Trans & Non Binary Guide to Gym Confidence and Clothing

Trans & Non Binary Guide to Gym Confidence and Clothing

by Alix Coe - January 2023

Fitness spaces don’t historically have a good reputation for being inclusive and welcoming, especially for people who exist outside of the gender binary, but this is slowly changing. Many gyms are making an effort to appeal to a wider range of clients, and trans, non binary and gender-fluid people aren’t being left behind. In this article, we’ll be sharing our top tips to help you feel confident using the gym, including advice on choosing functional and fashionable workout clothes.

Before we move on, it’s important to first recognize that ‘non binary’ is not one category that anyone can ever truly define. It is a vast term used to describe all kinds of people who are outside of the rigid gender binary. It’s also important to acknowledge that some non binary people identify as being transgender, whereas others do not. There’s no single way to look, present or be non binary, and that’s one of the many beauties of it.

Trans & Non Binary Gym Confidence

People decide to go to the gym for all kinds of different reasons. This might be to build strength, lose weight, improve stamina or train for an event. It can also be a great way to help prepare the body for surgery or to get fitness levels back on track after healing from a procedure or injury. If you want to embrace fitness to better align your body with your gender presentation, then this is totally valid and achievable. As an example, this might involve focusing on developing certain muscle groups to deliberately create your desired physique.

For other people, the primary reason for going to the gym could be to support their mental health. Exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as to feel healthier and happier. Whatever your intentions are with going to the gym, being trans, non binary or gender-fluid can present additional hurdles that cis people simply don’t experience. We want to help you jump straight over those hurdles without looking back, so if you’re working up to hitting the gym, read on.

Totally New to the Gym?

If you’ve never set foot in a gym before, or you’re planning on going to a new venue for the first time, then getting a feel for the place can help to ease you in. These days, most gyms will offer an induction session when you sign up and it’s a great idea to take advantage of this.

When you’re diving into something new, it’s usually best to go gently and not overwhelm yourself with too much, too soon. It’s great to set goals and to have progress expectations, but working towards achievable and reasonable milestones will help you to enjoy and feel good about exercise. To make sure you don’t sabotage your efforts, ease yourself into a routine and then mix it up as time goes on. Remember to be kind to yourself as you’re adjusting to the gym. This can be a huge undertaking, so reward yourself in whatever way you see fit for the positive steps that you’re taking.

Working with a Personal Trainer

Hiring a personal trainer can be expensive and isn’t a service that’s accessible to everyone. However, if you’re able to do so, then this can be a great way to build your confidence and learn how to reach your fitness goals — whatever they may be. If you’ve made the decision to work with a personal trainer, then you’ll naturally want to find someone that you’re comfortable with.

For trans, non binary or gender-fluid people, this process can come with additional complications. Being misgendered is never fun. So, if you’re concerned about this, you’ll want to know that the trainer you’ve got is respectful of pronouns. Approaching a selection of personal trainers online to get more info is arguably the simplest way to find your match. Share as much about yourself and your exercise goals as you’re comfortable with and be sure to mention your pronouns. You’ll be able to tell a lot about a potential trainer by if and how they address everything that you’ve said.

Two people are talking at the gym

It’s obviously completely up to you if you disclose your gender identity or not. Some transgender people may feel this is relevant to their fitness journey whereas others won’t. If your gym intentions are closely intertwined with your transition, then it may feel important to share this information. Also, doing so may help your trainer to better understand your relationship with your body and your expectations from your sessions. Lily, she/her, explained why she started her fitness journey with a personal trainer but is now going at it alone.

“When I decided to try and get healthier, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never been into sports and things like that, so I felt like I was starting from square one! Luckily, I was able to find a wonderful trainer online who was cheaper than the trainers who work in the gym. He put a workout plan together for me and we did a few sessions on Zoom as well, just basic bodyweight things at home. As I got more confident doing my plan on my own in the gym, I decided to do my own thing. I definitely found the help to be beneficial early on, but now I don’t feel like I need it.”

Leo, he/him, shared a similar story.

“I was initially a bit intimated to go into the gym where I live in London, so I thought it would be good to have a few sessions with one of the guys who works there. It was expensive but he was really friendly and that helped me to feel safe in the gym. He also showed me how to use the equipment properly and made sure my form was good for the exercises I was doing. I’ve been going for a few years now and I prefer to write my own workout plan, or sometimes I just do whatever I fancy on the day.”

Going to Group Fitness Classes

Going to a group fitness class at your gym is a great way to meet new people, develop your confidence and enjoy professional guidance. Some gyms even offer these classes for free to their members, which can be seriously helpful if you’re new to exercise or new to a specific gym.

A group fitness class

Although there are many benefits to going to these classes, you may have concerns about being misgendered or feeling uncomfortable. This obviously won’t be true for everyone but can be a deterrent for some when considering whether to join a new group activity. Unfortunately, it’s not yet normal for everyone to share their pronouns when introducing themselves. If you feel able, then it’s a good idea to suggest this to the trainer running the class. This doesn’t have to be done in person — you might prefer to send a quick email to the management to discuss it.

