Ask Belle: Gym Shorts and Leggings

May 12, 2015


Do you have a favorite brand of gym shorts?  Or do you wear leggings to the gym?  If so, favorites?


I like shorts for working out because I can’t stand to have anything binding my legs.  Yoga is a different matter, for that I do wear leggings.  But for treadmill, weight training, etc., I wear shorts.

I’m not very particular about brand.  I think the most important thing is to find a short that isn’t going to leave you exposed.  Some are so short and/or the gusset is so wide that they don’t provide much coverage.  And since you never know what maneuvers your workout might require, best to make sure you’re covered.

As for brands, I’m not picky.  I like to scan the selection at and see what they have in my size.  They have a wide range of styles, sizes, and colors.  If I don’t find anything there, Old Navy’s compression shorts are well-priced.

As for yoga leggings, Zella.  Zella all the time. (I recommend sizing up.)  If you need them at a discount, Nordstrom Rack offers the Z by Zella brand.

If other readers (esp. those in the plus, tall and petite sizes) have suggestions, leave them in the comments. I’m not very serious about working out, so those who are might have some better guidance.

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  1. Sara says:

    This is a big problem for us runners. It’s natural for shorts to ride up when you’re running, but it’s totally awkward when your shorts have a bad girth that makes them bunch up between your legs. For this reason, I stopped buying Old Navy active wear and I stick to what works: good old $30 Nike tempo shorts. The only complaint I have with them is that they are billowy, so you get that weird diaper butt look and when you’re running and wanting to feel like a gazelle and not an elephant, it doesn’t help to look down and see cloth billowing out from your hips. But they don’t bunch up between your legs, so it’s a worthy price to pay. As well, they last a long time and through many runs. Great investment to spend $30 per pair and not 3 pairs for $10. This is just what works for me. Eager to see what other readers/runners suggest.

  2. Amy says:

    an ad in facebook feed promising an entire workout outfit for $25 got me to try Fabletics. It did not disappoint!!! I LOVE everything I have gotten. I’m a former Lululemon addict, and I would say the quality is better for about a quarter of the price, plus stylish and you don’t look like everyone else, (the limited selection each season was one of my lulu gripes). Subsequent outfits were not $25, but still a deal and worth every penny. Sometimes I’ve found that the Old Navy stuff is gross when it’s sweaty and doesn’t perform well for really hard workouts (super long runs, hot yoga). For reference, I’m a marathoner who runs or cross-trains 1-2 hours, daily.

  3. Maureen says:

    I prefer to wear skorts when working out in or outside during hot months. Athleta has some styles at good price points. Quality is excellent and you can return items even after they’ve been worn for up to a year. Sweaty Betty has some cute ones that are pricer. Skorts also double as tennis skirts if you play.

  4. Anna says:

    I’ve transitioned almost completely to tights for my workouts, though I no longer run long distances, so that may change when I take up running again (I did use to wear compression shorts under my regular shorts or alone before). Since most of my workouts now are bootcamp type exercises, loose shorts make me way to self conscious. Between my white legs reflected on oh so many mirrors to the fear I’m flashing someone during leg lifts to fabric bunching up when I squat, tights just keep me more comfortable and give a little boost to the ego. I like Nike running crops, but will go for any running crops/capris that are wicking and meant for high-intensity exercise. They end up feeling like second skin.

  5. Devlin says:

    I LOVE Under Armour’s Tech Shorts. I have 3-4 pairs that I use throughout the week. They’re really light (great for summer running) and have worn very well over the 3 years I’ve had them. I’ve tried other shorts for running, but haven’t found any other brands that exceed them in performance.

    I also like the Nike Pro Training Capris if you’re looking for leggings. They’re simple, but functional.

    Both the shorts and the capris are available at very reasonable prices through Nike/UA outlets. I think I paid less than $25 for the shorts and $35 for the capris.

    • nony says:

      I second the Under Armour shorts.

    • Niki says:

      I got a pair of the UA Perfect Pace shorts on sale and I really like them. I had been a strictly capri tights runner up until that point and I was worried about the shorts riding up and moving around, especially as I am someone who likes things tight. I ordered the XS and while they are a touch big (I am a small person), they still stay put. I do not run commando, but do not have a problem wearing my usual cotton thong under the built in briefs. It doesn’t bother me at all (probably because they are a little big).

