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Problem-solving workout wear

September 7th 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Because working out is hard enough already without flimsy bras, chafing shorts and the dreaded legging camel toe

You’d have to have been living in a cave to not have noticed the invasion of sleek leggings, techy trainers and technical sports tops into a workplace, supermarket or local brunch spot near you (another Californian import that’s booming). A once frumpy, underserved sector, the women’s fitness wear market has blasted out of the blocks over the past few years and is now growing at a faster pace than the men’s sportswear sector, up 26.2% between 2010-2015 compared to the male market growth at 22.6%. The word ‘athleisure’ may make you shudder, but it was this year added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and its popularity shows no signs of abating given the proliferation of high fashion activewear collaborations (Stella McCartney we’re looking at you), relaxing of formal workwear rules and rise of plush gyms and innovative, class based workout spaces and apps.

Fitness wear is popping up on seemingly every high street shop floor, but actually, is it any good, or are brands just jumping on the current wellness bandwagon? Also, is that swanky stuff worth paying for? Most importantly, are the leggings see through? Here are a few of our common bugbears and workout kit issues, and the stuff we’ve found that overcomes the sporting struggles, whether that’s slipping up in pilates or flashing your knickers at your boss.

I find fitness wear too revealing

A dri-fit lycra catsuit ain’t for everyone, and I’m sure I’m not the first woman to order a pair of sports tights online only to whisk them back to the post office the next day as YOU CAN SEE EVERYTHING. Whether the fabric is in fact pretty much transparent or your legs are being squeezed like sausages, sports kit that leaves little to the imagination isn’t much fun to wear, especially when the aim of the game is to ditch your inhibitions in order to reach your fitness goals. Free your mind, and your wonderful body, by nabbing some workout wear that successfully ticks the boxes in terms of form, function, fit and fashion. Those should be the only F words associated with your gym kit. If you’re using others, I urge you to explore the myriad of options out there that are lovingly designed to make you feel comfortable in every sense of the word.

The long top: If you’re a crop top fan, go for it, but if you want something a little looser, a lot longer and a fair bit more confidence enhancing, the likes of Sweaty Betty have cases of overexposure covered. Soft, sweat wicking, silky fabric means that you’ll feel anything less than smothered, despite wearing a dropped hem, ‘higher coverage’ top. The Flaunt it Barre Vest, £60, will take you from yoga to HIIT with ease, but if that’s a bit steep the adidas Lightweight Tank Top, £17.95, features a rounded hem and a loose fit to make workouts as easy and breezy as possible as far as wardrobe is concerned.

The flattering leggings: ‘Flattering legging’ seems somewhat or an oxymoron, but bear with me, as I promise you it’s possible. Lilybod is a specialist legging brand hailing from Australia that produces well cut, thoughtfully fitted and importantly, fun, styles without the triple figure premium price tag. Cracked or plain back base colours make way for statement colour and print blocks around the lower legs and ankles, meaning that your top half needn’t be the focus of a loud print if you don’t want it to be, but there’s still something going on to take your gym kit up a notch. At around £49, they’re good value, and they’re suitably niche that you’re unlikely to see the world and her dog rocking them in your next spin class.

The not too short shorts: Sometimes shoehorning yourself into a pair of leggings on a particularly muggy day is mightily unappealing, and such days call for shorts. Often, however, sportswear designers can get a bit too carried away with the short idea, and what you end up with in reality is a glorified pair of briefs with added rustle and pockets. Not so with H&M Running Shorts, £14.99, that add a little more substance via a colour blocked under short. The dark grey/ light pink combination is particularly appealing, as is the fast drying fabric.

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I’m yet to find a sports bra that supports me

Feeble sports bras are inexcusable in this grand age of sportswear advancement. If yours is doing nothing to reduce movement, or worse, is causing you pain, ditch it head to good old M&S for a no-nonsense fitting. The Infin8 High Impact Full Cup Sports Bra, £28, is a good model to put through its paces; not only has it been developed to reduce and restrict the ‘figure of eight’ rotation that breasts move in during activity, but it’s also available in a chic monochrome colourway with an elegant rather than over-upholstered back.

