The right workout outfit can motivate you to hit the gym and even make it more fun — but think of exercise leggings, sports bras and sneakers as fitness equipment, not just accessories, say our fitness experts.
Just like shoddy dumbbells can hinder your workout, uncomfortable or unsupportive clothes and shoes can, too. High quality, effective products to help you recover from exercise by soothing sore muscles or dulling aches and pains are also critical to help you feel your best.
So we tried dozens of shoes, leggings, sports bras and more to find the best for your workouts.
SKIP AHEAD Workout Shoes | Leggings | Sports Bras | Insoles and Compression
How we chose our winners
To find our top products in fitness apparel, our editors and staff wore and worked out in this gear. We tried over two dozen pairs of leggings, 13 sports bras and 15 kinds of shoes in order to find our winners. Products underwent a five-week trial period before being selected as our favorite in the fitness apparel category. We utilized our editors as shopping and trying experts, along with professionals in fields associated with each product category, who provided us with information and advice they give their patients or clients.
When we look at any products, especially wellness items, we look at them comprehensively. To be our favorite in the fitness apparel category required fulfilling a multitude of needs. We want to provide you with products that perform well and that you'll love for other reasons. For this category, we looked at criteria including price, size-inclusivity and overall quality and effectiveness.
In addition to fitness apparel, we also tried products across fitness tech, self care and sleep. To see a full list of our winners visit our Select Best of Wellness Awards homepage.
Select Best of Wellness fitness apparel winners
Brooks Revel 6
Award: Best Workout Shoes | Activity: Running
Meant for running or walking on the road, these shoes offer neutral support and are constructed with a cushioned heel for a bouncy feel, according to Brooks. They also have perforated uppers for breathability.
“I felt sturdy and supported even though I almost forgot I was wearing sneakers at all,” says associate updates editor Zoe Malin about the shoes' lightweight feel. Malin, who typically runs five to six days a week, wore the shoes to jog outdoors as well as on the treadmill. Reporter Harry Rabinowitz says “you can decently feel the ground, there is enough support, but it's not super padded.” He ran in the sneakers twice a week outdoors during our trial period.
Brooks Levitate StealthFit 6
Award: Best Workout Shoes | Activity: Walking
Brooks describes its Stealth Fit Levitate 6 shoes as “super springy,” and those who tried this shoe agree. The sneakers have a wide midfoot, and instead of a movable tongue, they have stretch uppers — like slip ons with laces, our reviewers say.
“I would sew these shoes to my feet if I could,” says Rebecca Rodriguez, editorial projects associate, who walks about 9,000 steps a day. “The support on the arch is perfect" says Rodriguez, who has a medium arch, "and they have additional padding around the ankle that I love. They’re so lightweight.”
Lululemon Blissfeel 2
Award: Best Workout Shoes | Activity: All | Sizing: Women's
Lululemon's Blissfeel sneakers are neutral, everyday running shoes specifically designed to support women’s feet, according to the brand. They are constructed with foam cushioning to soften landings and spring you forward, according to Lululemon, and they have grippy outsoles for added traction.
“I’ve never run as well as I have while wearing these shoes,” Malin says. "My feet are secure in the sneaker and I feel balanced and stable, allowing me to hold a steady pace for a longer period of time." Malin adds that the sneakers are "perfectly cushioned and supportive, not too wide and not too narrow and super lightweight.”
Hoka Clifton 9
Award: Best Workout Shoes | Activity: All | Sizing: Men's
The ninth iteration of Hoka’s Clifton sneakers is lighter weight than previous models and has 3mm more height thanks to added cushioning. The sneakers have a rocker shape for smoother heel-to-toe transitions, according to the brand, and a gusseted tongue design to prevent them from moving around.
“The Hoka Clifton 9 are perfect running shoes for me,” Rabinowitz says. “They are very structured, with a ton of support in all directions.” The shoes also stayed tied for miles when he double-knotted them, says Rabinowitz.
Lululemon Wunder Train High Rise Tights With Pockets
Award: Best Leggings | Activity: All
These high-rise leggings have side pockets that will fit your phone and a hidden pocket in the waistband for keys or credit cards. The leggings are built with a waistband drawcord so you can adjust their fit. Shari Uyehara, manager of editorial operations, says the drawcord also prevented the waistband from folding over or slipping down.
“The leggings don’t hold onto moisture and dried quickly, making them great for sweaty workouts,” says Malin, who often wore the leggings to run, as well as during pilates and barre classes. Rosalie Tinelli, senior social media editor, says the leggings are “breathable, soft, stretchy and super comfortable. I could wear them every day.”
Spanx Soft And Smooth ⅞ Leggings
Award: Best Leggings | Activity: Running
Spanx’s leggings are made with smooth compression fabric composed of polyester and Lycra spandex. They have a high-rise waistband, which Malin says “holds you in without feeling restrictive” and “hugs your hips and waist so it doesn't slip down while running.” The leggings don’t have a center seam, which the brand says prevents the dreaded camel toe.
“These leggings are so comfortable and breathable,” says Rodriguez, who wore them to do barre and pilates classes, as well as on the elliptical machine. “They’re very flattering and form fitting.”
Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging
Award: Best Leggings | Activity: Training
Girlfriend Collective’s high-rise leggings are designed with compression fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and spandex, the brand says. They have a small, hidden back pocket for keys or cards, and you can buy the leggings in three lengths from 19.5 inches to 28.5 inches.
