Like most people whose body is losing the battle to age, gravity and last night's pizza, I usually need a personal pep talk before I visit my health club. "Gee, do I really feel like it today?" "You haven't gone for two weeks; put it off another day and your body will look like a Sumo wrestler." Complicating this "Should I?/You'd better!" dialogue, I find myself asking more often: "And what should my T-shirt say today?"

This is not a trivial consideration. Since there is no standard uniform for working out with exercise machines, the budding Schwarzenegger can make a personal fashion statement that other weekend jocks could only dream about, assuming one has dreams about fashion, at all.

Tennis players, for example, are limited to differentiating themselves by the selection of clothing manufacturers. Wearing a tennis outfit from Sears may say something different than walking on the court with a designer piece from Europe, but not much. It reveals nothing about you, or more importantly, your backhand.

Golfers are even more restricted -- all golf clothes say about you is that you're legally color-blind. Golfers are forced to wear such loud plaid pants that in many parts of the world they would cause a crowd to stampede; in fact, Spaniards frequently use a foursome from Long Island to start the running of the bulls.

But, in a fitness factory, the message on your shirt and shorts can make a statement more eloquent than any other article of clothing you might own, with the possible exception of a lavender cape. I realized that when I recently wandered around my health club.

Although it was an uncrowded afternoon, I noticed an unlikely coincidence -- I and two other members were each wearing a "Cheers" T-shirt. I wasn't sure what this meant -- whether we each had visited the famous Boston bar, it was our favorite TV show or if we wanted to project an image of not only being funny, but of having top ratings, as well.

Reflecting on this clothing trifecta, I realized that there are several distinct categories of clothing statements prevalent in health and fitness clubs. To help you create your own ensemble du nautilus, use these guidelines:

Athletic prowess. The ultimate of all workout uniforms is owned by the competitive athlete, with bonus points awarded for foreign locales. A shirt confirming your participation in a tennis or racket ball tournament will draw attention and respect; a logo indicating that you ran in the Auckland 10K will draw stares and furtively written phone numbers from part-time models. Of course, if the event occurred two decades ago and more than one crease-fold of your gut is hanging outside the shirt, you might opt for the anonymity of a "Bahama Mama" shirt. Which leads us to the next category.

Travel. While the Bahama Mama theme may project the image of a spinster schoolteacher on her annual winter-break cruise, it's on the right track. One rule of thumb: the more distant, the least traveled, the better; e.g. "Dalai Lama Mama." Also, make certain that if a foreign language is used that the meaning is clear. Something with Chinese lettering might be interpreted as an advertisement for a local carry-out, but one that says, "Property of the Athletic Department of (Chinese characters) University" is one swell shirt.

Sports Teams. Wearing the emblem of a local sports team is as much a cliche' as wearing a shirt from the "Hard Rock Cafe'." (Alright, nothing is that bad). You can honor your favorite sports team, but subtlety is called for. For example, it would have been gauche of me to wear a shirt declaring my hometown happiness with the 1984 World Champion Detroit Tigers. However, "Bless You, Boys" showed the proper amount of understatement.

Attending a major sporting event is also worth commemorating sartorially, but preference should again be given to distance and uniqueness. For example, the fact that shirts celebrating each Super Bowl can be purchased through cable shopping networks has diminished their cachet. Anyone can buy proof that "I was at Wimbledon," but a shirt from the Llandudno Ladies Open means you probably visited Wales. Lovely.

Refreshment. There is only one kind of refreshment for weekend athletes: beer. This can be a tricky category. If you were literally the first person to wear a "Spuds McKenzie" shirt, you were cool. But for only about 15 minutes. Again, the rule of thumb is distance and uniqueness. If you want to wear a Corona Beer shirt, that's fine. Just don't ever borrow my Tsing Tao sweats.

Life Style. This is the critical, when-everything-else-fails category. This includes Cheers, "Body by Haagen Daaz," and Harley Davidson clothes. Cartoons that say, "Oh, no, I forgot to have children." Silk-screened reproductions of your pet Chinese Shar-Pei. An imaginary dinosaur that defines you (would a worry-wart be a tsorressaurus?). Whatever you are, could be, want to be, you can show it off at the exercise ball.

Sometimes, even when you don't want to. I decided to see what the reaction would be if I wore a plain white, J.C. Penney-issue shirt and shorts to the local sweat shop. There were a couple of double-takes as a few fellow worker-outers thought I might be sleepwalking in my underwear, but mostly I was ignored.

However, one guy was clearly taken by my blanc look. Where I thought I had been mute, he managed to find a statement. Rushing up to shake my hand, he was almost too excited to talk. "Hey, man. I thought I was the only nihilist!"

I had found my perfect workout partner.

Ron Lux has taken his blanc look to Hollywood to pursue "The Dream."