After over a year of gyms opening, closing and re-opening, the way you exercise in 2021 likely looks pretty different to what you were doing in early 2020. But no matter how and where you choose to get active, you’ll want a pair of leggings suited to your specific workout. For example, if you’re a runner, you probably want leggings with a pocket for keys, but if you’re weightlifting, a thick fabric (that won’t go sheer when you squat) is more important.
To help you decide which leggings are right for you and your needs, we asked 11 top fitness experts — including a barre teacher and a bodybuilder — for their go-to pairs. Read on for the best leggings for everything from yoga to dance, and the best sustainable and plus-size options.
Best overall gym leggings
Lululemon was praised repeatedly by our panel, but it was its Align Pant that four of our experts couldn’t get enough of. ‘They are the softest pair of leggings I own — they feel like a second skin’, says Tally Rye, personal trainer and author of Train Happy, who wears them to work with her clients and for her own gym workouts. For Maria Eleftheriou, head of barre at Psycle London, Align’s allure is in the way they “hold their shape and quality during movements.” Digme Fitness founder Caoimhe Bamber likes the way the “thick, high waistband helps you feel tucked in,” while Courtney Murray, a barre teacher at triyoga, singles out these as one of the few black leggings that “remain completely opaque, despite constant washing.” They’re available in sizes UK 4-18, with three lengths and 29 colours, They also have a handy pocket inside the waistband, big enough for your locker key. Keep an eye out for the brand’s We Made Too Much sales, which often feature heavily discounted Align Pants in bold shades (think mustard yellow and rose pink).
Three of our fitness experts recommended Nike’s range of leggings for multiple disciplines, including Rowen Aida, Nike training coach and owner of fitness and mindfulness platform Elevate by Rowen. Aida especially likes the One Luxe Tights. She rates their soft material — made of a stretchy polyester and elastane mix — which she says lend themselves to both low and high intensity workouts. Aida also says that the super high waist — “an absolute must for me” — helps her to feel comfortable while teaching a spin class. “Their fitting makes me feel so good, I wear them outside of class too, all the time.” Nike One Luxe are available in sizes XS-XL and in various shades and designs, but Aida says she tends to opt for black, as they don’t reveal any sweat spots.
[Editor’s Note: Though Aida represents Nike as a training coach, she purchased the leggings herself.]
Best for spin
Australian label PE Nation describes itself as ‘active streetwear’ and counts Kylie Jenner, Joan Smalls, and Margot Robbie as fans. Its bright-orange high-rise Straight Fire are the only leggings Eleftheriou wears during spin classes. “They are incredibly flattering and they take a lot of wear — even after the intense sessions I do,” she says. Fi Clark, a fellow spin fan and yoga teacher at FLY LDN, agrees. “In spin there’s so much movement of the hips and knee flexing, and these withstand those highly repetitive movements in a hot and sweaty environment,” she says. Available in sizes XS–L (though they come up small, so go a size up), Clark likes the front-zip fastening and the material, which is “light and breathable, and dries quickly.” PE Nation have discontinued their zipped Straight Fire leggings, but we think their Best Play leggings, which are also made out of stretchy material, are a good substitute.
Best for barre
Barre classes require a great deal of lifting and sculpting with each move, so Maria Elefterhoi, head of barre at Psycle, opts for the High Waist Airlift Leggings from Alo Yoga. “They cut in all the right places”, says Eleftheriou, crediting “[the] comfortable high waist and long leg that move well with longer movements.” Although she has a different pair for every day of the week, Eleftheriou’s personal favourites are the Alo Blue, “it’s great to mix with your foundation grey and black tops.” Eleftheriou also says that the leggings — available in sizes XXS (00) to XL (18) — wash without fuss, and have never revealed a sweat patch to date.
Best for high-intensity workouts
Three on our panel praised the Lululemon Fast and Free HR Tight for offering comfort and flexibility during fast-paced HIIT classes, dynamic stretches, intervals, and circuit training. “They’re silky on my skin, as well as shapely and supportive,” says Bamber, who has several pairs in different colours (there are seven in total, in sizes UK 4–18, and three lengths). Rye likes the “useful pockets on the back of the waistband and outside thigh, and thick, comfortable high waist,” and thinks “they are great cost-per-wear: I have worn them two or three times a week for the past three years, and they are only just wearing out.” They dry quickly after the “sweatiest classes,” according to Eleftheriou.
Strategist writer Rachael Griffiths discovered her Seasum leggings via TikTok. The leggings have an unusual honeycomb pattern, which Griffiths says provide a “rather flattering” butt-shaping effect. The leggings are available in 31 shades, and in a size range from XS to 4XL. Despite appearing deceptively tiny in the package, Griffiths said that they were actually exceedingly comfortable, and passed “the true test of any gym leggings,” the squat test.
