One of my delights in learning to love exercise has been watching active wear grow into a legit style business. It may sound superficial but when I’m working out I want to feel good about my body from the moment I put the clothes on to hours later when my classes for the day are done and I’m sweaty to the bone. This time of year many people make the promise to themselves to get into shape or get back into shape or whatever. I’m not much into New Years’ resolutions myself, but if you’re leaning towards getting into the gym why not look amazing doing it? Yes, now, before you’ve even begun.
For a long time it was impossible to find workout clothes that fit me or supported or my bust and this is coming from someone of average size. Luckily as the industry grows and companies see the chance for profit the sizes available continue to grow and better yet, the clothes look better and better.
Beyond the basic black, inside you’ll find some of my favorite workout gear picks, plus my favorite places to get the gear.
FAVORITE WORKOUT TIGHTS: alo yoga’s Goddess Leggings ($92-$94)
I first saw these beauties on one of my Pure Barre instructors and it was like a godsend for me. As the temperatures have steadily declined I’d struggled with how to keep myself warm on the way to and from class without overheating during class. I asked her about them after class and she gave a sparkling recommendation, which I now echo myself.
These breathable pants keep the wind out when I’m walking to my many gyms around NYC but breathe well enough that I can do most of my workouts in them. Barre, rowing, pilates, and outdoor running are all a go for me in the Goddess Leggings (I wear a size medium). (I don’t recommend hot yoga or spinning in them, I overheated about 3/4 of the way through the latter.) Plus, they look damn good on. I own these in three colors right now: the black lightning pattern, black upper/garnet lower (small sizes available here and large sizes available here), and the volcano upper/black lower pair shown in the photo above.
These workout leggings are one part legging, one part legwarmer. The bottom legwarmer part is super-long (it bunches on purpose at points up your leg) and meant to be worn over your foot though you can roll them up to the ankle if needed. The pants come in combinations of either a print on top or a solid top with a solid-colored legwarmer bottom.
You can see the full gamut of color and pattern options on alo yoga’s website. I’m in love with this brand and their plethora of workout clothing options in coordinating patterns, colors and sizes. You’ll see them again on this list.
Care: Easy. Wash ’em on cold (by themselves the first time if you get a patterned pair), dry ’em on low. I wear these 2-3 times per week and wash them at least once a week. So far they’ve held up spectacularly.
FAVORITE WORKOUT CROPS: Lululemon’s Luxtreme Inspire II Crops ($86-$96)
Actually, my favorite pair of crops is Nike’s Strut Crop but they stopped making them (whyyyyyy?!?) so these come in a close second.
I go back and forth with Lululemon. A few years ago this brand was a consistent hit with me but these days I have to be more careful due to inconsistent quality; sometimes their crops are sheer when you bend over (pleasant!) or the crops’ hems will ride up on me as I run or bike.
That said, I love how Lulu’s crops make my butt look. I don’t how they do it but they’re masters of seam placement that flatters. No other brand comes close. The Luxtreme Inspire II Crops (I wear a size 8) correct the hem ride-up issue I experienced with the non-Luxtreme version by using better elastic, or something. I also love how they do solid body colors with colorful waistbands. Very cute design but easier to pair with tops — patterned pants limit the color options for tops. I rarely do gray or lighter-color crops because I sweat a lot at the gym but these work fine. I wear over-the-knee socks with these to get to and from the gym.
They’re comfy, breathable, look great, have a low-rise (gym pants are the one area where I prefer a low-rise) and are easy to care for.
Care: Pretty easy. I wear these at least once a week and wash them once a week. I wash them on cold and either air dry them or tumble low with a bunch of other stuff. (NOTE: Lululemon’s care instructions recommend air drying…I just don’t always have time for that.) Has held up well so far but they are pretty new.
Buy the Luxtreme Inspire II Crop at: Lululemon
FAVORITE SPORTS BRA: Victoria’s Secret’s Incredible by Victoria’s Secret Sport Bra
Honesty time: I usually wear a regular bra and then a sports bra over that, because most “sports bras” don’t give me nearly enough support for even low-impact classes or don’t fully cover my chest. Being a 34D for a long time there were exactly 0 options in the sports bras arena, because you know, women with bigger busts don’t work out or some bullshit like that.
These days the market is improving though it’s still not great and for anyone above a D cup the options are few and far between. The best on the market that I’ve found for myself is the Victoria’s Secret Incredible by Victoria’s Secret Sport Bra ($50-$60, I wear a 34D). I don’t have to wear another bra with this which is great and it’s sturdy enough that I can do medium impact classes with it. The molded cups are seriously nice. During classes my biggest issue tends to be underboob sweat, which causes chafing and then lesions if I’m not careful. And if you’ve never had a lesion under your breast let me tell you it sucks and is extremely painful. It’s hard to wear any bra once you have one and of course going braless is simply not an option for me. This bra wicks away sweat nicely to prevent any issues and the back is shaped in a way to relieve pressure. It spreads the weight of my cups out nicely over the back so there’s no pain anywhere no matter what kind of exercise I’m doing. The straps are wide but not too wide, another issue with a lot of sports bras for bigger breasts. I’m sorry but wide straps are not cute.
I don’t feel comfortable running in this though — it doesn’t lock and load my breasts in place the way I need during a run. But it’s OK for short sprints during my bootcamp classes, plus jumping jacks or any other potentially boob-endangering workout you can think of.
