If you’re anything like me, you’ve been working out in the same getup for years. Baggy t-shirt. Old mesh shorts. Beat up running shoes. You know, an outfit better suited to painting my house rather than going into public.
Recently, I picked up some new workout gear to keep up with my exercise routine. I didn’t think much about it, but bought whatever looked cool, had great reviews, and would be comfortable in the gym.
A funny thing happened. When my clothes fit at the gym, I felt way more confident. I had one of the best workouts of my life that day. That got me thinking. We know that exercise can boost confidence. But we don’t hear much about how confidence can boost your exercise.
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10 GYM ESSENTIALS FOR MEN
Whether you’re a weightlifter, crossfitter, runner, or Richard Simmons jazzercise fanatic, these 10 items will change the way you workout forever.
Here’s what guys should bring to the gym to ensure an optimal workout.
1. The Right Shoes
Getting the right shoes or sneakers might seem easy. As long as your feet are covered, you’re good to go, right? Depending on what your exercise routine looks like, picking the right shoes can make a huge difference.
If you spend time on the treadmill or at the track, you’ll want running shoes. Running sneakers are softer and more flexible in the mid-section while remaining firm on the heel and toe. They’re designed to help take the repetitive pressure off your foot.
Pick the wrong shoes and you’ll start feeling pain in your legs and knees. You may even develop plantar fasciitis, which can take at least 6 months to heal.
If your runs are only a mile or so, we recommend New Balance Roav’s or Adidas Ultra Boost 22 running shoes. These offer a great balance between style and function. They have enough support for casual runners. But if you put in more than 8 miles per week, you’ll want to go to a running store and spend some money on a shoe specifically for your foot.
If you’re not much of a runner, but love to hit the weights, check out these Adidas Powerlift Cross Trainers.
The hard heel and die-cut wedge in the center help keep your foot planted when you’re doing squats, deadlifts, or kettlebell swings. These exercises can be dangerous if your form isn’t right, and having the right shoe helps keep your gravity centered.
2. Compression Socks for Better Circulation
A study done at Stellenbosch University in South Africa recording the times of ultramarathon runners showed that those wearing compression socks were able to shave 12 minutes off their time.
While most lab research is inconclusive about whether compression socks offer a significant benefit to your performance, the socks have been proven to help with recovery.
» Readers’ Favorite: Highlighting the Best Men’s Sock Brands (10 Quality Pairs for Every Activity).
Compression socks help bring full circulation to your legs and feet, which significantly reduces swelling. This means that you’ll cut down on the amount of recovery time you need after a long run.
The South African marathon runners with compression socks were ready to start training just three days after their big race. Not the case for the others.
When looking at compression socks, you’ll notice that each pair comes with a range going by the acronym mmHg. This is a scientific measurement meant to display how much pressure is applied.
15-20 mmHg of pressure is great for runners or if you’re doing an intense crossfit routine. This amount of pressure will help energize and relieve your legs and calves.
» Related: Highlighting the Best Men’s No-Show Socks that Stay Up All Day.
20-30 mmHg is as high as you want to go for any exercise routine, and it’s only appropriate for long runs like a half-marathon or more.
Anything above 30 mmHg is too much compression for a workout. Doctors prescribe compression socks at 30 mmHg. That’s beyond where we want to go.
3. Moisture-Wicking Shirts to Stay Dry
I used to wear cotton shirts for my workouts every day. Cotton is great, but it holds on to all that sweat. You can imagine what 5 sweaty t-shirts sitting in a bin for a week smell like come laundry day. After a few whiffs of that, I started cycling shirts made of moisture-wicking material.
A shirt made with the right fabric won’t hold on to any nasty smells or odors. In fact, you don’t even have to dry them after washing. Just hang them up or put one on right away.
I noticed that exercise shirts tend to fit better as well. Since they’re made with a more athletic crowd in mind, there’s a bit less room around the stomach and waist as in other, run-of-the-mill shirts.
As far as a confidence boost goes, I’ll say that the shirt was the biggest factor in showing off my muscles at the gym. What’s the point of doing all those sweet bicep curls if your arms are hidden under loose, baggy sleeves?
Related: You might be interested in this hands-on review of the Best Men’s Undershirts.
We like the UA Tech short sleeve shirt from Under Armour or Baleaf workout shirt. The Baleaf shirt comes with a bit of reflective material on the sleeves for running at dawn and dusk like a championship boxer.