Lily shared her experience of going along to a weekly Bootcamp class at her local gym:

“I was hesitant to go at first because I’d seen the class taking place and it seemed like mostly very high-energy men, but I needed some motivation so decided to join in. Everyone was very welcoming. Nobody shares pronouns at the beginning of the class, but it’s generally the same group of people that comes along each week, so we all get to know each other a bit anyway and I’ve never had any issues.”

Using Gym Changing/Locker Rooms

Accessing the changing/locker room can naturally be one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of going to the gym as a trans, non binary or gender-fluid person. Gender-neutral changing rooms aren’t common in fitness spaces yet, but more and more gyms are introducing them. If your gym isn’t on board with this simple inclusive addition, then you might feel conflicted about using one of the two binary options. The key consideration when deciding whether to use a changing room at the gym should always be your comfort. If you feel safe using either of the changing rooms, you’re generally within your rights to do so. Unfortunately, this varies depending on where you live, so it’s wise to do your research in advance.

If you’re anxious about using the changing room because of your gender identity, then it’s possible to take steps to overcome this anxiety. This could involve going with a friend for support or starting out by using the changing rooms at times when the gym isn’t very busy. You can also reach out to the management team to ask what policies they have in place for reporting and dealing with incidents.

I spoke to Leo about his experience of getting changed at the gym.

“I never felt comfortable using the changing rooms before I had top surgery, but now I just go in and don’t pay any attention to anyone else. I’ll usually have my workout vest on under my jumper already, so I only need to change my bottom half. Generally, I’ll shower at home after a workout unless I’m going out to meet friends or something straight from the gym. If that’s the plan, I’ll take a clean shirt and boxers into the shower cubicle with me so I can dry off and get dressed in there.”

If your gym doesn’t have a dedicated gender-neutral changing space, and you don’t feel comfortable in the men’s or women’s space, then this doesn’t mean you can’t use the gym. The majority of gyms have lockers on the gym floor or in areas that can be accessed by anyone, which means you don’t have to enter a changing room to use a locker. You might find that simply arriving at the gym in your workout gear and leaving without getting changed is an easy solution for you. Also, many gym-goers prefer to shower at home after a session for different reasons, so there’s no reason this would make you stand out.

On the topic of changing rooms, Daniel, they/them, shared:

“I feel uncomfortable in the ladies changing room, even as a femme non binary person. It makes me feel very othered being in there. I don't feel worried about anyone saying anything about me being there as I am often read as female but that is also precisely why I don't want to be in there — I am not female and being in that space makes me acutely aware of this. I go to the gym already in my gym gear and leave in it too!”

And on the subject of showering, Daniel told me: 

“I tend to shower at home and bypass the changing rooms by using lockers on the gym floor. If I need a wee while I’m at the gym, I use the disabled loo.” 

Seb, they/them, shared a similar experience of not feeling comfortable in either space:

“I never go to the changing rooms, I don’t want to be surrounded by men because of how I look, I obviously don't want to go to the women's changing room as that would be really awkward and threatening to a lot of women, even though that’s where I would feel more comfortable. Avoiding altogether is the only solution for me.”

Trans & Non Binary Gym/Workout Clothing


As a trans, non binary or gender-fluid person, you may find it challenging to decide what clothes to wear to the gym. This could be down to complicated feelings about your own body, concerns about how other people might perceive you, or something else entirely. It might also be a challenge to find clothes that make you feel good and fit your body well. This, of course, isn’t true for everyone and will be easier or effortless for some people.

Your comfort — in terms of how you feel and how your body is able to move — should always be the most important thing, but your clothes can also be a powerful source of confidence. If your style is an important part of your personality in other areas of your life, then there’s no reason the gym has to be an exception. 

The Best Gym Clothes: Loose or Tight?

You’ll surely have seen people of all genders wearing tight-fitting clothing around the gym. Although this might feel good for them, there are drawbacks to choosing figure-hugging workout clothes. The last thing you want to do when you’re exercising is to restrict your range of motion. You’ll also find that skintight activewear is more prone to damage, such as tears or rips — meaning you might have to replace it sooner.

Loose-fitting garments are typically the best choice for exercising in as they allow your body to move freely. Try to avoid wearing anything too baggy though as you don’t want to risk getting caught on the exercise equipment. Also, if you’re someone who wants to avoid showing off your body for any reason, then loose-fitting garments are naturally the best choice.

An old t-shirt is an effortless and comfortable choice for working out, but if you’re wearing a shirt that’s 100% cotton then this can quickly become uncomfortable. Cotton clothing is great at absorbing moisture, meaning your tee will soak up your sweat as you exercise, leaving you looking and feeling less than fresh.

