This article is part of CNN Underscored’s “The Reset,” an editorial package featuring all of our articles aimed at giving you the information and product recommendations to help achieve any and all new year resolutions.
The increasing popularity of stylish, trendy athletic wear has made über-comfortable clothing something that’s just as much for the gym as it is outside of it. But as with all clothing, it’s not just about looking good. You want to feel good, feel comfortable and feel confident — whether you’re working out or lounging around.
“High-quality activewear can enhance your workout experience for a multitude of reasons,” shares Miriam Fried, a personal trainer based in New York City and the founder of MF Strong. “If your clothing is uncomfortable, doesn’t breathe well, is always falling down or in need of adjustment, it can distract you from your workout and make it less effective and enjoyable.” There’s also a confidence component to great activewear, shares Daniella Means, a professional powerlifter and vice president of the Hybrid Gym Group. “If you feel good, and think that you look good in your activewear, you’re more likely to perform with more confidence in your abilities.”
“Different modalities of exercise often can call for different attire,” Fried adds. “So it’s important to shop with your activity in mind.” Whether you’re a runner, yogi, lifter, cyclist or anything else, there’s a stylish and functional activewear brand out there just for you.
That’s why we’ve chatted with industry pros — Olympic athletes, sought-after trainers and the most in-demand instructors on the brands they wear while they’re working and while they’re kicking back. So if you’re ready to upgrade your closet and kill those workouts in style, check out these 12 activewear brands that they (and we) absolutely love — from established ones to newer direct-to-consumer options.
Alo Yoga was created in 2007 as an activewear brand specifically for yoga lovers, but it has since evolved into one beloved by everyone from the barre-obsessed and Pilates loyalists to celebrities as a street style option. And there’s a really good reason for that. The brand’s super-soft and comfortable activewear is probably the most luxurious-feeling gym clothing you’ll ever wear, and it was a favorite mentioned by a couple of the experts we spoke with. “Alo Yoga activewear is great quality, flattering and lasts a long time,” shares Emily Pareti, a yoga and aerial instructor based in New Jersey. In fact, Alo Yoga (and the brand’s leggings in particular) is her big splurge when it comes to all things activewear.
The brand’s High-Waist Airlift Leggings are Pareti’s favorite leggings. They’re buttery and soft while still supportive, and the material truly feels like a second skin. Plus, the material is so sleek and flattering that dressing up these leggings with a cute crop top is a breeze.
Rachel Primé, a yoga and barre instructor based in Boston, is partial to the brand’s High-Waist Solid Vapor Leggings. She notes that they’re more compressive than the comparable Lululemon Align Leggings, so she saves them “for high-impact workouts” or any time she wants “a bit more of a hug” from her leggings.
Another option we wanted to call out: the High-Waist Airbrush Legging, arguably Alo Yoga’s most classic legging. Like many of Alo Yoga’s leggings, there are no side seams, and it’s made from the brand’s signature Airbrush fabric that features moisture-wicking antimicrobial technology. It’s the perfect option to take you from the gym to just about anywhere and has been spotted on celebrities like Gigi Hadid.
When it comes to tops, Alo Yoga boasts some of the cutest styles that are equal parts appropriate for a class or hanging out with friends.
The Wellness Bra is a perfect example of the brand’s versatility. It offers medium support that’s perfect for yoga or barre while also being a super-stylish take on the traditional sports bra. The trendy ribbed material and universally flattering cut are a big win in our books.
The brand’s bestselling Cover Tank is the perfect everyday tank. It’s absurdly soft, the cropped length is just right and it’s absolutely cute enough to take you from yoga class to the café around the corner without skipping a beat.
If you’re looking for brand recognition, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a piece of activewear more ubiquitous than Lululemon leggings. Popular with yogis, runners and influencers alike, athletic wear from Lululemon is super popular for its fashionable look and unbelievably soft materials.
