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The jungle of gym style

Building your workout wardrobe
Meditation class at gym

There’s something magical about putting on a perfect pair of leggings. The hem hits at the perfect length, the waist is high but not too high and it has just the right amount of hold. The perfect leggings are snug to the leg without bunching around the back of the knees; they don’t fall down when you run, and they make your butt look amazing.

Leggings are the new jeans and for good reason: you can wear them for working, running, hiking, squatting and dancing! They hold you in, lift you up and wick your sweat, all at the same time. Leggings are a staple in anyone’s wardrobe and have enjoyed an evolution, alongside all athleisure wear, and this makes them ideal for almost any activity.

Until recently, sportswear was limited to saggy heat-stroke-inducing terrycloth leggings that made you look like a toddler, or polyester jerseys that felt like you were wearing a plastic bag. Today, however, athletic wear comes in bold patterns, technical fabrics, breathable textures, neon colours and even faux leather. There are so many options available that even non-sporting activities are developing their own uniform.

Have you ever been in a yoga class and noticed that the entire room feels like it’s exhaling? Soft wood floors covered with muted blue and sage green yoga mats, and an instructor who seemingly floats, wearing a soft beige or terracotta Lululemon set. Yoga promotes a certain level of fluidity, softness and flow. As a response, practitioners often adopt a certain subdued wardrobe, embracing muted and soft tones. Leggings and tops are fitted to the skin, so as not to distract or obstruct movement, and feet and hands are left bare. You rarely see jewellery, baggy clothes, loud statement shirts or extra accessories. Yoga is peace and the clothing and space reflect that.

On the other side of the spectrum you have the buzz of a CrossFit or a weightlifting gym. Here, you will find almost exclusively booty shorts, oversized T-shirts and/or sports bras. These gyms are loud with the clang of barbells, music, instructors, timers and even grunts and groans. Clothing is functional and almost a nuisance, as this style of movement is big and sweaty. Each participant comes with all manner of accessories, including but not limited to a water bottle, lifting straps, a Tupperware container of chalk, a towel and often an extra pair of lifting shoes. The only uniform here is the mandatory loyalty swag representing your favourite games competitor or box gym.

Running and cycling are technical. The clothing here is gear-based and its sole purpose is to streamline the movement that’s being undertaken. Runners and cyclists take their gear very seriously, from the shirt to the shoes, the socks and water bottles. Because of the kilometric relationship to these styles of movement, efficiency is key. Even beginner runners and cyclists often invest in fancy gear hoping that it will take the edge off an otherwise gruelling experience of learning how to run and cycle efficiently.

When building your workout look, there are a few other parameters that you may want to consider, such as sustainability, size inclusivity and brand ethics.

Whether it’s for a yoga retreat or a business retreat or, even better, a business retreat that includes yoga, choosing the perfect gear can be daunting. Finding your perfect fit is typically a matter of trial and error, while developing your chosen style tends to be a matter of preference. When building your workout look, there are a few other parameters that you may want to consider, such as sustainability, size inclusivity and brand ethics. Given the massive commerce surrounding the athleisure industry, it is important to support businesses that are aligned with your values.

Sustainability is especially important when it comes to athletic wear because there is a correlation between athletic clothing and environmental harm. The stretch and hold found in leggings and sports bras, for example, are produced using materials like acrylic, rayon, polyamide, spandex, nylon and polyester. These are plastic/synthetic materials that are manufactured in ways that produce excessive greenhouse gas, are difficult to reuse, and are non-biodegradable when thrown away. It is therefore important to support high-quality, long-lasting and sustainable athletic wear.

Size inclusivity is important for all of us, even if you are a typical size. By holding companies accountable in their manufacturing and advertising portfolios, we are better able to promote fitness for all bodies. Many companies claim to represent size inclusivity but have a size range of small to extra large (00 to 14), which is problematic when the average size in Canada is large (12). Demanding a more inclusive range of sizing and inclusive advertising allows for a more diverse community within fitness and wellness spaces.

Brand ethics can be a slippery topic because unethical statements or movements can be attributed to poor decision-making on the part of a company’s founder, and not necessarily reflect the opinions held by the company as a whole. That being said, the adage “put your money where your mouth is” can be extra useful here. It is important to support companies that reflect your values and steer clear of companies engaging in problematic statements, business practices, labour safety issues and compromised manufacturing.

The final consideration, when purchasing athletic gear, is to consider buying used items. Many companies have pre-loved or regear programs that promote giving gently used items new life. Most consignment stores also have gently used athletics sections. This is an excellent way to reduce the environmental impact of the athleisure industry while also saving money. (Money that you can instead spend on more movement classes.)

Ultimately, many of us will continue doing yoga, lifting weights, running or bike-riding in our trusty oversized Taylor Swift T-shirt and 10-year-old Lulus. Workout gear doesn’t have to be complicated or branded, fitted or even stylish. It doesn’t matter how well-dressed we are because most forms of movement will leave us looking like a hot sweaty mess anyway. In the end, the very best workout gear is whatever gets you out the door and moving your body.