Monday, January 6, 2014

In defense of disgusting gym clothes

I've mentioned it here, but I recently joined a gym to help with one of my New Year's running resolutions: focus on strength and stretching. I am phenomenally lazy, as you all know, and strength workouts done at home tend to go this way: I get the mat out, lie down on the floor, spot a dust bunny, go and grab the broom, clean it up, do a few squats, noodle around on the internet looking for a better playlist, do a few more, decide that my floor still isn't clean enough, and then it's time to pack it in for the day. When it comes to strength work, I am not the most motivated person.

So it slooooooowly dawned on me that I could just go to classes like Body Pump and Pilates and be done with it in a couple of hours a week. Yes, it's a rather expensive way to force myself to keep that resolution but I'll keep the resolution precisely because I'm spending good $ on it. (Economists? Anyone? What's the term you use for that? Jeano?)

In any case, I promptly discovered the existence of people who wear false eyelashes and eyeliner to the gym. I couldn't tell if one woman was coming from (why wouldn't you take your makeup off?) or going to a party (don't false eyelashes come off in the shower or have they stuck on with superglue? a friend enlightened me that there exists eyelash superglue. phew).

I'd say most people at the gym I joined are fairly serious about their workouts, though. But boy, do they dress nice. I went for one yoga class in shorts and a tech t-shirt from a race and felt a bit out of place among the people with the stretchy capris and tank tops with an intricate, inordinate number of complicated straps.

And so I read 'In Defense of Disgusting Gym Clothes' and the cutting, hilarious 'Refining the Fitness-Gear Trend' (it's from NYT's Critical Shopper, a section I rarely read, but a column about workout wear? Bring it.) and had a great chuckle.

From the former:
Here are my requirements for gym clothes: clean, comfortable, and suited for the activity. Your requirements are probably similar. It is unlikely you need fancy gear to use a treadmill. Windbreakers that wick sweat, neoprene layers, and aerodynamic running pants are irrelevant. Besides, most of today's trendy gym clothes sell themselves on aesthetics rather than performance. 
I like nice gear, and a new pair of shorts or shoes can be an excellent motivator. But I take her point. I wear tech shirts because they work, and choose shorts or tights that don't chafe, keep me (relatively) dry, and are comfortable (I'd rather run in a body-hugging tank top that doesn't flop all over the place when it gets soggy, than a baggy shirt that I have to wring out). I never skimp (pun not intended...or maybe???) on a good sports bra. So I get that capris are much more comfortable to do a split in, and you don't horrify everyone when you stick your legs up in the air.

But marketing is aspirational. Trendy gym clothes are not going to make you look like the models in the catalogues. Most of us buy ripstop nylon hiking trousers and dream about adventures that we never take, or complicated tank tops and dream about being able to hold the yoga pose the model is doing. Gear won't get you there; you will. No pair of running shorts is going to make you faster; you are going to make you faster.

But I think the bigger point here is simply not to judge. (Yes, I've seen running and fitness bloggers judge, too - judge women runners for being vain, judge runners who are faster, judge runners who are slower, judge people for running too far, judge people who are not running far enough, judge people who may have different value systems for being arrogant, judge women who lift hard, judge women who don't lift hard, etc etc ad nauseaum ad infinitum zzz.) The gym is a dense urban environment; there are always other people around and there will always be someone who is dressed nicer than you and someone who looks like they wore that t-shirt to sleep. (I reserve the right however to snicker a bit at people who wear full-length compression tights for a short weekend run, unless those are your only running pants.)

More importantly, and harder yet, don't feel like you're being judged. Most people at the gym probably aren't judging you either. They're just there to work out and do their thing - whether that's 'run hard until you're a sweaty puddle' or 'look cute to motivate yourself while working out'. And the ones who are judging you, well, aren't you're old enough not to give a shit?

On a similar but more serious note, here are two more things I enjoyed reading.

