Sam Murphy

Sam Murphy

The author and fitness guru shares her tips for looking cool when you're working up a sweat.

What to wear for workouts

Sam Murphy: So you've got the most important piece of kit sorted - your footwear - but what else are you going to wear for your workouts? You don't want to look like some kind of geek, but unless you're Sienna Miller, that baggy old t-shirt and a pair of cutdown trackie pants just aren't going to cut it.

Even if they feel comfy at first, they'll soon be soaked with sweat and will get heavy, or start chafing. Technical fabrics like coolmax and dri-fit are more breathable, and take moisture away from the skin over 50% faster than cotton. These days, there is some pretty cool kit out there, which looks as good as it functions. So here's your virtual sportswear shopping guide...

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Working out in style

Wear your hair off your face if it's long - 70's style sweatbands are back in fashion, or you could go for a bandana or baseball hat. A high ponytail is very flattering because it makes you look taller. You don't want to be going to the gym, or out for a run, caked in make-up - it'll soon be running off your face, and with your pores wide open to cool the skin, might cause spots. If you hate to go bare-faced, then use a tinted moisturiser with a sun protection factor in, waterproof mascara and a little bit of lip gloss or tinted lip balm. That way, you'll feel good and look natural.

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Sports bras

Did you know?

Even if you are an A cup, your breasts move nearly half a centimetre away from the body during impact exercise!

A sports bra is almost as important as the right shoes for us girls. I know they're not the prettiest things in town, but then again, nor are droopy boobs! Unfortunately, unless you're an A cup or less, a crop top or vest with 'built-in support' won't give you enough support, so you have to opt for a proper designated sports bra. Black tends to wear better than white or flesh colour, which easily turn grey in the wash.

There are two main types of bra. 'Encapsulated' bras separate and support each breast in its own cup, and sometimes have underwiring for extra support. 'Compression' bras press the breasts against the rib cage to reduce movement. In general, compression bras are best suited to smaller busts while encapsulated styles suit the bigger breasted, but try both and see which suits you best.

If you are more flat-chested than you'd like to be, you can even get sports bras with secret padding - USA Pro do a good one.

What to look for

Did you know?

No amount of exercise can 'firm' up the breasts, as they contain no muscle. Strengthening and toning the chest muscles (the pectorals) may provide a little bit more shape, but the best thing you can do is have good posture and never put on your trainers without also putting on your sports bra.

  • Comfort and fit. The bra should be snug but not so tight that it restricts your breathing. The bra should be level all the way round, not riding up at the back. Look for flat seams to prevent chafing.
  • Straps. The straps should be soft enough not to chafe, adjustable, so that they don't dig in to your skin, and wide enough to give proper support.
  • Fabric: Look for technical fabrics such as Coolmax or Supplex, which wick away sweat so that your body stays dry and comfortable and you avoid chafing.
  • Some girls experience significant changes in breast size through the menstrual cycle. Before your period, your breasts could be a whole cup size larger and you may need to consider buying two sports bras in different sizes to cater for these monthly fluctuations.

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So you've got your sports bra sorted. What are you going to put over the top? It depends, of course, on the weather.

  • No matter what your figure is like, swathing it in big baggy clothing isn't flattering. The best approach is to create a balance between the top and bottom half by wearing, say, a tank vest - which reveals your arms, shoulders and back - with some looser-fitting kickflares. Or team up lycra cycling shorts, to show off your legs - with a shapely but loose long-sleeved dri-fit top.
  • In summer, a vest - loose or fitted (sometimes called a tank vest) looks great - and unlike crop tops, they don't reveal your midriff. It doesn't matter if bra straps show under your vest - it can look great if the colours match...
  • A coolmax or dri-fit t-shirt is a good option if you want a bit more coverage - and these come with short or long sleeves. You'll find girls' ones are cut a bit longer at the back than the front, to hide your bum! Don't buy one that's overly large, you don't want it to be flapping around.
  • In chillier months, the golden rule is to layer your clothes, rather than putting on one big thick sweatshirt. A coolmax long-sleeved tee, with a windproof or thermal top, will keep all the essential bits warm (it looks especially cool if you put the long-sleeved top under the short-sleeved one).
  • It's worth having a shower or rainproof jacket, if you exercise outside a lot. The more waterproof, the heavier and less breathable the fabric, though - so only go for full-on rain proof if you are running in the Hebrides or something! Don't bother with a hood, either - it's pretty difficult to run in, and you won't see where you're going so well. Some jackets have unzippable sleeves, so you can turn them into a gilet (sleeveless jacket) - which is really handy and makes the jacket more versatile.

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As for the bottom half, well you'll be pleased to know that those skimpy little running shorts, a la Paula Radcliffe, are not compulsory!

  • A lot of people prefer to wear looser shorts or longer cycling-style shorts. (A short that stops at the slimmest part of your thigh is most flattering.)
  • Or ditch shorts altogether and opt for long bottoms. What you wear on your legs isn't nearly so important as the top half, as there aren't any essential organs there to keep warm.
  • Lightweight long pants with a slight kickflare, or a loose cuff at the bottom are really flattering, unlike the classic runner's 'tights', which only look good on very slim legs.

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Nearly done. But first, socks. Wearing those trainer socks that don't show gives the illusion of longer legs, but make sure they are proper sports ones, otherwise they'll end up under your feet five minutes into your workout.

Did you know?

Your feet produce enough sweat to fill a coke can every day? Ugh!

Yes, proper sports socks really are worthwhile. With features like flat-stitched seams that don't chafe and cause blisters, sweat-wicking fabrics with anti-fungal properties, two-layer construction, better shaping (socks marked 'left' and 'right', no less) and extra cushioning at the points of impact, they are a lot more useful than those 3-pairs for a fiver jobbies.

If you're constantly hampered by blisters, don't even think about wearing bog-standard cotton sports socks. Proper sports socks aren't cheap, but they are a wise investment - go to a specialist running or adventure store.

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Other accessories worth considering include a fleece or woolly hat and lightweight gloves in winter (you'll be amazed how much warmer you feel with a hat and gloves on, even if you only have a couple of thin layered tops on) - and sunglasses in summer - not just to protect your eyes from the sun, grit and flies but also because they create a barrier between you and the world so you don't feel so self-conscious. And anyway, they look cool!

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Nifty things to look for

  • Jackets with 'thumbholes' at the cuffs - these allow you to secure the jacket sleeves down over your hands if its chilly.
  • Shorts with a zip pocket along the back - perfect for keys, as they won't jangle around.
  • Shorts with an inner support lining (like a pair of knickers) for added security and comfort.
  • Reflective strips to ensure you are visible to drivers and cyclists.
  • Flat seams to prevent chafing.

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