  6. Molly says:

    Gap for compression shorts – they make a longer style that I vastly prefer to the short ones for long runs. No riding. I get the medium (I’m a 4-6) and they’re not at all see through, so I’d ignore the 1 star rating.

  7. Abby says:

    I’m obsessed with Athleta’s Chatarunga tights – the fabric is thick enough to not be see-through and has held up better through washings than the one pair of Lulu Lemons I own. I still prefer shorts to run in, like Nike’s Tempo or Under Armour’s Perfect Pace. For smaller ladies, try a girls’ L or XL at Nike – so much cheaper, and fits similar to an XS women’s.

  8. Crystal says:

    For yoga: Leggings/tights, preferably Zella.
    For running, weight-lifting, rock-climbing, cross-training, and pretty much every other active activity: Tights, preferably capri. I’ve had good luck with Nike, Zella, and older Lululemon. They’re comfortable, provide great coverage, and never seem to bunch up in an uncomfortable or unsightly way. They also come in various thicknesses and lengths, which gives me options based on the weather and activity. (For example, fleece-lined long tights in the winter are *fantastic.)
    For outdoor runs when it’s really hot and sunny: Capri-tight tan lines are no good. (I, unfortunately, know.) So once it gets too hot and muggy to wear my capri tights, I usually switch to running skirts (or very rarely, shorts). For my body shape, it’s almost impossible to find running shorts that are comfortable, flattering, sufficiently modest, and don’t bunch or ride up. I know running skirts look a little ridiculous, but they’re basically booty shorts with a modesty “skirt” over the top–in other words, the length of shorts, but with more butt coverage and minimal bunching/riding up. I’ve found Nike and (at least older) Lululemon make good running skirts.
    And don’t forget the sunblock!

    • Anna says:

      While they aren’t the most flattering, I find capris that ride up to knee length a bit preferable when considering tan lines. Shorts leave the tops (ie largest part) of my thighs white as snow while the lower parts get tanned, thereby making my thighs look larger. Since the capris are at knee length and move more than calf-length crops, they don’t leave as severe a tan line but keep my thighs a relatively uniform color.

      • Crystal says:

        I wear the capri/below-the-knee tights, and they sit just below my knee and definitely don’t move. I had a stark white line just below my knees a few years ago–not flattering. And since I enjoy skirts but almost never wear shorts, you can guess which unsightly tan line I prefer. 🙂 If I were wearing shorts or bathing suits more often, I’d have more of a conundrum. (I think there’s really no great solution to the tan line debate when exercising outside except to make sunblock more of a priority.)

        • Anna says:

          True story. Mine sit right at my knee, so in the front they kind of rub up and down as my knee bends and in the back they’re at a natural bend so it doesn’t look so severe. I guess on my thighs it just looks like that the natural coloring v. a tan line, so it looks like my thighs are bigger than they already are.

  9. Erin says:

    They’re a little pricey, but I like Patagonia’s Strider shorts. They don’t ride up at all, they’re not weirdly baggy, and they’re lined with breathable material so they’re still modest. Definitely size up, though. They run small. The more expensive Pro version has a nice zipper pocket in the back for your key, but if you’re not working out outside it’s probably not worth the extra money.

  10. V says:

    For other plus sized ladies out there, I really like Old Navy compression pants. They will eventually wear thin in the inner thigh, but so does everything else I’ve tried – my thighs are stronger than all fabric – so I’d rather save the money. (I have no problem splurging on other well made items). I get the high waisted ones and use them for yoga too, thereby eliminating the need for a separate yoga wardrobe.

    • Anon says:

      What’s the “compression” refer to? I once found a pair of running tights at TJ Maxx that had spanx-like elements in the thighs and I wore them til they wore out. Is it something like that?

      My thighs are my chunkiest, most dimpled body part, so the teeny Nike-style running shorts make me cry, but I’ve got to find something to wear to exercise during summer!

      • Sara says:

        Compression just means that the fabric is a tad more restrictive because it promotes blood flow which can help with muscle repair after a workout. That’s why you see runners, for example, wearing knee-high socks or calf sleeves. They’re compression clothing.

  11. Abbey says:

    I love the Gap Fit line. I bought a racerback mesh tank and a pair of yoga pants with a gift card. I do not care about what the clothes I wear to work out look like. But this brand is simple in style, high in quality, and holds everything the way it’s supposed to when you work out. Cannot recommend enough!