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Also competing on the elite sports bra field is Nike, whose recent sports bra campaign featured women of all sizes, which is kind of an ‘about time’ move, but a refreshing one nonetheless. The Nike Pro Hero, £50, goes up to a 38E and offers maximum support without the use of wires or other uncomfortable accoutrements, and since its launch it’s had rave reviews across the board.

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My shoes are weighing me down

Really tooting the Nike horn here, but I tried the Lunar Epic Low Flyknit, £130, at a recent Nike Unlimited You event (insane, in a good way), and despite the trials of Barry’s Bootcamp, wearing them was like running on cloud, on at least they were so comfortable that I forgot they were there, but then again I pretty much forgot my own name during the hour and a half of fitness challenges. I would wear them again in a heartbeat, however. If you’re more likely to be found in a HIIT or weights class than doing sprints, the Nike Metcon 2 Amp, £115, will keep you grounded and stable without getting in the way. The low-heeled shoes are akin to a sports bra for your feet; they’ll lock everything down in the most cushy manner possible, preventing injury thanks to a durable midsole and added traction on the underside. Basically, you can box jump to your heart’s content, which may or may not be a selling point…

I’ve got a meeting after my workout

If you’re going to do boardroom appropriate athleisure, you may as well ensure that it does actually work for you on the gym floor too. If you’re prepared to invest, The Charli Cohen Zoom legging, £149, does a good impression of a sharp pair of leather trousers, with the added bonus of internal shorts to keep you fully covered and breathable, sweat wicking, muscle compressing to material to not only keep you cool but also help you to recover. Add a Lucas Hugh bolero, £185, into the mix (fleece, made fashionable) and a Mary Poppins-esque Gymtote, £145, to stash your gym bits plus meeting notes, and you’re made. Just hope you get the deal as true ‘athleisure’ adds up.

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My pants are showing

Similar to the ‘revealing’ dilemma above, but more directly related to your underwear of choice rather than any legging malfunctions. Frills, lace and odd VPL can creep up without you noticing in many a training scenario, so if smooth lines are a priority, actual fit for purpose workout pants are available, and they also come rather in handy for close fitting bridesmaid dresses etc. Lululemon Namastay Put Hipster, £18, is pricier than your average pair of undercrackers but claims to be sweat-wicking (don’t think about that too hard), chafe-resistant and breathable, not to mention flat of seam to avoid any unwanted outlines. Handy to have for desperate times and clingy outfits.

My swimming costume looks like it fell out of the 80s/ it did

I feel that stylish yet performance boosting swimwear has been a bit slow to keep up with the fitness wear revolution, but the likes of Perfect Moment are propelling the humble cossie into the 21st century by way of bright colour blocking, sleek lines and stretch resistant neoprene. No more bobbling, baggy crotches or weird discolouration, and the swimsuit fabric also goes some way to warming you up, wetsuit style, so that you’re first dip isn’t too bracing. The £170 price tag will make you gulp, but this one’s a keeper.

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I’m slipping off my yoga mat

Hot yoga is all very well, until you start sliding out of downward dog and heading for a faceplant (not a bonafide pose, fortunately). No Ka’Oi Revolutionary Yoga Mat, £110, costs an arm and a leg but is the most luxe yoga platform you’ll ever practice on- think feathersoft, quilted microfibre, anti-slip sponge and a foldable, rollable texture. You can whack it your bag and chuck it in your washing machine and probably sleep on it; it’s that dreamy. On the budget side of things, if you barre class feels more like ice skating, get some grippy socks. I don’t mean the Totes of old (a bit thick for workout purposes), but something moisture-wicking, arch supporting, and most vitally ‘sticky’. Pointe Studio non-slip cotton blend socks, £10, are the Rolls Royce of safety-first socks.

My hair keeps falling out

Put the scrunchie down. You need something gentle yet strong, that doesn’t induce a bird’s nest after a heavy boxing session. Invisibobble Power, £4.95, has grip, guts and a surprising level of style kudos for a hairband, and it won’t let you down or ping off mid-punch.

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If fitting in workouts, rather than the sportswear itself, is proving problematic, follow Joe Wick’s advice...

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