“Lululemon is my go-to,” shares Primé. “The brand’s Align High-Rise Pant has been my tried and true for years.” And Primé isn’t alone — the leggings pretty much have their own cult following (we named them the best workout leggings). “I have several pairs that have gone through dozens of workouts and washes and are still in incredible shape,” she shares. “I wear them to teach, exercise, lounge, travel — they’re so functional yet comfortable.” The Align Pant is part of Lululemon’s Align Collection, which features a range of minimally designed bottoms made from Lululemon’s buttery soft and lightweight Nulu material.
Primé is a fan of the Align Jogger, which as she describes “offer a more relaxed fit with pockets” as well as the Align Short (From $58 at Lululemon), which she calls “perfect for the warmer seasons.” The shorts, like the joggers and the leggings, are available in multiple lengths so you can choose which style is best for your needs.
When it comes to sports bras, Primé has a couple different Lululemon styles she wears on rotation, noting that the brand’s bras offer great support without digging in anywhere. “On their website, you can shop by size, activity and level of support,” she shares, which is helpful when it comes to finding the perfect option for your needs. One of the brand’s bestsellers is the Lululemon Align Reversible Bra, a versatile, perfect-for-yoga bra that’s reversible (two styles for the cost of one!) and made from the same Nulu material as the brand’s Align Pant.
The other bestselling sports bra is the Like a Cloud Bra, a super-chic sports bra made for low-impact activity that’s comfortable enough to wear all day long.
Athleta is one of the most beloved activewear brands on the market, particularly when it comes to high-performance yet super-chic pieces. “They provide high-quality, sustainable, versatile and stylish products for women and girls of all shapes and sizes,” shares Veronica Pome’e, a professional model and Athleta ambassador. Whether you’re looking for your next everyday legging (like the Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight — our pick for best overall leggings — and the Salutation Stash Pocket II 5-Inch Short) or the perfect sports bra (we’re big fans of the Exhale Bra), the brand specializes in simple yet gorgeous pieces that work really well, whether you’re having a sweat sesh or just strutting around the city.
Something else Pome’e loves about Athleta? “I feel like they really prioritize plus-size bodies through inclusive 1X through 3X sizing — something that other major fitness apparel brands don’t do well,” she shares. “When I shop in-store at Athleta, I don’t have to go to a separate section to find my size — all products that fit me are included on the same racks as the straight-size products, and I don’t feel limited to a smaller selection.” The brand frequently offers petite and tall styles as well.
Pome’e’s fitness must-haves include the Elation Tight, a super-soft, high-waisted legging made from Athleta’s fan-fave, second-skin-like Powervita fabric, in addition to the Solace Bra which is made from that same Powervita fabric, and the Kinetic Waist Bag, a sleek, practical fanny pack perfect for gym runs or running errands.
The Cabo Linen Jogger is a warm-weather staple that you’ll find yourself gravitating to all day, every day.
Girlfriend Collective is a brand that prioritizes slow fashion — which means investing time and energy — to produce clothing that’s more ethical and easier on the planet. Take the Compressive High-Rise Legging, for example, Girlfriend’s signature legging that’s made from 25 recycled water bottles. And though many synthetic fabrics (like nylon and polyester) are made from plastic, Girlfriend chooses materials “that would otherwise clog landfills and threaten wildlife.” But you’re not sacrificing quality when you shop at Girlfriend. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The brand is a favorite of Fried’s, who loves Girlfriend Collective for its high-quality activewear that’s cute and versatile enough for hanging out and running around the city. “Leggings tend to wear down quickly, so it’s worth spending the extra money on higher-quality fabrics that last,” shares Fried. Similarly, “sports bras also play a huge role in your workout experience as a woman,” she says, “so it’s always worth spending a little more on something supportive.”
The Compressive High-Rise Legging and Paloma Bra are some of the most inexpensive options on this list, which makes their super-high-quality feel that much more impressive. The Compressive High-Rise Leggings really do some incredible work when it comes to lifting your backside. They’re also extremely high-waisted, which is great if you don’t want to worry about pulling up your leggings during a workout.
