Is it OK to go commando under gymwear?

Should you wear underwear under gym leggings? Women are divided about workout gear

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Do you go commando under your leggings or shorts at the gym? If so, you’re not alone – but is that actually how gymwear was designed to be worn? We ask athleisure designers whether we should have knickers/boxers/thongs on under our gym kits.

Getting dressed for the gym is simple. First, you put on your pants (knickers/thongs/boxers). Then on goes your sports bra, your leggings, vest and, finally, socks. See – simple! Apparently, however, not everyone agrees with stage one of that process.

When PT and fitness influencer Tally Rye recently admitted to having to go commando after forgetting to bring spare underwear to class, she was surprised to learn that loads of her followers actually chose to forgo underwear when working out in leggings. In response to her Instagram story, followers started writing in, claiming that they “literally [didn’t] know a single person who doesn’t go commando with gym leggings.” Nearly 40% of her poll voted that they never wore “undies with leggings.”

I was surprised; I shouldn’t have been – even Strong Women’s own fitness writer, Chloe, has mocked me for wearing pants under my gym wear. “It’s so much more comfy and less sweaty,” she claims. 

To wear underwear with gymwear or not

As part of a very scientific poll, I put the question on my own Instagram account. I found that 22% of people who follow me prefer to be skin-to-skin with leggings, with one friend saying that while she wears underwear with leggings, she’d never wear them under cycling shorts or rowing lycras (she’s a cox) and another saying the opposite (commando with leggings, pants with shorts).

I’m a runner and cyclist and while I kind of get people who run commando (although I’m a massive advocate of running in period pants once a month, so regular knickers are hardly an issue), the thought of getting on a saddle without a little extra cloth down there makes me shudder. 

Gynaecological doctor and co-founder of HANX, Dr Sarah Welsh, has the same reaction. “One word: chafing!” she tells Stylist when asked whether it’s better to go commando or not while exercising. 

“We wear underwear to act as a barrier, protecting our clothes from vaginal discharge, blood and sweat, and also to protect our vulva and vagina from irritation from clothes. Not wearing underwear when working out can be problematic as this will likely cause pain/chafing and excessive heat and moisture in the area.”

It’s not just that it can be uncomfortable. “Warm and moist areas can encourage the growth of infections such as thrush,” Dr Walsh continues. “Tight lycra (often worn at the gym) can also lead to vaginitis, which is inflammation and soreness of the vagina, including bacterial vaginosis. No commando workout is worth it!”

I always wear pants under my lycra – but other people say that it's more comfortable to go without.
I always wear pants under my lycra – but other people say that it's more comfortable to go without.

Leggings are designed with underwear in mind

So far, so conclusive. Go commando at your peril. But what do the designers say? Ellie Crawley of sustainable fitness-wear brand FeelFit says that her leggings and shorts are designed to be worn on top of underwear but that “you don’t have to wear underwear under them if that’s more comfortable, as they’re 100% squat-proof and therefore not see-through.”

Kathryn Pomfret, garment technologist at Pocket Sport also tells Stylist that Pocket’s leggings are designed to be worn with underwear. “I would recommend that women wear seam-free, breathable underwear beneath their sportswear,” she says.

Dr Welsh agrees: “I would advise wearing breathable underwear underneath your gym gear to ensure a positive environment for your vagina. And remember to shower afterwards – it’s important to keep your vulva sweat-free and fresh, like any other part of your body!”

How to wash your leggings if you do go commando

While Pomfret understands why some women “may choose to go knickerless (leggings are tight, and nobody wants a VPL),” she admits that she’s surprised that many do so. “I was unaware of how much of a divide there is on the topic,” she says.

“If that is your preference, make sure your leggings are sweat-wicking and breathable.”

Crawley, on the other hand, says that it comes as “no surprise to learn that many women are going commando in gymwear. “It can definitely be more comfortable to not wear underwear during certain exercises,” she admits, “especially in hot weather.”

The question then is: does squatting cheek-to-cloth change the way you should wash activewear? You might think, perhaps, that instructions to wash leggings at 30℃ would change if the fabric was in closer proximity to more sweaty, intimate body parts. That isn’t the case.

Pomfret says that you should always wash your sportswear inside out on a cool wash without fabric softener and – if possible – using a sports detergent. “I’d recommend this regardless of whether you’re wearing underwear or not.”

For more fitness deep-dives, healthy recipes and workout videos, visit the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty/Miranda Larbi

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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