Care: Tricky. I wash these with the rest of my bras in an undergarment bag on delicate, then air dry on a rack. Holds up fairly well, I did have one where the underwire snapped out of its seam after about 3 months. Boo. I buy new sports bras about every 18 months.
Buy the Incredible by Victoria’s Secret Sport Bra at: Victoria’s Secret
I’m also a fan of alo yoga’s Cortina Bra ($60, I wear a size medium) but I have to layer another bra underneath. Ditto Lululemon’s Energy Bra ($48, I wear a size 8) and Nike’s Fierce Pro Mezzo Bra ($55, I wear a size medium).
For running and heavy-impact workouts, I wear a combination of two bras; Gap’s Favorite Plunge Demi Bra ($36, I take a 34D) with the back crossed (you can get $45 off your $100+ Gap purchase right now with the code HAPPY) and then Lululemon’s All Sport Bra ($52, I wear a size 10) over it. This is the only way I’ve found to keep everything in place during an intense workout. If anyone in the community has a better suggestion I’m all ears!
FAVORITE WORKOUT TOP I CAN WEAR WITHOUT A BRA: alo yoga’s Reflection Tank
Impossible as it once seemed I have found a few tops that I can wear without a bra for low and medium-impact classes. Spinning, barre, Pilates, rowing, pretty much anything where my lower body is doing most of the work and I’m not upside down too much.
alo yoga’s Reflection Tank ($66 I wear a size medium) features a hidden bra with molding cups against a mesh backing (brilliant!) inside of a strappy-back top. The straps are so awesome for keeping me cool during hot yoga classes or classes that get really intense (8-minute 2K rowing, anyone?) when my body is literally throwing off steam. It’s a gorgeous top. It keeps me cool and looks amazing on. I feel pretty sexy working out in this top and that counts for something, right?
This top would never work running though. Or for jumping jacks. Even third position in my Flywheel classes can get dicey at times if we’re going over 65 RPM.
Care: Easy. I wash this with the rest of my workout gear on cold and then tumble dry on low or medium, depending on how big the load is. Not sure how well this holds up over time yet as it’s pretty new.
I’m also able to wear Lululemon’s Wild Tank ($64, I wear a size 8)) without a bra for the same classes listed above, and it’s equally if not more pretty, especially from the back. It doesn’t get my top spot for two reasons: it’s hard to clean and because the back is draped which can be tricky around bikes, weights and machines during classes. I have to be careful not to get caught on anything. It’s perfect for yoga. To care for it, handwash and then air dry. Don’t dryer it — you’ll mess up the molded cups.
FAVORITE TANK TO LAYER WITH A SPORTS BRA: Nike’s Dri-Fit Racerback
They make so many cute sports bras these days that if I am wearing one I don’t mind having it peek out of my top a bit (especially in back) during classes. Seems like most of my female classmates do the same. So for layering my favorite top is easily Nike’s Dri-Fit Raceback (I wear a size medium, now $45). It comes in about a zillion colors, is body-skimming but not too tight, wicks sweat, has a cute textured pattern on the side (easier to see on the darker colors) and is easy to care for.
This top is also long, which is great for a taller person like me. (I’m 5’8″.) Many body-skimming poly tops ride up my torso during class which is annoying and potentially embarrassing if it rides too far up. Nike’s top stays right in place and doesn’t stretch out over the course of a day. The racerback is thicker than some other tops I like which is good for hiding a bra if I decide to go that route and it’s cut in front is pretty much perfect — nothing revealed, no danger of wardrobe malifunctions.
This category has about a zillion tops to choose from so it’s really just about finding what works for you. I like how versatile this top is, so it’s my top choice.
Care: Easy. Wash it on cold, dry it on low. I wear these every time I run, about 3-5 times per week. Holds up well, color does fade in the armpits with time. (About 9 months in my experience.)
Other options I like: More from alo yoga — their Extreme Racer Tank ($48, or via Bloomingdales or Revolve) and Fusion Power Tank ($64) are two more of my faves. Also, weirdly, American Eagle’s Boyfriend Tank (now $5, very limited colors and sizes left) is a great workout tank! It’s thin, long and soaks up sweat. It’s not always awesome on cold days after class but it coordinates well with most of my workout gear so I have like 7 of them.
Here are some quick hits of my other fitness favorites…
— Favorite running shoes: New Balance 636 (DSW // Shoemall). Who knew that a $45 pair of sneakers would beat the out wayyyy more expensive options for me? I’ve run three half-marathons in these and wear them to basically every class I take, plus on my training runs. Not a single blister yet. I bought three backup pairs, that’s how much I love these.
— Favorite winter running jacket: Nike’s Shield Flash ($350). Pricey but worth it — water-resistant, reflective, hand thingies. I wear a medium in this.
— Favorite winter running top: Nike’s Pro Hyperwarm Shield Half-Zip Women’s Training Hoodie ($85). Warm, body-skimming, has a hoodie. Also available via Dick’s Sporting Goods. I sized up to a large in this.
— Favorite pilates/barre wraps: Nike Studio II wraps (now $40). I much prefer these to socks for my barre and pilates classes because my feet slip backwards in plank when I wear socks, because my core is still pretty weak. These come with an outer ballet flat shell so you can wear them to and from class.
What workout gear do you love? Questions about what to get or where or when to get it? Ask away in the comments!