Choose Breathable Materials

Opting for a top made from sweat-friendly synthetic fabrics — such is a much better option. These days, activewear is made from numerous different fabrics and it’s important to be aware that not all are equal in the benefits they provide.

  • Nylon is arguably one of the best materials to choose when it comes to your gym clothes because it’s durable, doesn’t absorb much moisture and dries quickly. This means that if you’re getting sweaty during your workout, your clothes won’t get too moist. Sweaty clothing can quickly become uncomfortable and might put you off your workout.
  • Bamboo fabric is an increasingly popular choice for gym wear as it’s breathable, sustainable and can help to regulate body temperature. This is a relatively new fabric — having only entered the commercial market in the early 2000s — so clothes made from bamboo typically have a modern, stylish design.
  • Moisture-wicking cotton is produced by blending cotton with alternative synthetic materials. This allows for a fabric that still feels like cotton, but that doesn’t absorb moisture to the extent that cotton does.

Consider Your Color Scheme

If you’re someone who loves colorful clothing, then this may extend to your fitness fashion. On the flip side, if you’re more about the subtle colors, then there’s no reason to switch this up when you’re shopping for activewear. If you’re vibrant in your everyday clothing, but don’t want to stand out in the gym, you might want to make choices that allow for this such as gentle greys or other light shades. On the other hand, if you want to express your colorful side in the gym, then don’t hold back.

Can You Wear a Binder to Exercise?

Wearing a binder to work out should be avoided whenever possible. A tight-fitting binder can restrict your breathing and raise your body temperature, and this can be a dangerous combination when you’re exercising. Opting for a well-fitted sports bra is always going to be a safer choice in the gym and there’s an increasingly fashionable range of gender-free options on the market. If you’re not comfortable wearing a sports bra, then opting for a binder one or two sizes up from what you usually wear can be a good alternative.

Fashion vs. Comfort

If fashion is important to you, then finding a balance between fashion and comfort can help you to feel your best in the gym.

Daniel, told Offbinary: “I go for both fashion and comfort, but not traditional gym fashion. I’ll wear shorts but I’m a femme with lots of body hair. So sometimes I feel great about showing this off, and if I am not feeling confident, the leggings go on!” They added: “I have a selection of sports bras, some that flatten my chest if I’m feeling that’s what I need that day, and others which cut in less and are comfier. I wear big loose baggy t-shirts some days and on other days I wear a cut-off crop top t-shirt! I like to have a choice to suit how I am feeling that day. If I didn't have that choice, I would not be able to go to the gym as often as I do.”

Expanding on the decisions behind their clothing choices, Daniel shared:

“I sometimes like to look at what other gym goers are wearing and pinch style tips. I love a baggy muscle vest and I love high-waisted leggings, it's very affirming to mix and match. I have a few core items which I wear a lot and then choose the other bits based on how I’m feeling that day. My workouts are way more productive if I feel good in what I’m wearing, so I take my time to pick what feels right before I head round to the gym.”

I asked Daniel if they had any fashion tips for non binary people who are new to the gym:

“My tip would be to wear what feels good for you. Ignore what the current fashion is in the gym, leave comparing yourself to others at the door. Nobody is looking at what you're wearing really. Wearing what feels good and makes you feel boss is key.”

Seb also shared their thoughts on choosing gym clothing:

“When I exercise and especially when I go to the gym, I look too masc for my liking. Without certain clothes (that aren’t appropriate for working out in) and makeup, I’m generally perceived as a man and that’s hard for me. It's difficult to find more feminine clothes that fit my figure. Clothes and makeup are really important to show who I truly am. Without the right outward appearance, I feel like a man, which is a feeling that I hate. Gyms are a really difficult place for me to present like my true self.”

A person in gym gear looking at the camera lens
Photo: Outplay

My Gym Experience as a Non-Binary Trans Person

My experience of going to the gym as a non binary trans person over the past six years has been almost entirely positive — but I know that this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. Living in Brighton, UK, is a natural advantage for me as the LGBTQ+ community here is loud, proud and visible. I’m also lucky that at least one openly transgender person works at my gym and is very vocal in her support of other trans and gender non-conforming people using the space. I also know that I’m generally mistaken for a cis-person on the gym floor, although this isn’t always the case in the changing room.

I spent a lot of time in my early gym years hiding my body (especially my top surgery scars) when getting changed for fear of awkward encounters or even violence, but I’m happy to report nothing beyond being stared at has ever happened. I now feel more or less comfortable getting changed with everyone else in the men’s room, although I still wish I didn’t have to use a space designated for men.

The showers, however, are another story. I’ll always put my boxers back on and wrap a towel around my waist before going back into the open changing space. I do finally feel comfortable being topless in the changing room, but it took me several years to reach this point. One of the reasons I feel able to do this is that I know my gym is a trans-inclusive space, and that I would be listened to and supported.

Alix Coe is a non-binary writer and personal trainer working exclusively with the LGBTQIA+ community. They currently live in Brighton, UK.