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10 best gym leggings: Workout in comfort and style

Now gyms have reopened, find the perfect pair to take your place among the treads and squat racks

Lydia Willgress
Friday 07 May 2021 09:36
<p>We looked for comfortability, value for money and breathability</p>

We looked for comfortability, value for money and breathability

They’ve been adorning the legs of work-from-homers since the beginning of the pandemic: comfy, casual, and hidden below the camera of every Zoom meeting. But now gyms have re-opened, it’s time leggings emerge from under the desk and take their rightful place among the barbells and squat racks.

There are plenty of options on the market if you’re looking to upgrade from the ones you’ve spent the last year living in. But, how do you choose the perfect pair?

Firstly, you need them to be comfortable, staying in place and not digging into your ankles or waist during a workout, so fit is key. You want to look out for material that is breathable or has moisture wicking technology to ensure you stay cool and dry, whether you’re pounding the treadmill or smashing that final round of quad-busting burpees.

There’s also price to consider, with options ranging from the equivalent of a nice lunch to a small fortune. You’ll pay more for things like compression technology, which can help to improve recovery times.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – your leggings need to pass “the squat test”. For those who aren’t in the know, this is to find out if your underwear or skin shows through the fabric when it’s pulled taut by a squat. If the answer is yes, they aren’t worth your time.

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We’ve rounded up our 10 favourites below – from the bold to the functional, the technical to the fashionable.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Sundried women’s seamless leggings

Best for: An all-rounder pair

We thought long and hard about how we could get across just how good these leggings are. But really there are three things you need to know. Firstly, they are £25, not only making them one of the cheapest pairs we tried but also one of the cheapest on the market. Secondly, despite their price point, they were as good as – if not better than – all of the others we tried. Thirdly, we thought we looked really hot in them, which is particularly impressive given we’d just done a horrific sprint session on the treadmill.

If you’re not already clicking on the link to buy them, here are the technical details. Available in four sizes, from small to large, they fit like a glove. The material – predominantly polyamide – is stretchy and soft to touch, while the high-waisted style provides all the coverage you need, creating a flattering silhouette. The mesh panels increase the leggings’ breathability, while there is a crucial leg pocket so you can store your essentials. They are totally squat proof and the plum colour is banging. Case closed.

Adidas formotion sculpt two-tone tights

Best for: Sustainability 

Adidas is one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world – and boy does the brand know what it’s doing. Its formotion sculpt two-tone tights outperformed virtually everything else we’ve tried, scoring highly in terms of look, feel and performance.

We particularly loved the zoned compression fit and found they offered support in all the right places while enabling a full range of movement. Made with primegreen, a combination of recycled materials, these are not only super comfortable with no chance of chafing – they are also a great option if you’re trying to make small changes to do your bit for the planet. Although the brand recommends sizing up, we are a UK size 10 and settled for a small, which fitted extremely well and created an attractive sculpted look with the extra high waistband ensuring they stayed put throughout the sweatiest of sessions. In fact, we felt like we could lift anything in these.

The only reason these aren’t our best buy is because of the price. Although £75 is in line with some of the other high-performance brands on the market, they are still one of the more expensive options we tried – and we felt they didn’t quite do enough to clinch it. It’s worth noting they are exclusively available on the Adidas website or in stores – so you won’t find them cheaper elsewhere.

Pocket Sport impasto legging, forest

Best for: Everyday wear 

If you haven’t heard of Pocket Sport before now then you need to get up to speed. The activewear brand was created in part by Louise Thompson, previously of Made in Chelsea fame but now better known as a fitness and wellness advocate. The products have been designed so they don’t just get you through the days you’re active, but your rest days too. And we’re massively on board with its mission to get people moving in the way they want – not only promoting working out, but also things like dancing in the living room or walking in the park.

The result is a capsule of high quality products that feel like they have been made for real women with everyday lives. We tested Pocket’s impasto leggings and found they ticked all the right boxes – from their unique waistband grip, which prevents them from bunching up or moving around during workouts, to the super flattering cut. The material, predominantly polyester, is breathable, but also thick enough to ensure they are 100 per cent squat proof. As the name would suggest, there’s a helpful pocket for essentials, and we found they were true to size. Plus, the bold design is refreshingly sporty and stylish. What’s not to like?

CEP run tights 3.0

Best for: Compression

You’ll probably be familiar with compression tights, but we would put money on your first thought being those socks people are given for operations or long-haul flights. More recently, compression tights have become a staple item for fitness lovers, with brands claiming they can help to increase blood circulation and reduce lactic acid. One brand that certainly knows what it’s talking about when it comes to compression technology is CEP. The brand offers a range of items designed specifically to enhance performance and activate the flow of blood in the muscles for faster recovery.

Its run tights 3.0 were certainly the most supportive leggings we tried. Although they are mainly marketed at runners, their medi-compression profile meant they were also perfect for leg days in the gym, as they stayed in place and supported our quads and thighs. We certainly didn’t have any issues with injuries or recovery while wearing them (although we could say the same about other brands), while the flat lock seams meant that we didn’t experience any chafing.

At nearly £110, these are the most expensive pair we tried – so it’s more important than ever that you get the right fit. If you’re interested, CEP recommends you use a flexible tape measure to work out the circumference around the middle of your thigh, before using the brand’s sizing chart as a guide. You can also use your normal clothing size as a guide if the measurement is between two sizes.

Zone3 women’s phantom lightweight tights

Best for: Breathability 

If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper pair of leggings that still offer compression technology, then Zone3’s women’s phantom lightweight tights are a great buy. Tested and validated by a team based at Loughborough University (well known for its sporting credentials), the brand says these have been, “scientifically proven to increase blood flow, reduce lactic acid build up, and improve performance and recovery times”.

