In this image for an article about how gym clothes affect motivation and performance, Peloton instructor Chelsea Jackson Roberts is grinning while doing a forward lunge in a matching brown activewear set.

What You Wear to Work Out Can Seriously Boost Your Motivation—Here’s Why

Workout motivation can come from anywhere—including your activewear.

By Michele RossOctober 11, 2023


Your motivation to work out can come from anywhere. Perhaps you prefer to sweat things out when you’re stressed, or maybe a tranquil yin yoga class helps you find your center after a long day. Maybe you love knocking out a run or bike ride to start your day on the right foot.

The same goes for a lack of motivation to get moving. For instance, you might skip a run if you didn’t catch enough sleep the night before, or opt for a day off simply because it’s Monday (too much work) or Friday (time to be social). But have you ever considered how your workout clothes factor into the equation?

Ahead, experts unpack how your activewear can end up making or breaking your workout motivation and performance.

Can Workout Clothes Affect Motivation and Performance?

Just as what you wear to an important meeting or on a first date can impact your mood and confidence, your wardrobe can definitely affect your fitness flow, too.

“In the world of working out, for many people, clothing can be an additive or a deterrent,” says Daryl Appleton, MEd, CAGS, LMHC, EdD, an executive coach and wellness consultant for high-performing individuals, including professional athletes. If you don't like the way you feel in your workout clothes, you may be less likely to put them on and go work out, she explains. “Alternatively, [maybe] I just bought myself some badass new gear that I can’t wait to wear.”

Dawnn Karen, a pioneer in fashion psychology and the author of Dress Your Best Life, offers two theories on the association between clothing and how you feel:

  • Mood illustration dress, or dressing to reflect your current mood

  • Mood enhancement dress, or dressing in a way that optimizes your mood

“When we're talking about keeping yourself motivated when you want to work out, it's really crucial to utilize one of these theories,” Karen says. “Some people may be on autopilot and not have the awareness that their workout gear could be impacting their level of motivation.” She says folks might attribute a lack of exercise motivation to anything from the day of the week, the environment, or simply not feeling propelled to work out. “But there could be a hidden factor as to why we lack motivation—and that could actually be what you place on your body,” Karen says.

In this image for an article about how gym clothes affect motivation and performance, Peloton instructor Erik Jäger is doing a side plank with weights on a workout mat.

How Workout Clothes Impact Your Fitness Routine

Your clothing choices can impact everything from your exercise motivation (and the likelihood of following through with a workout) to your overall performance. Some of your activewear’s influences might be obvious (like picking materials that leave you feeling comfortable all workout long), while others are more subconscious (such as fabric color). Either way, you’ll want to take note of these impacts to help reach your fitness goals.

Self-Identity and Confidence

Justin Kompf, PhD, an expert in exercise and health behavior change, says that your workout clothes reflect your identity—or an identity you’d like to promote. “By purchasing exercise clothing and wearing it, you are sending yourself a signal: I am an exerciser, this is who I am,” he explains.

Your workout clothes are basically a non-verbal indicator of who you are or want to be. Dressing the part is one piece of a larger puzzle of your identity as an exerciser or athlete. “Maybe you want to be consistent with cycling and purchase cycling shoes, or maybe you want to be consistent with strength training so you buy gym outfits,” Kompf explains. In any case, he says that your clothing choices can support consistently high levels of motivation to hit the ground running (or hiking, or walking, or whatever drives you).

“If you feel good about what you wear or if it’s aesthetically pleasing, you might also have more confidence, which can boost performance,” he adds.


Of course, comfort and functionality factors—such as fit, flexibility, fabric, and the like—are also major influences. “If you’re not comfortable or if you don’t have freedom of movement, you may not be able to perform exercises optimally,” Kompf says. For instance, you might cut your workout short or underperform if you’re not wearing breathable, sweat-wicking fabrics. The same goes if your clothes are too loose or too tight—which can also depend on the type of workout you’re doing—or if they facilitate chafing and other hassles.

“Some people like to work out in loose fabrics, and maybe more cotton fabrics, as opposed to spandex,” Karen adds. All these considerations can contribute to your motivation and performance alike.


Ever bailed out on your plans for a sweat sesh because you didn’t have anything ready to wear? How about if you didn’t have enough time to choose a ‘fit before making it on time to a class? Appleton says that getting ahead of your garment game can ensure you actually show up. “Having clothes picked and laid out or packed in a bag ready to go can help since the ‘work’ is halfway done,” she explains. “Now all you need to do is show up.”

Having go-to activewear staples on hand can also boost motivation because you have one less decision to make, Karen explains, which is one less obstacle in the way of reaching your fitness goals. “You're not bogged down thinking, I don't know what to wear. Does this go with this, does this go with that?” she explains.

In other words, simplifying things and having your clothes ready to rock can work wonders for setting yourself up for success.


It’s well-established that what you wear can enhance (or deter) how you feel. Everything from the brand to the feel of the fabric, as well as what color you’re wearing, can have a bearing on your mood, and thus, your physical performance. According to Karen, different colors can be associated with different vibes for some people. Examples might include:

  • Red and black = power

  • Yellow = happy

  • Blue = tranquil

She's careful to caveat that many considerations within this umbrella are personal. “Those colors may not work for you at the individual level based on your childhood history with colors (and even fabrics),” she notes. “Perhaps your lucky color could be that lime green that really does it for you.”

In this image for an article about how gym clothes affect motivation and performance, Peloton instructor Chelsea Jackson Roberts is grinning in a black sports bra and sage green leggings.

Are Certain Workout Clothes More Motivating Than Others?

Certain clothes can definitely push you to go harder, better, faster, and stronger—but again, it largely comes down to personal preference. “People place value on different things,” Appleton says. “If wearing your lucky shirt or getting on your brand of choice makes you more apt to jump on the bike or go for a run, then lean into it.”

Kompf agrees, noting the many variations of motivational workout clothes. “The extent to which you identify with the brand of clothing you wear might have an impact,” he explains. “If it is an athletic brand, this might be sending yourself a message that it is time to perform.”

What’s more, such clothes can psychologically prepare you to exercise. “It doesn't need to be anything fancy, as long as it is sending a signal that I am an exerciser.” It can also be anything that makes you feel strong and confident. (Kompf notes that he’s no stranger to opting for Marvel merch to complement his own workouts, for instance.)

In addition, Karen says that some people need aesthetics to be on point. “I have clients and students who don’t feel motivated unless everything is matching and the colors are in alignment,” she shares.

Ultimately, take a step back and consider what type of activewear makes you feel excited, empowered, and ready to start that sweat session, then embrace those preferences for an extra dose of workout motivation.

The Takeaway

If you need some extra pep in your step, paying closer attention to your workout wardrobe just might do the trick. Take note of your patterns and preferences—including which clothes either help or hinder your motivation and performance—and apply your discoveries. Perhaps you’re a creature of comfort or convenience is key, or maybe there’s a color or a brand that gives you a boost of confidence to power your workouts. Whatever the case may be, getting granular with your activewear can very well be your secret weapon for reaching your fitness goals.


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