The leggings looked great on the rack in the trendy workout wear store all your friends are raving about on Facebook. You took them to the dressing room with VERY high hopes. Once you shimmied them on, however, you realized you would need to be AT LEAST three inches taller to avoid tripping over them. You look at the dip in the back and wonder how anyone can actually work out in these pants? They are so tight and so low. At least the top you tried on fits OK but the price tag makes you jump back. $55 for a basic black tank top? Are they serious?

Why do fashionable and functional always seem to be at odds when it comes to women’s activewear? And why does it all cost so much?

Because activewear is just like any other fashion or beauty trend. Ads aren’t reality. They are fun to look at and sometimes inspirational but I never feel they look like me in the gym. For one, I sweat a lot more. Not a pretty glow (which is really just water sprayed on the model) but dripping wet if it’s a hard workout – especially after a run. Also my abs are nowhere to be found. I’ve never had a six-pack or a desire to workout with my tummy on display. Most days I like my stomach just fine, I just don’t feel like letting it all hang out. (Especially when my insulin pump is attached to my tummy.)

Ads are an illusion and I want to talk reality for a moment. I want to celebrate the real activewear that we love to move in, even if it looks nothing like a Lululemon ad.

Here is what I really wear to workout.

I actually think I look cute but I probably wouldn’t wear this at the office. Maybe on Saturday when no one else is around. The Nike Dry Fit shirt was a SXSW giveaway (fitness pros and bloggers get a lot of free workout wear) and I can’t remember where or how long ago I purchased the Reebok shorts. I probably got them at Marshall’s or TJMaxx, my go-to stops for workout attire. I simply can’t justify $80 for a pair of black leggings that you might be able to see through. The socks are my favorite part. They make me feel like a badass.

My activewear reality is conference SWAG and whatever fits my short inseam. But that’s just me. What about my peers? I asked a couple of my favorite fellow fitness pros about their favorite workout wear.

Here is my sister in iron and fellow introvert, Michelle.

She does yoga in her pajamas. I think the shirt is amazing! (It’s Muhammad Ali in case you can’t tell.) She got it from Target and she didn’t care that they only had it in a large because she loved it. (You can’t trust sizing anyway.) You should check out her down to earth style in her workout selfies on Instagram too. (They are truly inspiring!)

Activewear Fact #1 – Wear what fits and what you can move in. The size on the label does not matter!

This is Jody, another blogging friend and gym inspiration.

Like me, she also works out in clothes she got (mostly) for free. In her case it is YMX, Under Armour and Fabletics, all of them free from her work as a blogger. Jody lifts BIG. I think her clothes are cute but I also guarantee if the clothes weren’t functional she wouldn’t wear them. Since she hasn’t had to shop for clothes in a while she can be smart with her money and spend it on one of the most important functional pieces – shoes! Any woman knows it’s all about the shoes…especially if you need them for cardio. Her brand is Hoka One One.

Activewear Fact #2 – Your best investment is in good shoes.

What do ladies who don’t workout for a living wear? I asked my friend, Sarah, what she likes to workout in.

Sarah did admit to me it might be time to upgrade her sports bra. Like shoes the right sports bra can be a game changer. But with so many things on her plate (she’s an attorney, pastor’s wife and mom of two) she doesn’t have a lot of time to shop for clothes. In this photo, she’s got a race shirt on from a sprint tri she actually didn’t get to do. (She gets a pass for pregnancy related nausea and lightening. I say if you paid the fee, you get to wear the shirt.) She’s a fan of basic Nike shorts, C9 at Target and Kohl’s.

I think my clients look good in the gym. They aren’t afraid to sweat and they know they are going to have to WORK. I asked a couple of them about their favorite activewear.

Here is one of my clients, Brenda.

Brenda’s tried the pricey sports bras and she still prefers Wal-Mart. I say if it works for you – go for it. She is also building up a nice collection of 5K shirts to work out in. (This long sleeved super comfy tee is from the Red Dress Dash.) Race shirts are what she’s usually wearing when she sees me in the gym twice a week. She saves her money for – you guessed it- shoes. Lately she’s a fan of Under Armour.

Activewear Fact #3 – Discount stores one of the BEST places to shop for basic and functional activewear.

This is another of my clients, Deb.

Her leggings are Lululemon but they are about 5 years old. The shirt is definitely cute and functional but not from a big activewear brand. It’s from a website called ThugLife. She too likes comfy tech t-shirts from past 5ks and sporting events.

Activewear Fact #4 – It’s cool to shop outside the box for workout wear. Any shirt can be a workout shirt, especially if it was free.

So here is the reality of women and the activewear they love:

We love our race shirts.

We don’t want to pay a lot of money for clothes we sweat in.

We want to move freely but also want to look kind of sassy doing it.


It’s not a fashion show. It’s a workout. The real beauty comes from the strength you’re building – inside and out.

How do you feel about workout wear ads?

What’s your favorite thing to wear when you get sweaty in the gym?

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