable or difficult to breathe.  

It should last around 30 to 40 washing cycles.  Once it starts looking a little baggy or worn it’s time to replace it.

When you’re trying one on be sure to move around in it a little bit to see how it fits.  


Woman in Pink Sweat-Wicking Gym Shirt 

Ditch Cotton During Your Workout

During exercise, you’re going to sweat.  It might not feel all that pleasant but sweating is one of the body’s most important functions during exercise; it stops our temperature rising to dangerous levels. You might be tempted to wear cotton thinking that as it’s a natural fabric it’ll help keep you cool, but it’s rarely a good option.  Cotton absorbs sweat but the moisture doesn’t go anywhere. It stays wet in the fabric and makes for an uncomfortable and potentially smelly session. If you suffer from sensitive skin, then wearing cotton can be a real irritant.

You should look for sportswear that wicks moisture away.  Not sure what that means? The How Stuff Works website has a short article explaining the process but it’s something ultimately defined as:

“Just like a candle draws wax up the wick to the flame, wicking fabric pulls moisture from the body to the exterior of the shirt where it can evaporate more easily.”

Moisture isn’t absorbed into the fabric like it is with cotton.  This makes it easier for it to evaporate off the fabric and body keeping you dry and comfortable. Wicking is usually a polyester blend material.  Brands also have specific labels for their wicking products: Nike calls it Dri-Fit, for example.  Under Armor calls it Heat Gear.  You can usually tell wicking fabric by touch but manufacturers will almost always point it out on the label as it’s a key selling point.


Use Sweat Proof Headphone Covers

While we’re on the subject of sweat and exercise it’s important to protect your headphones during a workout, too.  Sweat is corrosive and once it gets into the cushions it’s game over. Not fun if you’re wearing a pair of premium brand cans like the BoseQuite Comfort 35 II’s or Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones.  The same moisture-wicking fabric that will help keep you cool during your workout can help keep your headphones dry, too.  EarHugz are sweat-proof headphone covers that use Ultra-Stretch, MAX-DRI™ + Machine Washable fabric. They come in a range of designs and will look awesome paired with your new gym wear.

Woman Wearing Leotard in Gym 

Tight or Loose Fitting Clothing in the Gym?

What you choose to wear on the top and bottom of your body will depend on your own personal comfort and confidence.  Not all women are happy going out in shorts and a tank top. Others won’t like the restriction of trousers or leggings.

If you’re working with a personal trainer or if you’re doing exercises that require form correction by a teacher, then something more form-fitting is best.  They can’t help you if they can’t see what’s going on under baggy or loose clothing. If you’re using machines in the gym, then you’ll want clothing that isn’t too oversized because it can become trapped or caught.  

Advertisers will tell you different outfits are necessary for different exercises and sports but that’s not always true and that advice should be taken with a pinch of salt. Remember the statistic that we opened this post with? The UK sportswear market is expected to exceed $8 billion.  

So yeah, be mindful of when you’re being targeted as an activewear consumer. Sports bras and trainers are two of the obvious exceptions to this.

One piece of advice that we’d give is that you test run whatever you’re wearing BEFORE you hit the gym.  Leggings, in particular, can be problematic if you’re doing squats, pilates or yoga. Bending down can make even a thick fabric suddenly go sheer.  Again, it’s not about spending a lot of money BUT a quality pair of leggings or tights will have thicker material on the backside.  Countless women have found — to their horror —  that they’ve ended up mooning an entire gym floor or class.


Woman wearing Nike trainers on wooden gym floor

Wear Decent Training Shoes

A good pair of trainers or sneakers is so important if you’re running or doing cardio. Trainers aren’t just a way of covering your feet but they can help support your ankles, knees and soles during high impact exercise.  

If you’re planning on running regularly, then it’s worth logging your mileage with a sports app. You should look to replace your trainers somewhere between 300 and 500 miles.

Life Hacker has a pretty good guide on the different types of training shoe you’ll need for different types of sport.  


Going to the gym or signing up to an exercise class can feel like a huge step. It can be pretty intimidating for some women, too, and figuring out what to wear can be a considerable source of stress.  

It’s worth doing your research.  Remembering, too, that whilst quality is important it doesn’t have to cost the earth.  The important thing is to exercise safely. Don’t feel like you need an entire sports wardrobe on day one.  Nail the important bit: the sports bra and the training shoes and the turning up and the actual exercise. Work everything else in around that.

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