Chloe and Miranda in activewear

Best activewear: the Strong Women team have tested hundreds of pieces of workout kit and these are their favourite

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We’ve tried tons of different activewear brands so that you don’t have to – here are the workout leggings, bras and outfits we rate. 

Athleisure, aka the gym clothes you wear outside of your workout class, has been big for years. Lockdown only further compounded our desire to live in leggings, whether working from home, on walks or doing workouts. Brands clocked on pretty quickly, and today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a retailer that doesn’t stock activewear.

That’s great if you are looking for choice (although the fitness world desperately needs to up its inclusivity credentials). But for those who actually want to work out in the stuff, it can be overwhelming. How do you decide between the millions of results that come up when you search for black leggings? 

The Strong Women Team, made up of editor Miranda Larbi and writer Chloe Gray, have been lucky to try out more than their fair share of two pieces and high-performance garms, from high end to high street. And despite having drawers of the stuff, we always seem to end up in the same outfits for our gym sessions or runs. So, if you’re just getting into exercise and are overwhelmed by the choice or just desperately need an upgrade on your sports bra, here are the pieces that we return to every single time we sweat. 

Best workout bottoms

  • Spanx leggings

    Spanx leggings
    Spanx leggings

    OK, we know it sounds like a weird brand for us to love, but hear us out. The fabric is so smooth, the seamless crotch so comfortable and the stretch so stretchy. There’s no irritation, no stopping mid-set to adjust and no tight waistband that makes you feel like you can’t breathe while squatting. 

  • Lululemon leggings

    Lululemon align pants
    Lululemon leggings

    Lululemon is loved by yogis, but their Align pants also see us through strength training and running alike. The super high waist offers great coverage for those who don’t want to flash their midriff during pull-ups, while the fabric is breathable and moisture-wicking so sweat doesn’t layer between the leggings and your skin.

  • Adidas shorts

    Miranda Larbi in Adidas shorts
    Adidas shorts

    Simply put, Adidas know how to cut shorts for women after many years experience in the game. Miranda swears by their dual layer design for both comfort and support when running, whether she’s doing marathons or daily 5ks. 

Best workout bras and tops

  • Gymshark bra

    Best activewear: gymshark ruched sports bra
    Gymshark bra

    It’s the classic brand that we didn’t think we’d love, but the Gymshark ruched sports bra is Chloe’s most comfortable in her collection. It’s a simple cotton material but with decent stretch, and the crossover back really helps you feel secure in deadlifts, warrior pose and squat jumps alike. 

  • Under Armour bra

    Under Armour bras
    Under Armour bras

    Miranda waxes lyrical about these bras, mainly due to the thick underbands, supportive cut and secure straps that mean they can withstand the highest impact of runs.  

  • Free T-shirts

    Seriously. When it comes to gym days or runs that require baggy T-Shirts, both of us wear the random Tees we have in our drawers from events, races or pyjama collections. Of all the special cut, hi-tech material and expensive brand names, you just can’t beat an old T-shirt. 

Best workout shoes

  • Reebok trainers

    Reebok Nano in white
    Reebok Nano

    Lots of weight lifting shoes offer a flat base for your feet. But none others have a similarly wide base as Reebok, in which your feet can properly spread. 

    That’s important when strength training, as it means you have a stable surface to lift from, and Chloe hasn’t been seen doing a lower body workout without them since the day they arrived in the post. This pair also got the nod of approval from podiatrist Christophe Champs from Podo when Chloe told him she was wearing them to train. 

  • Stance socks

    Stance socks
    Stance socks

    If you don’t think it matters what socks you shove on, think again. Cotton socks for a run can cause blisters, but Stance’s socks are so supportive – and colourful – that Miranda has trouble wearing any other brand for everyday use.

Images: Will Brembridge / courtesy of brands

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).