Under Armour’s shirts have more of a relaxed drape, though still fitted. While the sleeves on Baleaf shirts are slimmer, so they accentuate your arms more than a standard shirt. Even if you don’t have massive guns, you’ll get a bit of an illusory boost.
A few other highly regarded moisture-wicking shirts that Khoi (GW Founder) has experience with are the super stretchy SilkCut Crew Shirt from Tani, Twillory’s Performance Undershirt (use code GENTWITHIN20 for $20 off). And finally an up and coming brand called Ten Thousand has athletic apparel for athletes that look every bit as good as they perform.
4. Performance Shorts to Let Your Boys Breathe
Performance shorts can help a surprising amount in the gym. This became clear when I had to interrupt my jump rope session six times to pull up my basketball shorts.
As with the moisture-wicking shirts, having a breathable lightweight fabric on your legs is a good idea. Especially if you have butt-sweat. This may be TMI for all you readers out there, but I suffer from butt-sweat (when I work out, not really any other times). I had to stay with darker color shorts so that no one could see the sheer amount of sweat down there.
Since switching to performance shorts, no problem. I can wear royal blue shorts, red shorts, any shorts. I mean, that wasn’t something on my bucket list, but I have more options now.
For performance/training shorts, GW’s founder, Khoi likes Wolaco’s Spring Short and All Citizens’ Contender Training Shorts. The Spring Short is ultra-lightweight and ideal for long-distance running while the Contender Training Shorts are performance ready with functionality in mind. It’s got a designated phone pocket and a hidden pocket in the inside front that’s super clutch. Khoi says these options are great—particularly All Citizens—checking the boxes for style, comfort and fit.
Additionally the Hylete’s shorts with 4-way stretch and the Neleus 3-Pack shorts are worth checking out as well. I like getting the 3 pack because I can’t rewear without washing due to the aforementioned condition regarding butt-sweat. And another fantastic lightweight option is QALO’s Primitive Training Shorts.
The way Neleus has done the drawstring is nice and the two strings allow you to get a snug fit so they stay hiked whether you’re doing box jumps or squats. Finally, Ten Thousand offers a tactical short that’s worth a look too.
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5. Compression Shorts to Prevent Chafing
Compression shorts — they’re shorts for under your shorts! Just like with compression socks, a pair of these will keep your blood flowing through your legs and will help with recovery.
Runners, bicyclists, and powerlifters all reported feeling a sense of increased exertion when wearing compression shorts during training. This means that they felt they were moving more weight with less effort. The perceived ability to do more actually transformed into better performance.
If you’re doing any sort of contact sports like boxing or martial arts, compression shorts are a must. They’ll help secure a cup so you won’t have to worry about any accidental cheap shots.
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Made with moisture-wicking fabrics, compression shorts also help prevent chafing, which can be a massive problem for long-distance runners. I like using compression shorts when doing heavy lifting leg days. I feel a better sense of control over my squats, deadlifts, and box jumps. I only have one pair and I save them for my heavy leg day every week.
We like the Champion Powerflex, Hylete compression short and Wolaco’s Grand 2-in-1 short which gets an a-grade for functionality and comfort. If you’ve never done a workout with compression shorts on, you’ll notice a difference right away.
6. Workout Gloves to Help with Blisters
Gloves are helpful in a handful of situations (no pun intende). I’ve seen some guys tear their hands up when doing heavy deadlifts.
For the most part, I don’t mind the callouses I get from working out. Guys’ hands shouldn’t be perfect. There’s charm in a little roughness. But if you’ve seen some of the gnarly blood blisters that heavy powerlifters get, you may be interested in a pair of workout gloves for those heavy days.
These Atercel workout gloves fully protect your palms and the base of your fingers. They also provide support for your wrists. Pullups and chinups can be tough on the wrists, so a pair of these #1 best-sellers on Amazon works double duty.
And for runners, you might find yourself out during some chilly mornings and frosty nights. In that case, you’ll want a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm. But some people prefer not to wear gloves at all because they can’t check their phone or use a touch screen.
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These Lanyi gloves do a great job keeping away the cold while still allowing you to change the song on your phone. They’re light and more form-fitting than most other options out there.
An even lighter weight option are the Tech Running gloves from Nike. Having gloves with too much wiggle-room is a recipe for dropping your phone on the ground, tripping over your headphones, and tumbling into the bushes.
