Venturing into the world of activewear can be overwhelming. You pop into your sports shop of choice to pick up some gym kit for your new exercise routine and get bombarded with buzzwords. It's sweat-wicking, it's got mesh panels, a hidden pocket, anti-microbial fabric, bits that keep you warm, bits that keep you cool, and an array of holes in various places for reasons that aren't explained. And let's not get started on compression gear – that's for another article.
There's this season's trainers and last season's, though you can't really see the difference, and you're too intimidated to approach the salesperson in case they laugh you out the shop for not knowing which is Lycra and which is Spandex. You only came in to buy leggings, and now you're leaving wondering if you'd be better off saving your hard-earned cash and wearing your year 9 PE kit.
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Well, that's why we've put together this round-up of the top gym gear for women. Each piece of kit here is high quality, reliable and will see you through any form of training session. Whether you're a cardio class lover, a weight lifter or brand new to the gym, this apparel will have you set for any workout.
Best gym shoes
Under Armour TriBase Reign
This shoe has a timeless monochrome design which will last you well if you don't pick up new trainers every season (and let's be honest, most of us don't). It's super flexible at the sole and top of the upper, so your foot can move naturally as you train. The heel to toe drop is only 2mm and the cushioning in the sole is comfy but not too dense, so you'll feel natural and well connected to the ground.
The rubber under the toe of the shoe is slightly textured to give you a good grip as you carry out fast movements, plus the rubber outsole extends up around the sides of your feet to add a bit of support and improve durability. They lend themselves well to lifting, training on gym equipment and any class that requires quick reflexes and explosive movements.
Nike Metcon 5
Specifically designed for gym work and cross training, Nike's Metcon shoes are ideal for weight-lifting, classes and CrossFit (in fact, they're worn by many of Nike's CrossFit pro athletes). This latest iteration has been updated with a Hyperlift insert – a removable heel support that adds a bit more offset to improve your foot positioning for squats and thrusters. If you're a dedicated Metcon fan, you'll be happy to hear it fits inside older versions too.
The insert aside, the 5 is as low profile as its predecessors, making it an ideal design for lifting where feeling grounded and stable is essential. The outsole wraps up towards the arch of your foot, providing extra traction for rope climbs, while the textured print on top adds durability.
Best gym sports bras
Triumph TriAction Free Motion sports bra
Lingerie brand Triumph make everything from underwear to loungewear and swimwear, so it's safe to say they're reliable on the bra front. This Free Motion sports bra offers high impact support, making it a great choice for anything from treadmill workouts to dance classes and circuits. It offers shape without excessive padding (and definitely no rogue cup inserts that move around in the wash).
The Lycra fabric is highly breathable and sweat wicking, which helps prevent chafing and keeps you comfy even during sweaty workouts, and it has a traditional hook and eye clasp at the back, with an hook you can connect between your shoulder blades for additional support if needed. Available in sizes 32B to 42E, this bra is a must for any workout that involves jumping about.
Reebok PureMove bra
If you prefer a crop top style sports bra to a more traditional cut, the Reebok PureMove bra is a strong option. Its moulded cups support and separate your breasts while the thick chest band holds it firmly in place. Its single layer design and smooth edges will help prevent chafing, while the perforations mid-chest will allow ventilation to help reduce sweatiness.
The compression style of this bra lends itself to medium to low impact activities, like spinning, weight lifting, yoga and Pilates – though if it fits you particularly well, you might be able to wear it for higher impact training too. It comes in XS to XXL sizes, which are roughly equivalent to 30B to 44C cup sizes. Check out the size guide on Reebok's website before buying to double check that you're choosing the right one – nobody likes a bra that flops loose or digs in around the back.
Lululemon Stronger As One Sports Bra
Activewear mavens Lululemon paired up with legendary HIIT studio Barry's Bootcamp to create a range of kit that stands the test of sweat, while looking sleek and stylish. This sports bra is made from the brand's Luxtreme fabric, which has four-way stretch for maximum comfort, and a subtle shimmery pattern.
