Exercise clothes for men - what to wear to the gym?
January 8, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Exercise clothes for men: Please help a complete newbie feel comfortable working out in a gym and on the trails. What should guys wear to work out?

I'm an overweight guy who is starting to exercise regularly for the first time in his life, and I have no idea what workout clothes should look like or where to find them. Until now, I've had the typical geek/academic disregard for my body, plus some health issues that contributed to significant weight gain over the years, and I'd appreciate your help in figuring out where to buy some exercise clothes.

Note that I have a 50 inch waist, so the slim-fit Nike stuff won't work for me.

I'm particularly stumped by pants. Should I wear sweatpants, or track pants, or what? I would think that sweatpants and a t-shirt would be functional, but aesthetically unappealing on a man my size. In another AskMe thread, I found a recommendation to buy Patagonia stuff, but their Capilene "baselayer" pants appear to be intended to be worn under something else, and I have no idea what that something else would be.

Please help? Thanks in advance.
posted by trystero to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Basic, basic, basic. I prefer workout clothes in a wicking material, which doesn't absorb sweat and make you feel heavy and wet, like cotton does. You can get them for very little at Target or Wal*Mart.

For pants, I like wind pants that are made out of nylon/polyester. Again, they don't absorb sweat, don't wrinkle, and tend not to get smelly as quickly.

Don't go overboard buying expensive versions of either, because as long as they're decent materials and decently-made, you're fine.
posted by xingcat at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most guys at my gym wear shorts, sweatpants, or track pants with a t-shirt or tank top. These include the fit guys running for their lives on the treadmill. Even the personal trainer dude wears track pants and a t-shirt. I suppose it depends on your gym but I don't think you'll be out of place in sweatpants.

If shorts tend to ride up between the legs on you (as they do me, but I'm a girl - does that happen to guys?) then go for pants.
posted by cabingirl at 8:03 AM on January 8, 2011

Fuck aesthetics. Wear what's comfortable and functional. Depending on what you're doing, you might want shorts rather than sweatpants. Both champion and discus have sweatshorts with pockets that should work for you. If you're too shy to try them on in the store, go with the XXXL, which should fit a 50" waist without a problem.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:05 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The men at my gym mostly wear either knee-length shorts and a t-shirt or sweat pants and a t-shirt. There are a few who wear track pants and a t-shirt. The only people who wear obvious fancy tech fabrics are the personal trainers and some of the guys who play raquetball.

I had to think fairly long and hard about this to come up with this answer, which should give you some indication of how little people care about the aesthetics of what you wear to the gym. If it will make you more likely to go to the gym if you feel like you look okay doing it, by all means spend the time and money to find clothes that make you feel good about yourself. But if your concern is for the feelings of other people who have to look at you, I can assure you that a) we're not really looking at you anyway and b) we wouldn't care if we were. Gyms are a very self-obsessed corner of the world -- everyone there is really focused in on themselves.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:06 AM on January 8, 2011

Try various fabrics for shirts, even from a place like Target. Note that "wicking" in my opinion is a fancy marketing name for polyester. I really don't like 100% poly shirts. Try one in a cotton-poly blend, one all-cotton (you probably already have some 100% cotton t-shirts) and one "wicking" and see what you like before buying a bunch of them.

Also, I know you're big. But sweating and working out into a big, loose shirt (which is what a lot of guys do) is much less comfortable to me than in one that fits somewhat snugly. You don't need skin-tight, but a loose, floppy shirt heavy with sweat feels horrible.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:12 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't worry too much about how you look at the gym. Everyone is self-conscious at first and then you realize that just as you are not looking at anyone else, no one is looking at you. However, it is pretty gross when people wear cotton and leave the equipment covered in sweat.

Personally, I went with the underarmour stuff, but it looks like the walmart version that xingcat mentioned is the same thing.

For running, it depends on the weather. I don't know about sweatpants, but I think you'd get crazy sweaty in them. If you're running in warm weather (over 50 degrees) or at the gym, you should get running shorts, which will not get sweaty. Typically running shorts are very short (to minimize friction), but I prefer them to come to just above the knees.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:16 AM on January 8, 2011

As someone who's knocked off 100lb or so since starting at the gym, I really have to stress having a fairly loose, comfortable material for your trousers/pants. Not to the point of being ridiculously baggy, but you need a reasonable amount of give as opposed to certain athletic outfits that can be too tight.

As for tops, a simple white/black crew neck in your size should be fine- though if you're uncomfortable with the idea of large sweat-patches being noticeable, (and believe me, at first you are likely to sweat heavily) better to stick with a dark shade.

The main priority here is to make sure that you are comfortable and confident with starting your workout program; self-consciousness shouldn't be an issue after the start. Agreeing with other posters on that issue; when I was 100lb heavier, I was extremely self-conscious for a while before I realised that people weren't paying any attention.

Afterthought: If you would feel more self-confident with a uniform/cohesive appearance, pick your items of workout wear individually for comfort, but in identical materials/colours.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 8:20 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Polyester is your friend, cotton is not.
posted by resiny at 8:30 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My husband is a big guy too. When he works out he wears basketball shorts (I think he got them at one of the big box stores) and a T shirt.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:09 AM on January 8, 2011

I wear workout shorts. Running shorts are generally too short for my taste, and I find basketball shorts to be too long and get in the way. I like pockets to hold my iPod. Plenty of guys where sweatpants but I don't like running in them so I just wear them to the gym over my shorts and then take them off in the locker room. And track pants drive me crazy with the swish, swish. If you are doing weights, you can really wear almost anything though.