7. Headbands to Keep Sweat Out of Your Eyes
Nothing shuts a workout down like sweat in the eyes. It stings. That’s where the humble headband comes in.
If you’re a heavy sweater, a headband is a must. Chasing the sweat away from your eyes is too distracting and can move your focus off the task at hand. Plus, it can be dangerous. If you’re carrying a lot of weight, you can’t afford to have a drop of sweat roll into your eye.
Headbands can help keep hair out of your face if you have longer hair, and they can keep your brow clear of stinging drops of sweat.
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We like the French Fitness Revolution 6 pack. There are plenty of fancy headband technologies like “sweat channeling”, but I’ve found that a simple headband works well enough.
By picking up six, you’re sure to have enough to get through the week and then some. If you prefer something more minimal, check out QALO’s sport headband, coming in 3 stylish colors of navy, black or electric.
These are easy to wash in a pinch. Since they dry so quickly, they’ll be ready to wear right away.
8. Headphones to Go Harder
Next up we added a heavy hitter — the headphones.
A great pair of headphones can help you block out the noise and focus on the task at hand. Haven’t you seen all those NBA players before a game?
For a lot of people, music is a must when working out.
A 2006 study concluded that music helped people run faster and longer on a treadmill. It not only relieved boredom, but helped participants get into a groove when running.
If that’s not a reason to bring a pair of earbuds, I don’t know what is.
We like the over-ear Treblab Z2’s for their wireless capabilities. You never have to worry about pulling the cord and ripping your headphones off in the middle of a rep.
For earbuds, we like the AirPods for Apple users, the Galaxy Buds Pro for Android users, and the Senso Bluetooth earbuds. They’re more secure than headphones and are a good fit if your workout has a lot of cardio or cross training elements in it.
For outdoor runners, bone-conduction headsets are a must. You’re able to clearly hear your music, but because there’s nothing in your ear, you also keep your ability to hear the world outside.
For the best bone-conduction headset, we like AfterShokz. These even come with a reflective strip so you’re more visible out on the road.
Any way you choose to go, get the most out of your workout and pump the jams.
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9. A Better Body Spray to Smell Good
There’s nothing worse than BO at the gym. You know the guy who’s leaving a trail of body odor that’s repulsive as it is humorous leaving everyone shaking their head in disapproval and laughter.
A simple solution is to pack a performance body spray for all your trips to the gym. You can spray a little before getting to the gym or in the locker room on your body and underarms (don’t overdo it here) to emanate a fresh scent during your workout. It’s especially advantageous for after your workout if you’re in pinch and don’t have time to freshen up with a shower.
While OffCourt is not going to replace our special occasion or date night colognes, it certainly has a spot in our body freshening tool-kit at the gym.
» Related: You might like this guide on the Best Grooming Tips for Healthy & Stylish Men
Regardless of what you use, be sure to always deodorize before and after all of your workouts. It’s common courtesy for those around you, helps you smell good and ultimately feel more confident.
10. A Water Bottle that’s Reusable
To round out our list, we’ve included an everyday essential, the water bottle. Not only is staying hydrated paramount when it comes to your health and well-being, it’s also important to stay up on your H20 intake at the gym to ensure optimal performance.
Many gym goers often forget to bring their own water bottle and have to make countless trips to the water fountain, and while we’ve got nothing against water coolers and the like, it’s always better to have your own water readily available.
As for our recommendations — though plastic water bottles are certainly convenient, they’re not the most environmentally friendly, don’t hold as much water and lack the functionality of the following recos.
Looking for something to keep your water cold? S’well has a triple-layered vacuum-insulated bottle that’ll keep whatever you’re drinking cold for 36 hrs. And if you’re looking for a vacuum sealed, stainless-steel bottle with a spout or straw lid and carrying handle, Takeya has got you covered.
Before you go—although they weren’t on the list of gym essentials—an honorable mention are minimalist fitness trackers.
And so, if you’ve been working out long enough, you’ll notice that you have plateau periods. It’s when you keep putting in the same effort, but you get fewer results.
Gym style can be like that, too. We don’t think about what we wear to the gym all that often, and it’s easy to get into a rut. Try out a few of these 10 workout boosting clothing items and tell us what difference you notice.
Were you able to lift more? Run faster? Bike longer?
Just like we thought.
William Barton is a men’s fashion and lifestyle writer navigating through the world of beard oils, boots, and bow-ties.
What are some of your go-to gym essentials?
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