Miss Zippy: Trends I'd Like To See End in 2014
Fit and Feminist: Moving away from the cult of the body in 2014

From the latter:
I’ve seen holy wars break out over Paleo/primal/vegan/fruitarian ways of eating. I’ve seen smugnoms tell people with cancer that they wouldn’t be in this situation had they just avoided meat and processed food.  I’ve seen people try to recast cruelty towards fat people as something intended to help them.  I’ve seen people who can barely articulate a coherent thought brag about spending three hours a day in the gym.  I’ve seen fitness and nutrition professionals basically use their platforms to inflict their disordered lifestyles on thousands of adoring followers. I’ve seen people wield their healthy lifestyles and their fit bodies as clubs with which they beat the heads of lesser mortals who may not have visible abs or who might have boxed food in their pantries.
The take-home point: You are more than your body. You are your beliefs and mind and values as well, and all these things matter as much or more than whether you can achieve a six-pack. I would like to lead a more interesting life than it being all physical perfection all the time. And again, judge not and don't give a rat's ass that you're being judged either. Discuss.


  1. Here here to wearing my old Umbro soccer shorts from like 20 years ago to the gym! I still work out as well in them as I do my stylish and comfy Moving Comfort running shorts. As for all of my old cotton T-shirts, I would wear them just to make a pint, but I really have gotten used to wearing lighter, technical shirts. But, my point is, I don't care what I wear and I rarely notice what others wear, unless, of course, it is something outrageous that makes me take a second look. To each his or her own!

    1. Re outrageous gym fashions, I eagerly await the arrival of the yoga onesie and the cardio dress. I'm sort of afraid to Google those in case they already exist.

  2. The great thing about being as old as I am is not caring what people think of you. I really don't care if people are judging me any more so I where what I like. And I try not to judge other people - but if you're morbidly obese and eating KFC for breakfast I may shake my head a little.

    1. Marvellous. I can't wait to be my grandma's age and wear whatever I darn well please with attitude.

  3. Very, very nice post.

    I made the mistake to wear makeup at the gym ONCE; never again (it came off with the sweat).

    I like nice gym clothes; they motivate me. And I like nice quality as the sweat evaporates quickly.

    Slowly realizing here that I might sweat a tad! LOL

    I'm just like you when I try to exercise at home. The gym atmosphere helps a lot even if I rarely attend classes.

    1. Ha, I'm a soggy puddle when I work out, too! Any makeup I wear would immediately do the opposite of the thing it was supposed to do. :)

  4. It was so long before it occurred to me that anyone might give my running / gym clothes a second look. Can I do the thing I want to do? Am I reasonably comfortable? SWEET.

    (I will totally admit to mocking some of the people at my gym secretly in my heart, though, because honestly, they really do look like they are there for social hour.)

    1. For some people, the gym IS social hour! It's a way for them to meet like-minded people or go to class with friends. Not for me though, I just want to pop in and do my thing and shower and run away. Gym populations are sort of like city populations - it takes all kinds...

  5. Uh oh, the best word I'm coming up with is "incentive." Super technical, obviously. But I dunno, there's likely a more econ-y word out there for that.

    I have mixed feelings on the fancy vs. plain ol' workout clothes. The fancy places may sell their clothes more on aesthetics than performance, but for me their performance has actually been better than any of the "real" running companies out there. Maybe I just have a freak body but the Brooks/Asics/[insert other running company here] gear is usually pretty uncomfortable on me.

    And the judging most definitely works in both directions. In Eugene, you don't really see people running around in fancy stuff (except at the school's gym, which is basically a Lululemon advertisement), and I've definitely gotten looks from "real runners" for my gear. It almost seems as though you have to be slightly uncomfortable while running to be considered hardcore...

    1. Re that econ-word: I'm just going to keep reading Marginal Revolution until it leaps out at me from the thicket of the Internet.

      I think you should really just...wear exactly what makes you comfortable (physically, if not mentally - feeling like you're being judged can be quite uncomfortable but it's all in your head!) and helps you run the way you want to. And if that's fancy things that fit you properly, go for it. (You know, half the time the fancy stuff and the regular ol' nylon stuff are made in the same factories in Malaysia and Taiwan and Thailand anyway...) :)

  6. Love it. And as someone who has not gotten on board of the big fashion trend in running (give me functionality over fashion) I totally relate to this. I'm also 48 and truthfully, could give a damn if someone is judging my outfit at the gym--time to get bigger priorities, people!

  7. Those look really similar to the Hue Gym clothesthat I wear. I'll have to give those a try and compare them to see which I like better.