While we haven’t had time (read: have no idea how) to run our own mini experiment, we did find they performed extremely well, from the treadmill to free weights. Made from a high-denier material, we found no sign of these going see through when we squatted. The material and mesh back on the knee panel makes them breathable, meaning you stay as cool and dry as possible.

Like others on the market, the brand has paid special attention to the seams and stitching so there are no irritations, and there are two pockets at the rear and front so you can store your keys and nutrition (or your phone if you want to play music). It truly feels like these tights have been designed by those who love to be active – top marks from us.

Halo teal leopard lightning 7/8 leggings

Best for: Style

These are a good looking pair of leggings. So good looking, in fact, that the first time we wore them, no fewer than four people stopped us in the gym to ask where they were from – attracted to their bold leopard print style and flattering cut. If you’re one of those people who *just has* to Instagram every time you go to the gym – or perhaps someone who just loves compliments – then these really are a game changer.

We are at pains to stress, however, that it is certainly not a case of style over substance. These are one of the most comfortable pairs we tried, with super soft fabric that hugs to your legs in all of the right places. Available in five sizes (from an extra small to extra large), we found they stayed in place, whether we were smashing out a set of burpees or chilling on the leg press, and enabled a full range of movement. The high-waisted fit means you remain covered, while the hidden pocket is a godsend if you need to shove your house keys somewhere so they don’t get lost. At just over £52, these are also pretty reasonable when compared to others on the market. We’re swiping right on these all day.

New Balance relentless high rise 7/8 tight

Best for: Every kind of workout  

You are always going to get a high-quality product from New Balance – and these super stylish, high-rise leggings are no different. Designed to stay in place throughout your workouts, we found these worked a treat whether we were doing sets of squats, lunges and deadlifts, or tough HIIT and spin classes.

There was no sign of the material going transparent so we’re pleased to declare them “squat proof”, while the boldly branded waistband not only looked great but ensured they didn’t move around. The NB dry moisture wicking technology did actually help to keep us dry and cool, and we loved the flattering 7/8 cut. Available in six sizes, from XS to XXL, these are also made predominantly from recycled polyester, which nicely fits with the brand’s commitment to reduce its environmental impact. Overall, a great buy.

Pour Moi energy logo elastic legging

Best for: Value

Perhaps better known for swimwear and lingerie, Pour Moi shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to activewear. The brand is a master at developing feminine yet functional products at a reasonable price – and its energy logo elastic leggings are no different. While these aren’t as breathable as some of the others we tried, they are great if you’re looking to do a lower-intensity session.

Super soft and super stylish, with a high waisted fit, contrast panels and logo tape side seam, they perform well in strength and conditioning sessions, as well as yoga and Pilates. The brand’s sizing system is easy to follow, with six sizes available from and UK size 8 to size 18.

Sweaty Betty power high-waisted gym leggings

Best for: Comfort

Once confined mainly to the legs of yoga-loving 30-somethings in London, Sweaty Betty is now so popular it is recognisable by its logo alone. Go into any gym and you will likely bump into someone else showing off their latest purchase – and it’s not just because the brand is “fashionable”. Its high-end, high-quality activewear is flattering and functional, designed for women who want to move and sweat.

We tested the brand’s power high-waisted gym leggings and unsurprisingly found they quickly became one of our favourite pairs. Made from a polyamide elastane fabric, the material is super soft but also, crucially, wicks sweat away from the body ensuring we stay dry and comfortable. Available in seven sizes (from XXS to XXL), we loved the fit and received several compliments while we were wearing them. There are four colours to choose between, from classic black to modern and sleek patterned designs, and while there is a full length option, we preferred the 7/8 length, which ends just above the ankle for a flattering look.

The pocket is a great option for storing keys and your gym card, particularly if you’re like us and are otherwise liable to leaving them on the treadmill. At £75, these are a bit more expensive than others on the market, but are worth saving your pennies for if you’re a Sweaty-Betty convert or just want a piece of the brand.

Domyos fitness seamless high-waisted leggings

Best for: Smaller budgets

Decathlon is the Lidl of the sports world; if you know where to look, you can get high quality products for a fraction of the price. We were excited about trying the brand’s fitness seamless high-waisted leggings, which at £24.99 are less than a quarter of the price of some of the others we tried.

Made predominantly from polyamide, we found the fabric was breathable and comfortable, and just about passed the dreaded “squat test”, offering pretty much full protection during a heavy session of lunges, squats and deadlifts. The lace detail adds a rare feminine touch to a typically sporty item, although the pattern does extend quite high up the thigh so you need to be confident about showing off some skin. The detailing unfortunately also makes these leggings harder to care for – we found we easily ripped one or two of the holes while putting them on, despite trying our best to be careful.

Overall, these are a bargain buy which can absolutely do the job – but they don’t quite meet the mark when compared to some of the more expensive brands.

The verdict: Women’s gym leggings

Whether you’re making your way back to the gym after a lockdown-enforced hiatus, wanting to get stronger and fitter, or looking for a product that’ll take you from the sofa to the treadmill, then we’ve got a product that will work for you.

We especially loved Sundried’s seamless leggings. They were both high-performing and eye-catching and are great value in a market that can be expensive.

Both CEP’s run tights 3.0 and Zone3’s phantom lightweight tights offer some great compression options. While Halo’s 7/8 leggings and Pocket Sport’s impasto leggings ticked all the boxes, as well as being refreshingly bold and bright.

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IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.