I can’t remember which fitness expert it was (maybe all of them?), but I know with certainty that the advice of Top Professionals In The Field is something like “the best time to try on tight, bright workout attire is in the middle of what you could only describe as an unholy hangover sent from Satan himself.”
And so began my journey from “somehow not dead despite working largely semiprone on my bed and couch” to “person who works out three-ish times per week, probably, most weeks”: a bloated, hungover lady hauling herself into a pair of neon spandex workout pants and trying not to think about Palm Bay Iced Tea.
I don’t know when it happened, and I don’t know why, but you’re not allowed to exercise anymore unless you own very bright pants. Gone are the days when you could show up to the gym in an old T-shirt and some leggings with a hole near-but-not-quite-on the crotch.
Workout fashion is real, it is serious and it usually involves wearing at least five or six bright colours at once. If you try to go for a quick jog wearing some sweatpants you got for free at a work thing, the Fitness Police will come for you (on bikes, duh) and take you away to a vibrant Lycra conditioning camp. From a legal standpoint, you aren’t technically allowed to run for the bus without changing into a colourful, textured capri. It’s not enough that you have achieved the superhuman feat of leaving your home and moving your body around so fast that you’re sweating, now you also have to look like a low-grade superhero with a matching water bottle.
While the girls at the gym and in line at the gym’s juice bar look cool and good in their geo-patterned leggings, my workout clothes err more on the side of “I bought this sports bra in high school and it still fits, so.” When it comes to flashy workout attire, I don’t feel like I’ve really earned it. I don’t know what “moisture wicking technology” is all about. I don’t have a special armband for my iPod so I just shove it down my tank top and sweat all over it during cardio.
To be frank, I don’t go to the gym very often. Ask the employees of my local GoodLife and they will look confused: “I think maybe she signed up for a tote bag once and never came back. Did she die?” Anyway, I’d written off the entire cool fitness clothes experiment as Not For Me.
Then Nike sent me a bunch of very cool, very bright leggings and shoes and bras and one interesting but intimidating tank top, and I literally live for free stuff, so my hands were tied. My worries fell into two camps: 1) that I would look stupid, and 2) that I would look very stupid. A third, less pressing worry was that I would put the workout clothes on and immediately get back in my bed, promptly rendering them very colourful pyjamas. The outlook was not great.
I wish I could tell you that I put on the neon pants and immediately became A Runner; that I popped the futuristic-looking matching bra on and felt, for the first time in my life, excited about physical activity; that I felt thin, at least. None of those things happened, but I did like the outfit and felt less hungover and more ready to get on with it and go to the gym already. I did go, and it felt good. And I guess it did seem like moisture was being taken care of more effectively?
Here’s the secret: fun running tights don’t make running more fun. The best part actually has nothing to do with working out at all. A loud workout wardrobe does one thing and one thing only: aggressively notifies the people around you that you are either coming from, or going to, a fitness activity. This is important, because feeling better than the people around you is enjoyable and easy, two things that getting in shape are not.
Further, working out in a pair of sweatpant shorts I found at a yard sale might be my preference, but leaving the gym looking like an aging child star going through a public breakdown is not. That’s the secret of intense workout clothes: good for running, great for running into that cute guy from high school.