You go to the gym to look good out of the gym. Or at least, you did. What was once a private communion with your own pain has become a social space, where your efforts beneath a barbell are now the background to someone else’s mirror selfies. It’s time to rethink that salt-stained Slayer tour tee.
Keep Things Muted
Sports brands have a predilection for nu rave colour palettes. But what looks good on the rail is bad news in your gym bag – turns out, neons are tough to pair.
Instead, take a lesson from your wardrobe by sticking to neutrals. If all your kit is white, black or grey, it all matches. Which is one less excuse not to hit the weights.
The less used your gym membership, the darker you should steer. “Black is your friend,” says Matt Hambly, style editor and erstwhile cover model at Men’s Health. “It hides sweat patches and looks good on anyone: slimming if you’re not yet in the shape you want to be; flattering if you are.”
Don’t Look In The Mirrors
our gym’s mirrors are counterintuitive. Ostensibly there to help you check your form (and, yes, your guns) they’re actually bad for your performance: Canadian research found watching yourself exercise has a negative impact on body image even if you’re confident in how you look; and a recent US study found using a mirror while squatting distorts your perception of body position, which wrecks your form.
Russian lifters used to train blindfold to hone their proprioception – the body’s sense of where it is in space. Make like the strongmen and ignore the mirrors. If you want to monitor your form, use video. If you want to monitor your other ‘form’, wait till later.
“Too much checking yourself out cuts into valuable training time,” says Dylan Jones, PT and founder of P4 Body. There’s mirrors in the changing rooms too, you know.
Keep Fits Trim
It’s a lesson that applies equally to your in- and out-of-the-gym wardrobe: baggy fits don’t mask a baggy body. “Your clothes should fit right so that they don’t flap around when you’re running or get caught on dumbbells when you’re lifting,” says Hambly.
Loose kit also hides your limbs, so you can’t keep an eye on how deep you’re squatting, or if your knees are tracking over your toes properly.
“Wear leggings. It sounds weird, but nobody wants to see your pasty/knobbly/bruised legs,” says Hambly. “Plus, they’ll make you feel like you’re at UFC training camp.” No matter what shape you’re in, shorts over the top are not optional.
Get A Bag That Works In & Out Of The Gym
It was very kind of your gym to give you that free bag when you joined. But it’s time it went the same way as your enthusiasm for pilates.
If you train at work, your kit bag needs to go with your office wear. If you’re a weekend warrior, it should match your off-duty looks. And never stow grimy gear in the same backpack you take to the office. “You want to avoid your rucksack smelling like a locker room,” says Tom Ford, deputy editor at Mr Porter.
As with their apparel, sports brands’ accessories tend towards neon. Stick to muted shades instead – they go with everything in your wardrobe. You’ll appreciate wipe clean linings the weekend you leave your bag in the boot of your car.
Wash Your Kit
Anything that sits right next to your skin – underwear, shirts, socks – needs washing after every wear. That goes doubly if you’ve sweated through it. “Invest in the best gym kit you can afford and treat it like you would regular clothes,” says Hambly. “Wash it after each use and don’t leave it in your bag all weekend.”
To help delay that gym bag funk, look for kit with silver sewn in – the metal’s antibacterial properties keep your clothes fresher for longer. And for lunchtime sessions or days when you leave your bag at your desk, a spritz of Mr. Black’s Sport Refresh kills germs and their stench.
Mr. Black Sport Refresh, available at Urban Industry, priced £9.95.
Form Is Everything
The only person who appreciates you lifting more than you can handle is your chiropractor. “You might have stacked the bench press bar with all the weight in the gym, but lifting your hips until they’re almost touching the ceiling means it’s too heavy for you,” says Jones.
If your form’s off, lighten the load. Lifting less weight correctly means bigger gains. “Get your back flat on the bench and you’ll get much more chest activation. Then one day, you’ll be able to lift that weight properly.”
Don’t Just Sit There
If you take a minute’s rest between each 40-second set, then most of your session is spent sat down. So work smarter by training opposing muscles in supersets – pair a chest exercise with a back move, then perform one set of each before resting. You give your muscles time to recover and use your time more effectively.
If you struggle with mobility, switch to ‘active’ rest periods. Instead of checking Instagram, stretch out tight hamstrings or hip flexors. You’ll knock off that 20-minute flexibility session you always ignore – and look like a pro who doesn’t waste time.
Wear Enough Clothes
On the list of why people come to the gym, “To see your rippling muscles,” sits somewhere between, “To catch a verruca in the shower,” and “To taste other people’s sweat.” Slim-fit clothes leave little enough to the imagination, but still keep you decent. You don’t need to get your nipples out.
“Racerback vests, tiny shorts and caps worn back to front are unacceptable,” says Hambly. “Unless you’re actively looking to become a gym bro.”
Stand To Attention
The quickest way to lose weight? Stand up. If you spend your day sat down, odds are your desk has wrecked your posture. Ditto if you work your chest harder than your back or glutes. Focus on standing upright, with your shoulder blades pushed together and chest up.
You’ll lose your belly, add inches to your upper body and look, well, like someone who knows what they’re doing. The fact you’ll eradicate all that back pain is just a bonus.
Get The Right Shoes
Your running shoes are designed for precisely that. “For weightlifting and any strength work, you need a flat, stable base,” says Hambly. Cushioned trainers compress when you load up, which puts you off balance and means you can’t generate as much power. “Your best best is to take them off altogether. Just wear socks, for god’s sake.”
If your gym bans bare feet – and frankly, that’s no bad thing – you need shoes with firm soles. Converse have long been the weightlifter’s go-to, but the rise of Crossfit has popularised a new, hybrid trainer, with a flat sole for heavy metal but which also offers support when you’re sprinting.>
Monitor & Progress
You have no idea how hard you work. And because pain sucks, odds are you overestimate your efforts. A fitness monitor tracks your work for you, so you can’t lie. And so you can see when you need to switch things up.
If your regime doesn’t change, your body learns to do one thing very well. When the weights get too easy, or your run feels manageable, tweak: lift more, run faster, or shift to higher-intensity training.
Look for a monitor one with GPS and, ideally, water resistance, says Ford, so you’ve got more flexibility with your training options. By monitoring your heart rate and calorie burn in real time, you guarantee you’re working hard enough. And you’ll find out that 20 minutes on the cross trainer doesn’t buy you that stuffed crust.
Stale sweat is an unpleasant cologne. But an unpleasant cologne is worse. When your skin heats up, your fragrance evaporates faster. No one wants to work out in a cloud of oud and tobacco. On gym days, switch to a sportier fragrance.
Citrus notes are fresh, light and less overpowering, so you won’t fumigate the gym. And because your body stays warm for hours after your session (if you’ve worked hard enough, that is) you won’t fumigate the office, either.