Save or Splurge? How to Spend Smart on Fitness Gear

Learn which fitness gear and apparel are worth your time and money.

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Has beach season reinvigorated your goal to get fit? Whether you're picking back up on your workout routine or trying out the latest fitness craze for the first time, keep in mind that committing to a regular workout regimen doesn't have to involve condemning your savings account with expensive fitness gear.

Like many other products on the market, some activewear is worth the extra buck, while consumers can find more value scaling back on certain brand name exercise items. Being wooed into flashy brand name clothing and accessories, especially if you're trying out a foreign workout style like yoga, for example, is understandable but expensive.

Instead, learn which fitness gear and apparel are worth your time and money, and where it's perfectly acceptable to substitute big-name brands for cheap workout clothes for women and men.

What to Know About Activewear

In addition to longevity and quality, buying activewear based on functionality is essential. This means that you should ideally turn to fabrics like polyester that absorb sweat away from the skin and, using capillary action, allows sweat to essentially evaporate on the exterior of the garment—thus, keeping you dry while you shed calories doing cardio.

While cotton apparel works well for everyday use due to its breathablity and lightweight features, it performs rather poorly as exercise clothing. The reason being cotton's absorbent nature; unlike the moisture wicking action of new workout clothing in today's market, cotton absorbs sweat during a workout, but retains that sweat in the fabric, causing t-shirts and fitness pants to feel heavy and wet against the body.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 84 percent of Americans ages 15 years old or older spend anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours exercising per workout session. So, selecting the best fitness gear can ensure that this valuable time is spent comfortably and distraction-free.

Fitness Gear 101: Save vs. Splurge

If you're ready to spend this summer catching up on lost time with a workout plan, you'll need appropriate fitness gear to hit the ground running. These activewear and accessories recommendations allow you to put in the work to stay fit, without putting up the costs of high-ticket items.

Splurge on This

Pants: Workout pants tends to succumb to the most movement among other activewear products. Paying top dollar on a few pairs of fitness pants can prevent painful chafing and rashes when performing workouts like running. Due to the friction in the groin area, there is typically more wear and tear along the inseam resulting damage.

To keep elastic sturdy and prolong the life of your workout pants, line dry them after each wash.

Sports bras: Discomfort from an ill-fitting sports bra can result in chafing and a lack of support. These issues can become more problematic over time, leading to sagging and damaged breast tissue. If saving money is important, it's best to cut costs on other cheap workout clothes for women and stick to buying a quality sports bra.

Discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls have high-performing sports bras—even quality brand name versions—at about $15 each.

Shoes: If there's one thing that you can avoid compromising with when it comes to fitness gear, it's a good pair of shoes. Not all shoes are created equal in the world of fitness. Gaits vary and factors like foot arch (e.g. normal arch, high arch and low arch) and foot alignment (e.g. underpronator, neutral pronator and overpronator) make a big difference with comfort and injury prevention.

Also, type-specific shoes like running footwear are designed for forward movement and are not meant to support the lateral (side-to-side) movement involved in other sports like basketball, so you won't have much success interchanging these shoes for other fitness needs, as doing so can result in a sprained ankle or worse.

Specialty equipment: No, fancy workout props are not what specialty equipment means. In this case, specialty equipment refers to certain activities that require dedicated fitness equipment to perform the workout.

For example, to practice yoga you'll need a quality yoga mat that prevents slipping, absorbs sweat, and provides enough cushioning to protect delicate body parts like knees.

Similarly, those who enjoy basketball workouts should opt for a quality basketball that can withstand your court of choice—outdoor or indoor—as outdoor basketballs are more resilient to rough elements like asphalt and gravel, while indoor basketballs are designed accordingly.

Save on This

Shorts and activewear tops: Unlike the apparel previously mentioned, these specific women and men's workout clothes aren't as crucial when working out. Affordable retailers like Target offer cheap workout clothes for women and men by brand name companies like Champion. These activewear garments provide the moisture wicking benefits of pricey counterparts, but come at a savvy $20 or less.

Fitness accessories: Spending hundreds on fitness accessories is an injustice to your savings account. Extras like name brand headbands, water bottles and running monitors all have cost-conscious alternatives that won't blow your budget.

If you had your eye on the Nike+ Sportwatch GPS unit to keep track of your runs, for instance, you're likely to pay about $169 in a retail store. By downloading the MapMyRUN app on your smartphone, you can fully track your route, learn how many calories you've burned and log your heart rate for only $2.99 for the fully upgraded version.

Get Fit and Spend Smarter on Activewear

A good set of activewear can be all it takes to keep you motivated during workout sessions. Spend your money where it counts most and skimp on fitness gear that isn't as important to find the best value. Staying financially fit is a necessary part of maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Jennifer Calonia writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news, and more.