Despite not being underwired, this bra is surprisingly heavy duty – the thick chest band offers hefty support, plus the long line design gives a bit more coverage than your standard bra. The cut out detail at the back allows for all-important ventilation while you run, lift and jump, making it a strong investment for anyone looking to expand their workout wardrobe.
Best gym tops
Adidas 25/7 Rise Up N Run Parley t-shirt
It's tempting to whack on any old t-shirt to work out in – after all, you're just going to sweat in it – but annoyingly, cotton tops can lead to sore chafed spots. This Adidas t-shirt is made from synthetic fibres (more on that later) and is part of their Climacool range, which essentially means it's designed for wearing in hot weather, with ventilation and quick-dry fabric to keep you cool and comfy, and preventing you from overheating.
This particular t-shirt has 360 degree reflectivity – great for outdoor or night-time workouts. It's also produced in partnership with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans, meaning it's made from recycled plastic, keeping waste out of the sea. You're happy, comfy and dry, and the sea turtles are pretty chuffed too. Perfect.
New Balance Transform Perfect Tank
New Balance make a bold move in calling this the 'Perfect' tank, but to be honest they've got good reason to. It's lightweight and quick drying without being flimsy, it's not too tight but slim fitting enough not to flop in your face if you're practising yoga and it has a reflective logo on the back for added visibility.
It's a touch longer than the average gym tank, so it'll cover your stomach even if you're wearing low-rise leggings, plus the ruching and crossover back detail add a touch of style. Coming in seven colours, from black to assorted brights, it makes a brilliant staple part of any workout wardrobe. What's more, it holds up well to multiple trips through the laundry without a bobble in sight.
Best gym shorts and tights
Lululemon Align shorts
Embrace the power of shorts with these Align ones from Lululemon. A cropped version of their popular Align leggings, they're made with the same soft Nulu fabric complete with four-way stretch. They're so lightweight it'll feel like you're not wearing anything, but in a good way.
The high waistband is flattering and prevents them from riding down, plus their sweat-wicking properties help keep you comfortable. This four-inch length is available in six colours, but if you prefer a bit more coverage or are prone to chafing then there's a six-inch option you can go for too. Our favourite feature? The hidden card pocket in the waistband – ideal for days when you want to travel light.
Sweaty Betty Power Gym leggings
These leggings aren't just chic and well designed, they also have pockets (WE KNOW!). UK-based Sweaty Betty were pioneers in the launch of fashionable activewear, and these Power Gym tights are a typical example of their stylish yet functional apparel. Along with the side pocket (big enough to stash a smart phone) and back zip pocket, these leggings are made from lightweight, sweat-wicking fabric that dries out quickly – useful both during a workout and after going through the wash.
They come in black or teal blue, both muted shades that work well with a wide range of colours. The high waist adds extra coverage and stops them slipping, plus there's an adjustable draw cord on the inside so you can tighten them up if need be. Sweaty Betty recommend them for running, HIIT, spinning, barre, boxing and more, meaning they're ideal for any variety of gym training.
Gymshark Energy+ Seamless Leggings
These sleek high-waisted leggings from Gymshark are, as the name suggests, totally seamless, making for an ultra comfy fit with minimal risk of chafing. The high rise waist band and glute contouring flatter your figure, but they're not style over substance by any means – the material blend is stretchy and flexible, moving easily with your body as you lunge, squat and jump through any workout.
The eyelet detailing looks great, plus allows for ventilation – essential if you're getting a sweat on. They come in 11 colours, from bold brights to muted neutrals, meaning there's an option for everyone.
Sweaty Betty Reversible 7/8 Yoga Leggings
These reversible leggings are the ideal addition to your workout wardrobe. One side is classic black, the other is a striking galaxy print that will help you stand out from the yoga crowd. Mesh panels run from the quads to your ankles, providing a touch of ventilation for hot classes.
The high waist has a draw cord so you can adjust the fit to suit your shape, plus the elegant tailoring and soft fabric add a luxe touch. Sweaty Betty assure these are totally squat proof - a must for any fitness fan - and their sweat wicking material means they'll keep you chafe-free even in the toughest of sessions.