On top, I wear one of a few identical New Balance t-shirts which has some wicking to it, and I wear a fairly close fit size. Plenty of people just wear cheap cotton t-shirts though. The gym I'm in even gives them out free when you join.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 AM on January 8, 2011

I suggest you wear street clothes while you check out a couple of gyms. Walk all through the place -- you'll probably have a salesman escorting you -- and get the lay of the land. Notice what people are wearing. Also notice that nobody is looking up from their workout, even though you're new and an anomaly because you're observing and not exercising. I'm not at all saying that your concerns are unimportant, only that you might feel more comfortable when you see how completely involved the other people are in their own workout.

Also, in my area, different gyms have their own culture. You may feel more comfortable at one place than another.
posted by wryly at 9:42 AM on January 8, 2011

Echoing resiny in support of poly or blend shirts rather than cotton.

It's been a long time since I worked out in cotton, so I don't fully remember the misery, but I remember the difference that the switch made for my husband. When he recently started working out for the first time, he started in mesh shorts and cotton t-shirts. Eventually, I convinced him to check out the Nike outlet and get some more shorts and some shirts that he could use just for running (as opposed to working out in t-shirts he might wear on a regular basis). He said the switch was remarkable--more for the shirts than the shorts - his mesh shorts might have been ok. The poly shirts don't hold in heat as much, so he didn't feel hot and miserable at the gym.
posted by Terriniski at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2011

N'thing most of the answers above re: synthetic materials instead of cotton, don't worry about looks, shorts or trackpants + a t-shirt

I'm at the gym, running, cycling, or playing tennis pretty much 365 days out of the year, so I've tried just about everything over the years. For going to the gym, my basic outfit is a pair of compression shorts or synthetic "boxer jocks" under a pair of long, loose fitting shorts (typically basketball shorts) -- like something with a 9" inseam. For a top, I wear a synthetic "tech" t-shirt, and for shoes go with low top Converse Chuck Taylors. You can run in this stuff too (switching the Chuck's out for running shoes). Over the years, I've slowly migrated to Under Armour; at this point most of the workout clothes I own are Under Armor. To give you some specific ideas:

UnderArmour Boxerjocks
Loose fitting shorts
UnderArmour tech-tee

No opinion on the track pants, I pretty much wear shorts all the time. You mentioned trails, so once you take it outside, you'll want to do some more layering. I will usually throw a fleece quarter-zip pullover on over a tech-tee, something like this:

North Face Men's SDS ΒΌ Zip Pullover

and wear a hat, like one of these:

beanie style hats

If it is colder, I will layer with something like the Patagonia capilene you mentioned (long sleeved) either in place of the tech-tee or under the tech-tee. I'll also wear a pair of fleece gloves if it is under 40F or so. Good luck with your new workout program!
posted by kovacs at 9:46 AM on January 8, 2011

Speaking practically, as a formerly-and-still-somewhat larger guy, definitely listen to all the advice about wicking material. You're going to want support close to your fellas to avoid chafing, but also a barrier for your thighs for the same reason - so maybe jockey shorts would be a good idea. But then loose every where else...because your "area" will sweat like a mofo. The last thing you want is to have one good workout and then have to take two weeks off because of raw skin.
posted by carlh at 10:07 AM on January 8, 2011

As a random dissenting voice, I really like cotton shirts for working out. I sweat a LOT, and cotton absorbs that as opposed to synthetics which do wick, but proceed to drip all over, and I can't wipe the sweat out of my eyes with a wicking shirt.

Also, bring a small to medium sized cotton towel regardless of what you're wearing. In addition to wiping sweat off your face, it's good ettiquite to wipe down the equipment after you use it and I like to cover the seat or back rest with the towel too (mostly to reduce my sweat footprint on the equipment).

It'll take trial and error to find shorts or pants which don't chafe, keep looking! Many people wear spandex or compression shorts under their baggy shorts to help prevent chafing.
posted by jpeacock at 11:33 AM on January 8, 2011

Seriously man, don't worry. Get some big roomy shorts, T-shirt, sneakers and socks and you're good to go. I've been a gym hound for thirty years and I always look like shit. No one gives a damn.
posted by Decani at 3:05 PM on January 8, 2011

I can't comment on how you would feel about the aesthetics, except to say why should you care about how others think you look? Focus on your own comfort, if only to make the experience of working out more pleasant, increasing your chances of keeping it up.

I find that running gear is the most comfortable for all kinds of 'fitness' activity - running shorts and singlets. I can't stand exercising in anything with sleeves, because they bind on my shoulders when they get sweaty and annoy me. Singlets don't lead to as much trouble with large sweaty circles under your armpits, either (if that bothers you). Synthetic materials don't hold so much sweat and get heavy/baggy either. Running shorts are specifically designed to not chafe and the ones with built-in underwear help to keep things where they belong. If you start having problems with chafing, use some Vaseline or similar immediately - chafed skin and salty sweat is not a good combination.

Whatever you decide, look for lightweight materials in dark colours that are not too loose - having clothes flap around me is something else I find annoying.

Sporting goods stores often have end-of-run items on sale and you can get some great discounts of you keep your eyes open (same for shoes). Make sure you get reasonable quality shoes - you don't need to spend a fortune, but don't buy the generic brand gear, as it will hurt your feet and won't last anyway.
posted by dg at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2011

Don't overthink this. I wear pretty much what xingcat describes and, although I've been working out a long time and have a relatively decent body, I would still describe my gym look as "aesthetically unappealing."

Just wear headphones and ignore everyone else.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2011

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