How do women fit fitness in around the demands of career and family? The sports luxe movement. Fitness marginal gains. Fitness in minutes – as worthwhile as long sessions? Style pointers and modeltips on flattering leggings. The best gym accessories. Discounted designer clothes!
I was recently interviewed for Channel 4’s The Mary Portas Show, What Britain Bought in 2016, a prime time show that features products trending across fashion, food, technology, cars, and interiors for 2016. As I discussed my (worryingly substantial) leggings and workout gear collection, I realised something: athleisure is now my default daytime dress. As in, unless there is a reason why I absolutely have to wear something else (lunch with my father in one of his Pall Mall Clubs, meetings in the City, Ascot), there’s a high chance I will be wearing athleisure wear. This is basically high fashion gym gear that it has become socially, culturally and sartorially acceptable to wear outside the gym.
This clothing shift happened to my life by default. As much as I loved the classic London “affluent homeless chic” look as a model, (seriously ripped jeans, multiple ear piercings, Balenciaga or Balmain jacket obligatory), I was generally a more-formal-than-average dresser before. Sharp suits at work in the City. Even casually, I’d be in leather trousers with cashmere and heels. And then I had kids. I became obsessed with jeans and washable fabrics. And then I started a business post kids. No time to change between life activities unless I really really had to. At the same time, very fortunately, there has been an explosion of fashion-forward “gym gear” (I’m calling this the sports luxe movement) with new brands, celebrity collaborations and shops popping up everywhere.
If there is one thing that defines modern womanhood, it must be this: juggling competing demands. Sports luxe is perfect, combining as it does practicality and function with fashion and style. You can go from school run to meeting to gym pretty easily, and I feel like I have vaguely managed to make a single base outfit acceptable for every aspect of my day and area of my life by switching shoes and outer layers and using more formal accessories.
Why is this so great? Every little helps when it comes to fitness. In an ideal world, we would all have defined workout time that was sacrosanct and undisturbed. Unfortunately, the other demands of life often get in the way. Studies have documented physical benefits from as little as one minute of (ideally intense) intermittent exercise. It is fine to substitute several shorter workouts for, say, a 45 or 60 minute spin or resistance training class, so long as the activities are of equal intensity. HIIT principles still work in segmented sessions. Quick caveat: when I say “fine” on this substitution from dedicated single block fitness to incremental fitness, what I mean is that for your general systemic health, chunking is just as good, and the cardiovascular, pulmonary and respiratory benefits will be comparable. If you have specific targets based on speed, strength, performance (all of which require muscular adaptations/building), longer single block sessions are preferable, since they allow more easily for adaptive scenarios and progressive overload. (Thanks Jonny. In more layman terms: if you want to build muscle, you need to work them to the point of exhaustion). If like me, your primary goal in fitness is for general health, incremental fitness is at least arguably just as good, and if it is your only option, clearly beats doing nothing. This is great news, especially for mothers and those with demanding careers (i.e. unpredictable schedules). If you want to read some more fitness talk about how to maximise your time investment, read this post.
As a mother, you have to grab your chances. I regularly do parts of the TMA workout guide when I don’t have a full 30 minutes. In the right kit, you have less of a mental barrier or anti-motivational excuse for getting out the TRX, doing some bodyweight training at home, getting to the gym or going for a run. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I do squats with kids on my back, and press ups on top of them in my playroom. Between my pregnancies, the only set fitness I always stuck to was pilates. Mat pilates can be done anywhere and in any increments. Quick diversion from athleisure: You have to learn to engage your core if you want to retain some kind of post pregnancy ab situation. Engaging your core isn’t sucking in your stomach – you actually need to push your midsection muscles out slightly to create a solid ring of support. Practice by a tiny cough or laugh; you’ll feel the abdominal activation just before the actual cough or laugh.
For those with office jobs, I have recently been reading studies that link prolonged periods of sitting with a greater risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes (so far predictable) and many more surprising health concerns. Being attired in a way that allows you to build some kind of movement into your day is essential for your long term health. Being able to walk between meetings or to lunch, walk some of the journey home or walk up three or four flights of stairs a few times a day instead of taking the lift will over time, make a huge difference. I’m not suggesting you do jumping jacks and burpees in your office (my last office was glass-walled) but with a bit of imagination and motivation, there are plenty of ways to keep fit in any lifestyle. I used to run to work once a week and I now run the school run once a week (leaving the car there after drop off and running back for pick up). If you aren’t a runner, get out your iPhone for me and look in Apple’s health and fitness category: the number of apps with “minute” in the name in have more than doubled since 2014 – to more than 700, according to an analytics company report I just looked at. For some reason many of them are seven minutes – who doesn’t have seven minutes once or twice a day?