“I was surprised that the material was thick enough so the white color I tried wasn't actually see-through,” says Uyehara. And “the fit was sculpting and held everything in place while working out without being too restricting," she says. "The high waist band is also particularly flattering and doesn't fall or bend over.”
On Running Performance Sports Bra
Award: Best Sports Bra | Activity: All
On’s Performance Sports Bra doesn't have clamps, wires or seams — its single piece construction supports each breast without anything digging into or irritating skin, according to the brand. It’s made with sweat-wicking fabric, according to On, and has a mesh panel on the back for added breathability. The bra has light padding and a high neckline.
Tinelli, who has a larger chest, says On’s bra fit her well, is supportive and held her in place while during cardio workouts. And according to Malin, who also has a larger chest, "there was no bounce while I was running and doing other high impact activities, which is rare to find.”
Brooks Dare Scoopback
Award: Best Sports Bra | Activity: Running
Both our reviewers say they experienced no bounce while running in this bra, thanks to its built-in molded cups holding them in. The bra’s open scoop back and mesh panels give the bra breathability, too. Tinelli and Malin particularly appreciated the bra’s adjustable back closure and adjustable straps, which have a front hook-and-ladder design that faced up and therefore didn't dig into their skin.
“The adjustable straps held me up enough, and I didn't feel like my larger chest was weighing the bra down or making it pull on my neck and shoulders,” Tinelli says.
Girlfriend Collective Paloma Racerback Bra
Award: Best Sports Bra | Activity: Low Impact
This scoop neck bra was designed for low to medium impact workouts and offers full coverage, according to Girlfriend Collective. Its thick support band held our reviewers up while exercising, and the bra has a UPF 45+ rating.
“The bra is very flattering and you can wear it as a top or bra,” says Rodriguez, who has a smaller chest and wore it during pilates and barre classes. “The compressive design holds you in really well.”
Insoles and Compression
Dr. Scholl’s Women’s Extra Support Insoles
Award: Best Insoles | Activity: All
These insoles have cushioning along the full length of the foot and reinforced arch-support to evenly distribute foot pressure, according to Dr. Scholl's, and they are built to reduce lower back pain and absorb shock in the heel. The insoles are specifically made for women over 160 pounds, according to the brand.
"I have chronic foot pain and prefer more structure in an insole than less, and this option really delivers," says editor Christina Colizza. "They can make even the firmest of shoes feel like sneakers."
Pro Compression Marathon Socks
Award: Best Compression | Type: Socks
To help relax and reduce muscle pain in the feet and calves, these compression socks apply 20 mmHg to 30 mmHg of pressure, which experts told us is a firm amount of pressure. The socks are made from nylon and Lycra spandex, making them sweat-wicking, according to the brand.
“These compression socks applied gentle pressure to my legs and feet, and are very comfortable to wear with and without shoes,” Malin says. She typically put the compression socks on after workouts for over an hour, and says her muscles felt more relaxed afterward.
Therabody RecoveryAir JetBoots
Award: Best Compression | Type: Boots
Therabody’s wireless RecoveryAir Jet Boots have integrated internal pumps that inflate and deflate the boots to apply and release pressure — our reviewers compared the mechanism to a blood pressure cuff. You can choose from four time intervals and four pressure settings. The boots have a 240-minute battery life before needing to be recharged, according to the brand, and connect to the Theraboday App via Bluetooth.
“Using the JetBoots felt amazing,” says Malin, who wore them for 15 minute intervals. “They’re easy to set up and navigating the app is very straightforward. The boots also paired with my phone quickly and seamlessly.”
Meet our experts
To ensure our product picks are more than just editor-approved, we used a panel of experts, including dermatologists, sleep doctors and personal trainers to give buying advice for each category. Experts did not recommend individual products. When conferring with our unaffiliated panel of experts, we asked them for advice they would give to their patients or clients.
- Dr. Miguel Cunha is the founder of Gotham Footcare and a leading podiatrist in Manhattan. He is a foot and ankle surgeon with experience treating a wide array of foot and ankle conditions from minor problems to complex reconstructive foot and ankle surgery.
- Dr. Grace Torres-Hodges (DPM, FACPM, FASPS) is a board-certified podiatrist. She is the owner and founder of Torres Hodges Podiatry in Pensacola, Florida. She offers comprehensive foot care to all ages. Torres-Hodges is on the surgical staff of her local hospitals as well as the Andrews Institute of Sports Medicine & Orthopedics. She is an APMA spokesperson as well.
- Laura Tempesta is a bra expert and an inventor of multiple patented products. She worked at Nike as the brand’s sports bra innovation director and now serves as a consultant to the bra and sports bra industries. Tempesta is the founder of Bravolution, a consumer advocacy group and resource providing sports bra reviews and education. Tempesta’s TEDx talk about bras has over 3 million views.
- Jené Luciani Sena is a bra expert who regularly appears on national television shows to share her knowledge. She’s also the author of four books, including “The Bra Book.” She hosts a regular “Brablem Solving” segment on Access Daily. Sena's a TEDTalk speaker as well.
- Nicole Nahed is the founder and lead trainer of Sculpt Studios, a female-focused fitness studio in Royal Oak, Michigan.
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