Both the leggings and the Paloma Bra are sweat-resistant and comfortable in warmer environments, though they’re not the most lightweight, which we actually prefer for everyday wear. The Paloma Bra is fairly long as well, so if you’re buying these two pieces together — which we highly recommend, since everyone will be asking where you got your adorable set — your whole stomach won’t be exposed. Another interesting element is the lack of visible branding; there are no loud logos on the back of the leggings, which many might find refreshing.
The best part is the customization that’s available, both in terms of fit and style. The Paloma Bra and the Compressive High-Rise Legging are available from sizes XXS to 6XL, with the additional option of choosing from three inseam lengths on the leggings. When it comes to colors, there’s absolutely something for everyone. One of our favorite elements of Girlfriend’s better-for-the-planet philosophy is exemplified in the ReGirlfriend program, which encourages customers to send in old Compressive bras, leggings and shorts for a $15 store credit. Girlfriend then recycles the old materials into new ones, which helps close the loop on creating more waste. So maybe there isn’t too much harm in ordering a piece in every single color?
Outdoor Voices is a brand that has completely embraced all things athleisure as a lifestyle. It stresses the idea of “freeing fitness from performance” and believes activity can be a part of anyone’s everyday life — and its activewear reflects that.
“By living in New York City, I automatically live a more active lifestyle,” shares Pome’e. “Simply walking to the train to get to my workout or meeting up with friends is a workout on its own.” So she looks for products that transition easily from working out to hanging out.
“You can jazz up any athleisure ‘fit with a pop of color and some accessories to transition from the gym to brunch, or whatever is on your agenda for the day.” One of our favorite pieces for doing just that? Outdoor Voices’ Exercise Dress, which we’ve written about in-depth before. In many ways, it exemplifies everything that Outdoor Voices has nailed as an activewear brand: It’s super versatile, great for activity that intertwines with your everyday life (like hiking, jogging, walking with friends or biking) and brings something playful, simple and unique to the activewear space.
In true Outdoor Voices fashion, it’s not just about performance — it’s about comfortable, functional pieces that work with whatever your lifestyle is. In terms of more traditional workout gear, the brand’s head-turning Zoom 7/8 Leggings are perfect for sweaty, high-impact exercise. They’re super compressive, they’re sweat-wicking and they feature two deep phone pockets that will keep your essentials in place while you’re active.
Another must-have product for runners? Outdoor Voices’ Hudson 2.5-Inch Short. They’re made from a lightweight, quick-drying fabric and sport a couple small pockets, built-in liner and a super-comfy knit waistband.
We’re also big fans of the brand’s Doing Things Bra, a bestselling medium-impact bra with a unique mesh racerback design that makes for a super-comfortable and supportive fit.
When it comes to sweatproof activewear for anyone who loves a good workout, Sweaty Betty is the winner in our book. The brand has been around for over 20 years now, and in that time it has absolutely nailed apparel that’s both ideal for the studio or gym and perfect for everyday wear.
One of the brand’s fan-fave products is its Power Workout Leggings, which are available in over 40 different prints, patterns and colors, as well as in a cropped length, a 7/8 length and a high-waisted option. It’s obvious that people (us included) can’t get enough of these leggings.
“I tend to go for darker or patterned activewear when I’m planning on getting sweaty,” shares Monza. “I’m proud of my hard work and in no way embarrassed of my sweat, but sweatproof activewear helps me feel confident while on the bike or while taking photos with my SoulCycle riders after class.”
These leggings are some of the most sweatproof and quick-drying on the market, plus there’s no shortage of super-fun patterns. They’re incredible for a whole range of workouts, ranging from more casual and low-impact to super-intense. And the fabric is super supportive, sculpting and flattering. Another huge plus is that these leggings sport multiple pockets — something even the pros love, and agree are worth investing a little more for. “When I go on long bike rides, I like the convenience of having a zipper back pocket to put my phone to keep my hands free,” says Monza.
MPG Sport has perfected adorable, high-quality activewear and athleisure at a surprisingly affordable price point. The brand was founded in 2002 and has a unique focus on creating and investing in sustainable pieces — 80% of the brand’s most recent launch was certified sustainable, a label that takes into account the fabrics used, the design and manufacturing processes and the compliance of manufacturing partners.