Best for CrossFit
CrossFit’s challenging strength and conditioning exercises require sturdy kit that doesn’t need constant readjustment. Nicki Petitt, former GB trampolinist and F45 coach, says the only leggings that meet that requirement are Under Armour RUSH Leggings. “The fabric is designed to absorb the energy and heat created while training and return it back into your muscles, meaning improved strength and endurance,” she says. “I was a little skeptical of the claims, but wow! I train hard in them and recover fast.” Petitt points out Under Armour’s broad range of RUSH leggings, which include 12 styles, several colours and prints, three lengths, and all available in sizes XS–XL. Petitt, who is five-foot-five, wears the XS, and finds they stay in place when she runs and bends, and “they’re shapely on the bum, tight on the quads, and there’s no bagginess behind the knees.”
Best for dance
“When I dance, I need to feel powerful, and Power Mesh 7/8 Gym Leggings help me do just that,” says Bonnie Lister Parsons, founder of Seen on Screen. “They hold my body really well, and have the right balance of quality and look, with mesh panels on the inside and calf that make them stand out from other standard black styles.” Available in XXS (a UK6) to XL (a UK16), with a rear waistband pocket big enough for an iPhone 7, Lister Parsons rates their soft, body-hugging fit, which means they don’t budge during her fast-paced classes. The leggings, which are made from compression material, also come in a cropped style, which sit just below the knee, plus there’s a matching crop top in the same range. Sweaty Betty no longer offers the Power 7/8 in mesh, but you can still choose from 18 other colourways.
Best for yoga
Lululemon comes up again with its Wunder Under HR Tight, recommended by three of our panel. Clark teaches yoga six days a week and says they “are the only leggings I feel comfortable in.” Clark practises a lot of yin yoga, which involves seated and lying-down postures, and finds “these give me enough room to move around the mat.” Wunder Under come in three colours, but Clark is drawn towards black, which “look amazing with everything from a brightly patterned sports bra to boots and a nice top if I’m dashing out from teaching an evening class.” They also wash well — Clark has had some pairs for over three years, and she still get comments about how well they fit. Eastnine coach Tashi Skervin-Clarke calls them “squatproof,” while Eleftheriou says the Wunder Under in 28-inch length has finally given her a pair of leggings that flatter her five-foot-nine height and “hold their shape during movements.”
Best for hot yoga
Sweaty Betty Zero Gravity Leggings are actually designed for running, but Charlie Morgan, Hotpod’s head of yoga, champions them for hot yoga classes. Available in two lengths — ⅞ and cropped — Morgan finds “the fabric sculpts your body and allows for easy movement, but it’s also light-weight and sweat wicking.” They are made from compression fabric, which helps reduce fatigue and promotes muscle recovery, but during practise “you feel as if you’re not wearing anything.” Eastnine’s Skervin-Clarke echoes this “glove-like fit” and also points to the fashion-y prints — although you’ll have to join the waiting list if you want the olive animal print.
Best for plus-size
Julie Creffield, five-time marathon runner and founder of the website Too Fat to Run, spent years trying out different leggings during her training runs and racing before discovering Sturdy by Design. Founded by Wiltshire-based bodybuilder Charlene Harvey, the brand is designed for curvy and muscular body shapes, with an emphasis on durability and bold patterns. Creffield has worn the brand for the last two years. “I used to get terrible chafing on my thighs no matter what preventions I took,” she says. “These leggings have lots of stretch, and you can do the squat test in them and not reveal your underwear.” Highlights include the “massive” comfortable waistband and drawstring — a combination Creffield’s struggled to find in other brands — and the “incredible” graphic prints, which stand up to repeated wear and washing cycles. The leggings are available in sizes XS–3XL (UK 6–22), come in three lengths, and have a pocket for a bank card and some cash.
Best for sustainabilty
Rye raves about the entire range from Girlfriend Collective, the athleisure brand from Canada-born, US-based creative director Ellie Dinh. Her mission is inclusivity and sustainability (25 plastic water bottles are recycled to make each pair of leggings). “I adore this brand,” says Rye. “They have a size range from XXS to 6XL and the quality is superb.” For studio classes, Rye recommends Girlfriend Collective’s Seamless Lite High Rise, pointing out their high comfort factor and ability to withstand multiple movements. Since we first featured these leggings, Girlfriend Collective have replaced their LITE line with the FLOAT line. Their FLOAT leggings have a similar elasticity to the LITE leggings, and are available in the same size range, XXS-6XL.
A note: Girlfriend Collective’s medium translates to a UK 10–12; if you’re between sizes, go down a size. The brand’s US site has the full range of sizes and colours, with delivery starting at $12, and you must pay for the return; the Sports Edit in the UK stocks a limited range of Girlfriend Collective, with free delivery on orders over £60 and free returns.
Strategist contributor Natalya Lobanova also loves Girlfriend Collective. Lobanova has practised yoga at home for over ten years, and writes “of course, you can do yoga in anything comfortable, but there is a reason why most people do it in leggings,” she explains, “the less fabric you have around your body, the more you’re able to keep an eye on your form.” She opts for the Compressive ⅞ High-Rise Stretch Jersey Leggings, made from both soft and sustainable materials (produced from recycled plastic bottles). The leggings are also available in a variety of shades, from classic Black to understated Moss and Plum.
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