How to build the perfect capsule workout wardrobe
Get your gym kit right, and you’ll want to wear it everywhere you go
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Whether you’re a seasoned gym-goer itching for sports centres to reopen or a newbie who picked up a dumbbell for the first time during lockdown, there are always new terms and phrases to learn in the workout world. Exercise trends evolve, new ways to work out emerge, and it can be hard to keep up. So whilst you probably already know a plank from a push-up, more niche terminology, like workout garments and fabrics, can still elude even the most dedicated athletes.
It might not seem as important as nailing your deadlift form or smashing your fastest 10K, but getting to grips with some of the most popular exercise gear could actually improve your performance as well as your appearance. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the most common workout fashion terms you need to know when building your post-lockdown workout wardrobe.
A look that transcends the gym, brunch, or casual weekends running errands, athleisure has gained popularity in both men and women’s fashion as an easy and effortlessly way to look cool whilst feeling comfortable. Athleisure pieces tend to be more elevated and slim-fitting than your typical performance-focused sportswear. Turn to brands like Nike, Casablanca, and Y-3 for sport-inspired styles that you can wear for any casual occasion.
Bamboo, a premium and environmentally friendly alternative to polyester, is derived from plants and is naturally sweat-wicking. It’s soft and cool, helping to regulate body temperature without soaking in sweaty odours. Bamboo is anti-static and is said to be UPF 50+, meaning it blocks around 98% of the sun's UV rays from your skin.
Base layers are usually made from fabrics like polyester, polypropylene, or elastane and are worn next to the skin to moderate body temperature and wick away sweat. They tend to be worn for outdoor sports rather than in the gym, usually in the form of a t-shirt, long-sleeved top, or leggings.
Compression sportswear is designed to enhance performance or recovery speed. It’s form-fitting and usually made from spandex fabrics that can keep you either cool or warm, and are almost always sweat-wicking and lightweight. Wearing compressions shorts like cycling shorts under your usual running gear is proven to reduce heart rate and lactic acid build-up.
GORE-TEX is technically not a fabric in its own right, but a branded synthetic membrane that covers other fabrics to make them waterproof and windproof without losing breathability. It’s popular in hiking and outdoor gear as it protects the wearer from the elements and retains heat. GORE-TEX is the perfect fabric for running or cycling in winter, as it stays dry from sweat, but feels warm in harsh weather.
Lycra is a brand name for elastane or spandex. You’ll hear all three terms used in the world of workout style, but it’s all the same thing: a highly elasticated synthetic material that can stretch to five to eight times its original size. It’s highly breathable and moisture-wicking, making it a popular choice for workout wear that needs to be especially form-fitting and moveable, like leggings, cycling shorts, and hiking gear.
Sportswear mesh is often used as a lining to jackets and shorts. It’s smooth, stretchy, and increases air-flow through holes which can come in various sizes. Avoid net-style meshes with tiny holes as they aren’t breathable, and will retain heat and moisture. Instead, Airtex mesh, which is used in basketball jerseys, is a good option for loose-fitting clothing or base layers.
Nylon, the first commercially viable synthetic fiber, is stretchy, quick-drying, and breathable. It’s sweat-wicking and allows cool air to reach the skin, which is ideal for high-intensity training. Plus it’s mildew-resistant so you don’t have to worry about it growing fusty in your gym bag all day.
Polyester is a powerhouse workout fabric. Essentially made from plastic, it’s durable, anti-creasing, lightweight, breathable, and doesn’t absorb moisture. In short, it ticks all the boxes as the perfect sweat-wicking workout fabric. It’s also known for protecting the skin against UV rays as it is tightly woven. The only drawback is that, like most synthetic materials, polyester can retain bacteria and become smelly, so you’ll need to wash it after every wear.
Polypropylene is a fabric with a similar synthetic make-up to polyester. It is moisture-wicking, quick-drying, stretchy, and known for its thermal properties, making it a popular choice for cold-weather clothing. Like polyester, polypropylene is made from plastic but is totally water-resistant, forcing moisture to pass through its fibers to evaporate. It’s a great base layer for running because even when the outside is wet with sweat, the side touching your skin will still feel dry.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but whilst you’ll see people in the gym wearing anything from Converse to Nike Jordans on their feet, when it comes to running and impact sports you’ll want to take a little more care. Look for shoes with ankle and sole support and don’t run in any shoes that favour fashion over function. Need some inspiration? Our stylist Freddie Kemp reviewed his top three running shoes here.
You probably don’t need us to tell you what sweatpants are – they’re the comfy lockdown essential that you’ve either grown to love or hate over the past few months. Whilst they might seem like a sporty staple, sweatpants are better suited to the athleisure trend than the athletics track. They’re usually made from thick jersey fabric, which makes them super cosy for lounging around, but often too heavy, un-streamlined, and sweat-absorbing for proper workouts, although some people do favour them for more sedentary exercise like weight training.
Sweat-wicking fabrics pull in moisture from your skin to evaporate, keeping your body dry and cool even during an intense workout. Sweat-wicking fabrics need to be breathable and temperature-regulating but not moisture-absorbing, which will trap sweat so you can’t feel it, but will remain soaked into the fabric. For this reason, synthetic fibres such as polyester or nylon are usually the best options for sweat-wicking exercise gear, as they are water-resistant and allow moisture to move through them to be evaporated rather than absorbed.
TENCEL, a portmanteau of tenacity and cellulose, is made from sustainably-sourced wood pulp, similar to bamboo. It’s biodegradable and contains tiny hairs that offer sweat-wicking properties and a luxurious texture. TENCEL has the same high-performance qualities as plastic-based fabrics like polyester so it’s super durable, breathable, and soft.
The real OG of workout trousers, track pants are a versatile classic. Wear them with your favourite tee or hoodie for a cool off-duty look, or pair with a sporty, sweat-wicking tee if you’re hitting the gym. Track pants are usually made from technical fabrics that offer more sweat-wicking and breathable properties than sweatpants, which is why we think they should claim a place in your capsule workout wardrobe.
Words: Ella White
Get your gym kit right, and you’ll want to wear it everywhere you go
Stylist and avid runner Freddie Kemp breaks down three of his favourite running shoe styles.