MPG Sport’s Valor Recycled Polyester Medium Support Bra is made from the same sustainably sourced fabric. The asymmetrical design is super on-trend while still practical, while the material’s Coolmax Technology helps to keep you dry and comfortable.
If you pick up only one MPG Sport product, we have to suggest the brand’s leggings. And if you’re not sure where to start, MPG’s Ultimate Leggings Guide is a perfect place — though it’s tough to go wrong with any pair you choose. One of our favorites is the Prosper MPG Sleek High-Waisted Recycled 7/8 Legging, a high-compression, lightweight legging that feels like a second skin. Plus, it sports exterior side pockets.
If you’re looking for a bike short, the Brisk MPG Sculpt High-Waisted Recycled Biker Short is made from a super-sculpting, high-support fabric that’s flattering and comfortable. The high-waisted style is perfect for the core coverage and support that you want during more sweaty and high-intensity activity. And like our other bottoms pick, it also features super-useful side pockets for all your essentials.
Carbon38 both curates super-stylish activewear and creates its own line of products. When it comes to head-turning, high fashion-inspired pieces that will have the trendy women in your life in awe of a cropped sweater, Carbon38 is absolutely your destination.
“I like to find athleisure wear that can be styled both down for the gym and up for social outings,” shares Fried. “I often meet friends and colleagues for coffee or dinner in between and after my workday, so I like to shop for activewear that’s versatile.”
The brand’s signature High-Rise 7/8 Legging sports a unique sleek and glossy finish. The material isn’t quite as dramatic as it looks in pictures on the site (so no worries if it looks a bit intimidating in the image) — it’s gorgeous but not totally liquidy. The material is compressive, and the large waistband is super comfortable. Again, this might not be the activewear you run a marathon in, but it’s perfect for meeting friends for lunch.
And that’s what distinguishes Carbon38 to us as an activewear brand — it’s really a fashion brand that uses activewear as a way to incorporate comfy but trendy pieces into your everyday life. Pair the High-Rise 7/8 Legging with the Cami Bra for probably the most fashionable workout set we’ve ever seen, let alone tried on.
If you’re all about sleek, minimal and super-stylish workout sets at an affordable price, look no further than Set Active. The brand was founded in 2017, and is making a mark on the crowded world of athleisure with its absolutely gorgeous monochrome sets — something that’s desirable both inside and outside of the gym. “I’m constantly going from a workout class to coffee with friends, and a cute matching set is versatile and can really do it all,” shares Monza, who suggests investing in a matching activewear set you can wear in various settings. “I love the monochromatic look in particular,” she notes. Primé agrees, calling fun matching sets one of her big “splurge items.”
Set Active’s focus is creating simple pieces that are perfectly cut, color-coordinated to be part of a matching set and also easily interchangeable so you can collect different styles and colors to mix and match together. In the vein of keeping things simple, the brand focuses on two main materials for its activewear sets — Sculptflex (a microfiber nylon and spandex blend) and Luxform (a polyester and spandex blend). The Sculptflex material is more compressive and body-hugging, with two of our favorites from the collection being the Sculptflex Leggings and the Sculptflex Body Crop.
The leggings are perfectly high-waisted, slimming and seamless, while the top is super flattering, comfortable and versatile. And while they look adorable together, they also pair perfectly with other activewear or normal clothing — like jeans or a cute cropped sweater.
Alternatively, the Luxform material is softer and super comfortable, a perfect complement to the Sculptflex fabric. While it’s also totally appropriate for low-impact exercise, it’s almost too soft to sweat in — if that’s a thing. Two of our favorite products from the collection include the Luxform Leggings and the Luxform Band Bra. All in all, if you’re looking for your next super-chic monochrome activewear set, it’s hard to beat the quality you get from Set Active at this mid-range price point.
90 Degree by Reflex
For when you’re in need of no-frills activewear that won’t break the bank (but still keeps you looking cute and feeling comfy), 90 Degree by Reflex is one of the most reliable brands on the market. Plus, it’s widely available at retailers like Nordstrom Rack and Amazon.
