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Clothes Maketh The Man… And The Workout

Suit Up Right, Work Out Well

 

Pesach has ‘passed over’ for another year, and it’s usually around this time, with spring fighting to break through, that thoughts turn to exercising outside and enjoying the beautiful weather. But what to wear, what to wear? My mother always taught me, “clothes maketh the man”, instilling in me the importance of respecting one’s own body – for it houses our precious neshama – and dressing accordingly.

 

In addition to purporting an accurate self-value, and serving as protection from the elements, the choice in clothing can affect one’s outlook, both internally and externally. Furthermore, choosing the wrong clothes can often result in detrimental consequences, stripping us of our confidence or ability, hindering our true potential. More specifically, with regards to exercise, running in the wrong sneakers, for example, can hamper your gait, and sweating in the wrong fabric can chaff your skin; not to mention the fact that, as frum Jews, dressing appropriately for exercise comes with its own set of unique challenges.

 

Let me suggest 9 tips for choosing the right exercise clothes, and getting the most out of your workout:

 

1)    Head Covering

 

Most Jewish adults wear some sort of head covering, including kippot or hats for men, and sheitels, snoods, or teichels for women. Needing to cover one’s head can sometimes feel like a blessing (for all you balding guys out there) and sometimes feel like a curse (sheitels in the summer, need I say more?), and figuring out the best way to adhere to religious protocol while also training hard is no exception. Everyone’s situation is different – long hair or short; summer or winter; sweat like Niagra Falls, or merely “glow” with minimal perspiration – the best choices of head covering will keep hair and sweat out of your eyes, and wick moisture away from your skin (see below).

 

2)    Material

 

Cotton and other natural fibers are soft and comfortable, and are good for light workouts, such as walking or stretching, but, due to their absorbent quality, aren’t very good if you anticipate sweating a lot; when cotton becomes sweaty, it can feel heavy and cling to your body causing chaffing and soreness, far from ideal for more intense or aerobic activities. Choose a fabric that provides wicking – i.e., it draws the sweat away from your body – this will help keep your body cool while you exercise, and also minimize chaffing. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, Lycra and Spandex are effective.  

 

3)    Fit

 

Depending on your own body image and personal style, you may prefer workout clothes that are loose and cover most of your body, or tighter and more form-fitting. Either way, choose clothes that are not restrictive, allowing you a full range of motion.

 

4)    Know Thy Season

 

If you’re exercising outdoors, always be cognizant of the weather. Temperature, precipitation, humidity, lighting, and particulates in the air can all affect the quality and safety of your activities.

 

Layer your workout clothes during colder months, and even during fall and spring if you exercise in the early mornings or late evenings. Wear items you can easily remove (and carry or wear around your waist) as your body temperature heats up during your workout. You lose 40% of your body heat through your head and neck, so choosing the correct headgear is very important; in the winter, double-layered hats are a good option, and in the summer, I find a light bandana made from a synthetic material (rather than a bulky cap) works very well.

 

Wear lighter-colored clothes in the summer, and be weary of slippery leaf fall in the autumn and ice in the winter. Puddles after a heavy rain aren’t too much fun either if you happen to jog right into them.

 

Finally, for those men who favor running often, you may consider adapting a dedicated running top to incorporate four distinct corners, allowing you to attach tzitzit directly onto the top, circumventing the need to wear an additional layer underneath that may be uncomfortable during hotter temperatures. I advise consulting with your Rav further to discuss the options.

 

5)    Tailor Attire To Activity

 

Tailor your attire to the specific activity you’re conducting. If you’re running or biking, don’t wear long pants that might get stuck in the pedals or cause you to trip; or, if the weather is colder, tie the pant legs close to your legs to secure loose fabric that might get caught. For yoga and Pilates practitioners, avoid clothing that feels restrictive during different poses. If you’re running outside at night, be sure to wear reflective clothing that will allow you to be seen by motorists.

 

6)    Get Inspired

 

Choose clothes that you find attractive. While function and fit are the most important elements, you want to feel good while you’re exercising. Certain clothes, cuts, and designs may inspire and motivate more than others. Don’t underestimate or disregard the importance of feeling well-dressed – you’d be surprised at the difference it makes.

 

7)    Supportive Undergarments

 

Incorporate supportive undergarments into your workout wardrobe. Women should look for a good sports bra that offers support and flexibility, and men should use a protective cup if they’re playing contact sports. Supportive undergarments are also important for plyometrics and similar exercises that include jumping and high impact movements.

 

8)    Appropriate Footwear

 

Selecting the appropriate footwear for the exercises you perform is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – choose wisely, and your activities will likely be enhanced; pick poorly, on the other hand, and you’re likely to be less productive at best, and may injure yourself at worst. Be sure to wear a comfortable athletic shoe that supports your feet and ankles. Wear running shoes for running, and cross-training shoes for high impact plyometric training/sports (the interior supports are structured differently). Also, be aware that the life of your sneakers is finite; the older the footwear (i.e., the more you use them), the less support they offer – so going running in those dusty 10-year old sneakers you pulled out from under the bed may not be as beneficial for you as you might think.

 

9)    Tzniut

 

As frum Jews (and as respectable human beings too, for that matter), we must always be mindful of the image we portray, both to the outside world, and to ourselves. Tzniut isn’t just something specific to women, and it’s not just something to which we adhere only at certain times or in certain places. Respecting your body through exercise should be similarly mirrored in the manner in which we dress. That being said, sometimes exercising – and exercising outside in particular – can be challenging; supportive clothing is often figure-hugging, and warmer climates beg the need for reduced covering.

 

Maintaining a requisite level of tzniut does not automatically preclude the ability to exercise. Woman can wear sweatpants or loose leggings beneath skirts, and if you aren’t comfortable in the clingy fit of stretchy synthetic fabrics, try wearing a sweat-wicking undershirt beneath a larger looser cotton top. Supportive undergarments are important from a tzniut perspective as well. There are numerous options available these days, including modest swimwear, and double-layered tops. Gender-specific exercise classes also allow an added measure of comfort.

 

Summary

 

While many people want to look good while they exercise, your workout clothes should be less about fashion and more about comfort and fit. What you wear can impact the success and safety of your workout. Some forms of exercise, such as biking and swimming, will require specific items of clothing. For general workouts, it’s best to wear something that fits well and keeps you cool. Choose the right workout clothes by considering fabric, fit, and comfort.

 

Whatever you choose to wear, always dress respectfully; exercising is a mitzva and should be honored and venerated accordingly.

 

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