  12. Angie says:

    For running or active cardio at the gym, I’ve worn “2-in-1” shorts for a while now. Nike, ASICS, and Athleta make some but they’re also probably available from cheaper brands too. They’ve got an inner lining similar to a compression short with a looser layer on top, so you get all the coverage of bike shorts without the extremely form-fitting spandex feeling.

    Here’s an example of what I’ve bought:

  13. Elle says:

    -Zella leggings go on sale every summer during Nordy’s Anniversary Sale. The Z by Zella brand can be a little rocky on sizing and stretches too much as you wear them. (From my experience)
    -Oddly enough, Forever 21 spandex workout capris don’t ride up the leg at all and are a great summer legging as they are lightweight (but NOT see-thru!)

  14. LS says:

    I just want to voice disagreement about Fabletics. Their pants are decent material and construction (though haven’t held up like zella or nike), but their tops feel and look cheap. They remind of Forever21 tops. More than that, unless you actively stay on top of the account, you have to buy, or get charged for, a new outfit every month. That’s $49 a month I believe. Yes, you can “opt out” for the month, but that requires vigilantly checking the promotion tab of your gmail, logging on, and opting out. I often forgot and then ended up ordering a bunch of outfits I thought were just alright. Of the pieces I ordered, I wear one pair of pants with any regularity.

    Additionally, they make it a pain to cancel. You can’t e-mail or do it online, you have to call, wait on hold, answer a bunch of questions, and generally go through a hassle. I would NOT recommend Fabletics.

    • D says:

      Agree. I also find that their capris have an odd inseam length. Whether I wear them low on the hips or pull them up, or change sizes, the crotch always seems to be too low. Also I find that the cottony material (not tight/compression material) picks up lint if you are doing yoga/barre activities, and I would venture to say they lack any sweat wicking for running.

      I know Lululemon has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but I would stick with their Runaday Crop (I’ve only seen in winter) or Run Inspires for running. Just keep in mind that they are for running, and if you are using them for yoga, you may see underwear lines or some sheerness because they are not made for bending like that.

  15. Mo says:

    I have not found a pair of Oiselle shorts I do not love. Get on their mailing list for their next factory sale if full price makes you squeamish.

    On top of their wonderful clothes, they are actively working to change the sport of running for the better and to support strong, kick-ass women.

    My favs are the Mac Rogas (which come in two longer lengths) and the Stride Short Minis (which also come in a longer length).

  16. Laura says:

    This is not a brand suggestion but rather a shopping locale suggestion: has a wonderful range of brands (adiudus, saucony, books, etc.) and prices, all pretty steeply discounted. I have been buying my running leggings (and pretty much all my work-out gear) from them for years. The sizing can be a tad tricky but they have a generous return policy, and if you sign up for their emails they regularly have large sales.

    • Anna says:

      I’ll add to the shopping locale suggestions. I do most of my online shopping for workout clothes at (when I can’t find steals at Rack or Marshalls). They have great prices, plus it’s pretty easy to find discount codes online, and I believe if you follow their page on facebook you get a discount code off of sale. They also have free 2 day shipping and free return shipping.

  17. Brandi says:

    I’ve had the hardest time with shorts because I have larger thighs, so I’ve had to size up for most brands and then they don’t fit in the waist or they’re not long enough to prevent chafing. A few weeks ago I grabbed a pair of Oiselle’s long flyte shorts, and I’m in LOVE. They don’t ride, they don’t chafe, they’re basically the most perfect shorts ever.

  18. CLS says:

    SOme of my favorite workout pieces are from Marika – I often see them on Zulily or RueLaLa often. I’ve also seen them in Nordstrom Rack. I also HIGHLY recommend Title9 for sport bras and some workout gear. I’m on the cusp of plus size, so sometimes their items that only go to size 14 are a bit snug, but those that do go slightly higher are great. Quality is great and they accommodate those with larger chest sizes. Another plus was that I can return anything pretty much for up to a year if you’re not happy. Those are my go-to places for workout gear, I’m pretty picky, so when I find something I like, I usually buy it in several colors and a couple of each.

  19. Kristen says:

    Lululemon running leggings are pricey but have never disappointed me. The first two pairs I bought lasted about four years of regular use, and only stretched out about one size. To top it off when they finally developed homes in their inseams after those four years and I went to the store to have them repaired, I was told just to go grab two new pairs and that the guarantee covered me replacing the used pairs despite how long it took for the holes to develop. Absolutely worth the initial investment.

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