One thing I get asked about all the time as a somewhat larger lady (let’s be honest, fat bird) is what to wear to the gym.
Whilst there are now many many more companies realising that size should be no barrier to exercise, it’s still an absolute minefield. Price, sizing, even stretch of fabric all play a part. So after a ton of discussions about it, I’ve put fingers to keyboard and will tell you everything I’ve learned, tell you where I buy from, since I started in the gym when I was a size 26.
If you are at home in jog pants and a tshirt, then do it. It’s how I started and in 2007 or so, there were no fitness brands catering to a size 26. At all. I would wear XXL tshirts and jog pants. For me, not only was it the only thing I could find to wear, but it was also how I felt I could hide the wobble as I ran on a treadmill (though nothing can ever hide the fact that my footfall is heavy even now as they slap on the pavement).
Now for me, it’s a big tshirt (I hate being restricted) with a slashed neck (I hate stuff around my neck) a good bra (I don’t like my boobs to smack me in the face, that hurts), and stretchy leggings (comfort). I give less of a crap if I wobble as I’ve learned EVERYBODY does (yes even the tiniest of fitties in the gym bounce).
You don’t have to have all your kit matching, you don’t have to wear a crop top and tiny shorts – unless you want to. You’re there to get sweaty.
Nobody is watching
I know it’s hard. I know you walk in and feel like all eyes are on you. I’ve been going to the gym as a fat bird for 10 years. I still feel like eyes are judging me. Things to remember are:
If they are judging you, that’s a reflection of their own self loathing, nothing to actually do with you.
And it’s more likely that they are in their own little world, thinking about their next set, and staring into space. I do it all the time and don’t even realise I’m looking at someone. My head is filled with stuff like ‘just one more set and I can move onto the next thing. Then shower and I can eat. Hmm food. What shall I have for lunch? Oh! I’ve got a shake in my bag, that’ll keep me going’ etc etc etc.
If they’re intently watching you do your set, then that’s just weird, unless they are a PT and want to help. Stick two fingers up or tell them to piss off.
As with all women’s clothing, sizing is bullshit
I’m a size 16 – edging into an 18. The gym leggings I wear (most of the time) are a size 12. Nope, not a joke. I’ve worn everything from an XXXL to a size 10 (yeah, ok, I was a bit smaller then). But as with all women’s clothing it’s total bollocks. Never believe the numbers, always try on if you can. If you order online, the only barrier to you sending stuff back is you remembering to do so, so commit to it. Don’t make do with something, bounce around in your living room in them. Do a couple of squats. There’s nothing more depressing than buying some gorgeous, leggings, heading to the gym and spending half of your class pulling them up.
Fabric is everything
I cannot express this enough. Even if you’re ordering online, if you get chance to visit somewhere and check the fabric, do. Pretty patterns are great but if they stretch and go transparent (unless you want to flash your pants) or worse, have no stretch at all, you’ll be investing in something you will never wear. And sometimes, the opposite is true. I have leggings from Primark that I bought in a size 16. The stretch in them means they are simply too big, and I’ve passed them onto someone else.
Shoes shoes shoes
There are two places to really invest money in. One is shoes. You often need different shoes for different things. For running, I need supportive, shoes, my gait (get it assessed if you can, it’s worth it) needs something neutral, but the force with which I slap my feet down, means I need something very cushioned. Once you have your gait analysis, you can search for bargains – eBay, Sports Direct, Sports Shoes, or M & M Direct are good places to try.
For spin class, I need something in the middle. Padded as I spend a lot of time on my feet in the class, but I don’t need something so bulky. Again, see the brands above for places to shop.
And for lifting, if you follow my social, you’ll see I wear two kinds of shoes. One is plain and simple Converse pumps. For deadlift and bench, these are all I need. So visit Love the Sales for Converse branded bargains, or if you can’t afford the branded kind, places like Primark have got you covered.
For squats, I need a little more support, so I have lifting shoes. These are structured to give you more support, but some people use them for all three. I figure if I don’t need them, I’ll save them for when I do. (They’ll last a bit longer too, lifting shoes are expensive!). For these, it’s all about research. Find the ones you want and search online for bargains. I got these via eBay from someone who bought the wrong size!
I’ve already waffled about boobs and sports bras here. Please, if you’re going to bounce around, secure them. It actually makes me wince and grab my own in sympathy.
Where to buy
The key point is shop around. I know fitness gear can be expensive, so places like eBay can be really really helpful (we’re all guilty of not sending stuff back, this is where those things end up).
But, if you need a starting point, I’ve listed everywhere I’ve been to, used, and those I know of and need a bigger budget for. Ah, one day.
Primark: probably your cheapest option and probably the most hit and miss – but it’s worth a try. I’ve had some great leggings from there, and in bigger sizes than you’d think. Again, it’s all down to the stretch. Go, try them on.
Sports Direct: OK, not your most ethical option, but sometimes a budget is a budget. These are the ones I wear – the stretch and sizing is generous and I wear a 12. USA Pro in general are good, but check the fabric. The patterns tend to be less stretchy and generally smaller in sizing. Sports Direct also has a whole plus size section for you to check out, but it is very limited and, well, a bit odd.
Nike: If you’ve got a bigger budget, then off you go. The range is great, the stretch is great, it’s just the price that can add up.
It’s also worth noting that other brands are stepping up a bit too. Ranges and availability are different, but I’ve not actually tried Adidas, Puma, Pineappple, New Balance or Under Armour plus size ranges, so I don’t know what they are like.
High Street brands: Loads are stepping up! Simply Be, JD Williams, M&S, Navabi, Evans, Matalan, Very (though it’s stupidly hard to search through), and Curvissa all have ranges available. The latter go up to a 30/32, which is beautifully inclusive!
Plus size body positive brands: Yes, there are some fabulous ones out there. Check out OBD Clothing and State of Mind Active, and for me, the ultimate is GRRRL Clothing, who don’t do sizing as it is in the high street. I own several pairs of their leggings and they are utterly worth it.
I know there are more out there, but I’m still learning and investing where I can. If you can offer insight into brands or sizing, I’d love to hear more. Fitness, sport, whatever you want to call it can, and should be for everyone who wants to do it.