The brand’s High-Waist Power Flex Leggings are a fan fave on Amazon, with a 4.5-star rating from over 15,000 reviews. They are truly do-it-all leggings for a fantastic price — completely squatproof and perfectly compressive while still soft and comfortable. They’ve been compared to other options on this list that are two to three times more expensive, and they totally do match up. Particularly if you work out often and don’t want to spend over $100 on one pair of leggings, we can’t recommend these enough.
Other winners include the High-Waist High-Shine Faux-Leather Disco Leggings (a lookalike for the Spanx Faux-Leather Leggings), High-Waist Fleece-Lined Leggings (a cold-weather must-have) and the High-Waist Power Flex Biker Shorts (which feature a super-useful deep pocket).
“I typically like to save when it comes to workout tops,” shares Fried. And while shirts and tanks aren’t typically the most fun components of activewear, they are staples that you’re sure to get a ton of use out of. The Power Flex Racerback Tank Top is a perfect examples of these activewear essentials.
Monza prefers to save not on her activewear but on her loungewear. “I can’t justify spending as much money on sweatpants as I do on leggings,” she shares. Especially since she’s found that “inexpensive sweatpants can be superior to more expensive or on-trend brands.” Whether it’s a trendy tie-dye hoodie like the Brushed Knit Tie-Dye Cross-Neck Oversized Hoodie or everyday joggers like the Stone-Washed Joggers, we’re trying not to add all of the 90 Degree by Reflex loungewear to our shopping carts right now.
Spanx started out with shapewear, but since its beginnings, the brand has expanded and now makes stellar leggings and activewear as well. Its Faux-Leather Leggings are immensely popular, and it’s easy to see why.
We tried them out for ourselves and adore how stretchy, breathable and stylish they are. They have a high-waisted design and contoured waistband, and they’re center-seam-free — so whether you’re out running errands or doing some yoga at home, you’ll be comfortable and chic.
If you’re looking for more traditional activewear, Spanx has got you covered there too. The brand offers sports bras, bike shorts, more leggings and even an exercise skort. The Get Moving Skort is another one of Spanx’s most popular items, equipped with a built-in liner that wicks away sweat and moisture. Plus, it even has pockets so you can keep your phone and keys nearby when you’re out working up a sweat. The brand also offers a wide range of sizes and inseams, including petite and tall fits, which is a huge bonus if you can never find a pair of leggings that fit just right. So if you want ultimate comfort and style during even your hardest workouts, look no further than Spanx’s collection of leggings, tops and other essentials.
Free People’s activewear collection features a uniquely boho style that sets it apart from other brands. From the wide range of distinctive colors to stretchier, looser fabrics and cuts, the little details in the brand’s pieces make them a fun step up from your typical athleisure basics.
The playful element of the brand’s aesthetic is apparent in its Good Karma collection, which includes the Good Karma Crop and High-Rise 7/8 Length Good Karma Leggings. Both pieces are available in a huge range of colors, from wardrobe-necessary neutrals to bolder, brighter options like neon yellow, tropical pink and a super-bright blue. They’re made from a combination of spandex and nylon, and as a result they’re incredibly stretchy and body-hugging — which is important since the pieces are available in only a couple sizes. While they held up well during our workout classes, we found ourselves turning to them outside of exercising as well.
These pieces easily double as everyday clothing, and the wider waistband on the leggings lends a slightly more dressed-up look. When it comes to special little touches, the High-Rise 7/8 You’re a Peach Leggings absolutely won our hearts. To start, they’re the perfect leggings to work out in. They’re thick enough to be completely squatproof — no need to worry about your underwear showing through — and they’re made of the type of reliable material that you don’t have to worry about ripping. The 7/8 length is perfect even for those who are petite, and the ruched detail adds a fun touch. The leggings have a high waist that sits perfectly, and the real showstopper? The light-reflective accents that both keep you visible if you’re working out at night and accentuate your curves.
And finally, the Hit the Slopes Fleece Jacket is a unique and stylish take on a typical fleece jacket. The button snaps are really high quality, and the multiple zippered pockets mean you never have to bring a bag or purse to the gym again.