Back to athleisure. Other than the practical ability to grab any available pockets of time, I truly believe that being in the right gear affects your frame of mind. There’s a concept known as the psychology of dressing which applies across all sorts of contexts (I remember reading once that chemists or laboratory technicians wearing lab coats are 20% less likely to make errors). If you have great workout gear, maybe you’re more likely to hit the gym and hit it hard when you do? I hope none of you are still working out in old tracksuit bottoms and an ex-boyfriend’s t-shirt?! If you are, or even if you aren’t but need some extra gymspiration, get some new kit! It just might encourage you to exercise more often and put more effort into it, which in turn will improve your health, increase your energy levels, reduce your stress, balance your hormones, control your weight and reduce your risk for almost every illness. So basically: BUY WORKOUT GEAR, YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT. Haha. Head to my new shop page!
A few style pointers and modeltips I have picked up in relation to workout clothing:
- Layering is always a good idea. Our weather is so unpredictable, and layering works so well transitionally (stylist talk for change of seasons). Also, it just looks cool, always. Alala is great at this.
- Learn to think outside the “gym gear” box in your head. Gym gear doesn’t need to be made of lycra or skin tight.
- Leggings should be your best friend. Plain coloured or block coloured tend to be more slimming than patterned. Full length leggings make your legs look longer than cropped ones and are easier to wear outside the gym.
- My favourite brands: So hard to pick but Michi, Alala, Every Second Counts and Charli Cohen would be up there for fusion of comfort, performance and style. You will never regret owning a pair of Michi leggings, I have worn mine to death. Alala: I want everything – their attention to detail is second to none. Every Second Counts is so comfortable and probably my most worn outfit of the last year. Charli Cohen is the only activewear brand to show at London Fashion Week and I was amazed chatting with Charli at an event recently how much R&D and fashion expertise goes into every single piece. Under Armour is great for basics and Gym-underwear. I also love Blue Life Fit, especially for resort style holiday fitness gear (think: gym meets boho Ibiza chic).
- Since it is Spring and we are now thinking about our Summer wardrobes, I’ve picked a few super bright pieces (pictured) which recently came with me to the beach and add some sunshine into London life too. If you aren’t so keen on brights, the black Splits 59 outfit is probably my current favourite gym outfit (below right – literally for me the most flattering and comfortable leggings in the world, and the grippy things are so perfect for pilates, barre or yoga).
Good fitness accessories can bring huge marginal gains into your life. I want to mention these in particular which you will find on the shop page:
- I cannot tell you how much I love my S’well bottles. I use them for tea or water, as well as protein shakes or smoothies, and for shaking up vitamin mixes in water. I use them on school runs, car trips, ski days, you name it, and they make the BEST GIFT EVER, for men or women. Useful and beautiful. They keep contents perfectly hot or cold for over 24 hours.
- If you have small ears like me, these earphones will be life-changing: specifically designed for women with flexsoft cushioning and technology to stay in place. They are also sweat-proof and allow for ambient sound to enable you to hear your surroundings. That might sound bizarre but means you can hear a baby monitor or the doorbell. Genius.
- I really recommend getting an activity monitor like the Fitbit. It really DOES encourage you to walk where you might have driven and generally to exercise that bit more often or that bit harder. You will be healthier. It encourages me to run faster and further – I have only ever been in competition with myself and it is fun having last week Shona to beat.
- I’m no yogi but the Warrior Yoga Mat almost makes me want to start yoga just so I can justify the acquisition of the mat.
- There is an amazing selection of gym bags. I particularly like the Balsa 201black camo bag which would double up as a son’s overnight/weekend sleepover bag.
If all that hasn’t inspired you to shop, I leave you with this! Those negotiation skills classes that I was forced into at law school or Linklaters have secured you a 15% discount on EVERYTHING at The Sports Edit, home to this kit and all the World’s Finest Sportswear, for one week from today. (Small print: click through to their site via mine and put TMA15 in the discount box on checkout. You can tell anyone this code – sharing is caring so feel free to forward this post to your family and friends. There’s a share button at the bottom right of this post. One code per customer; i.e. do one big order at once of everything you want from the whole site. Discount also applicable in store. Expires 2nd May.)