Tight or Loose Workout Gear: Which is Better?
Written By: Alex Smith
It’s been an ongoing debate amongst fitness experts for years. The evolution of training gear isn’t simply just a matter of fashion and style, but there’s also both practical and scientific foundation behind sportswear designs.
So, I’ve checked out the research, asked some fellow experts and athletes and thrown in a few personal opinions too. Here are some considerations to make when choosing your workout wear. Do you prefer your fitness gear to be:
1. COMPACT AND SUPPORTED
A key advantage of tight-fitting workout clothing is that the body feels more compact and supported. From an aesthetic point of view, tight fitting clothing also highlights the body’s curves and makes the body feel and appear leaner.
However, whilst most exercise clothing is created using breathable and stretchy fabrics with the purpose of providing flexibility and ease of movement, it’s important that garments aren’t too tight. Tight clothing around the waist and hip areas can lead to pain at the hip joints and also cause spine and circulation issues. Clothing must allow full range of motion.
2. BREATHABLE AND RELAXED
Loose fitting clothing can sometimes be more pleasant to workout in, as often the fabric (and therefore sweat) doesn’t cling to the skin. But, it’s important to make sure that workout clothes aren’t too loose, to avoid any accidents whilst exercising, such as tripping. Two examples that I see on a regular basis are baggy tops getting trapped in the back of the rowing machine seat or loose trousers getting caught in a bike pedal.
3. DESIGNED FOR YOUR WORKOUT
One consideration is that different types of exercise will likely require a different clothing choice.
For example, a high intensity training session, which is likely to involve a lot of sweat and a lot of movement, will require clothing with more support and compression for the muscles – typically tighter garments. And ladies, that includes a good sports bra!
On the other hand, activities such as yoga or Pilates lend themselves to garments that feel relaxing to wear, are more flexible and move with the body, and these are typically looser.
JJ, friend and Fitness Trainer in London, would always choose tight bottoms and a loose top. She likes to feel supported during a workout, plus tight leggings prevent anything from getting caught e.g. fingers in bottoms during deadlifts. Flexible leggings allow full range of movement when performing a deep squat or lunge. BUT, in terms of upper body, JJ would always choose a loose-fitting t-shirt or vest with a supportive bra underneath.
Gym fanatic, Grace, also favours “tight leggings and a baggy tee”. She will choose “squat proof” leggings with the breathability of a loose t-shirt.
Pictured: Alex Smith
4. COMFORTABLE TO WEAR (CHAFING IS A VERY REAL PROBLEM!)
Let’s discuss the problem of chafing when exercising, and running in particular. Nipples are undoubtedly a chafing hotspot, as are the inner thighs. With regard to inner thighs, compression shorts or tights worn under regular running shorts can help prevent the friction at the top of the legs. Long, loose or baggy shorts should really be avoided. The problem is, when skin is sweaty, it’s more likely to chafe, so it would therefore be advisable to wear clothing that’s made from breathable, sweat absorbing materials.
5. COMPRESSION CLOTHING
Compression training gear has become an increasingly popular choice, mainly for its health benefits. Tighter clothing has been found to lift pressure away from muscles, as well as aiding blood circulation. There is research to suggest that compression style clothing can increase blood and lymphatic flow which can boost performance when exercising by allowing oxygen to be delivered more efficiently to the muscles. Not only are tighter garments recommended for improving performance, they have also been found to reduce muscle fatigue (and hence, risk of injury) and improve recovery time.
6. FOCUSED ON COMFORT AND CONFIDENCE VS SCIENCE
Much of the research and expert opinions favour tighter workout gear, however this mainly seems to be for practical, or scientific reasons. To me, it’s no coincidence that the new person in the gym will always be seen wearing a baggy, old pop concert T-shirt, or the same t-shirt they would choose to do the cleaning or decorating at home in. Meanwhile, the regular gym goer will likely be seen striding across the gym in a tight-leggings and a crop top or a technical ‘finishers’ t-shirt from the 10K race they completed the weekend before.
The difference may include inexperience and lack of knowledge, but more likely confidence and comfort.
There are of course many other factors to consider when choosing training gear: fashion, body type, weather conditions, even your mood that particular day.
Having reviewed both research and opinion, it’s clear that there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s all about personal preference. But my advice would be, if you feel comfortable and confident in what you’re wearing, you’ve found the right workout gear for you!
And me? In the gym it’s always 7/8 tight and squat proof leggings, impact sports bra and baggy vest! Longer, knee length shorts on a bike and my choice of running gear is very weather dependent!
Alex Smith is an experienced Personal Trainer and the founder of AKTIV Training.