FITNESS WEAR: An ask the expert special

Over on Instagram, I have been sharing the fact I have been pushing myself to complete the Couch25k programme during lockdown. I am not a natural athlete/runner at all, but have found something personally satisfying about the progress I have made.

I’ve got one more week of runs left until I reach the end – and as my ‘ear-trainer’ Jo Whiley keeps saying (you can select one of four celebrities to ‘run’ with you), ‘I bet you didn’t think you’d be able to run this far when you started.’ No Jo, I most certainly didn’t!

It’s also been really inspiring receiving all the DM messages and comments from people who’ve also done it and who have continued on to run marathons! I’m not sure that will be me, but it has made me realise that running is so much more than putting one foot in front of the other – it’s about beating the part of your brain that tells you to stop! Plus, it’s been a very welcome bit of ‘me time.’

Anyway! There have also been lots of chat about what to wear, which trainers are best and – in my case – how long you should own a pair of trainers! (I shared a photo of my trusty Asics, which are possibly around 15 years old and I was trainer-shamed!) So, last week I asked my followers on Insta stories whether they would be interested in a fitness wear style special – and 95% responded positively.

But rather than it just being my picks, I wanted to canvass the opinion and advice of those who spend the majority of their lives in Lycra. The women who know every new launch and pieces to invest in, those who know which sports bra works supports a bigger bust and which leggings will survive the squat test.

I reached out to five experts – and every one of them got back to me with the most brilliant advice. So rather than try to squash all of it into Insta-stories, I wanted to give their recommendations and advice some breathing space on here.

So here is my ‘Ask The Expert’ special on fitness wear. I hope it’s useful!

*AFFILIATE LINKS ARE USED IN THIS POST

When it comes to fitness wear, would you say price does matter?
There are really great affordable lines available now. H&M, M&S Goodmove, Gap are all great quality and survive the squat test. I’m particularly impressed with Under Armour, which is slightly more expensive than high street brands but they invest in research and the performance of their pieces and it shows.

Under Armour HeatGear Armour hi-rise leggings

Do we REALLY need to spend £80 plus on leggings?
I’m going to be honest and say I live in my Align Lululemon leggings (£88) and I swear by them. They’re thick without feeling too heavy, high waisted and hold everything in place. And they wash endlessly and don’t lose their sculpting effect. For me, feeling good in a pair of leggings is the difference between having a good workout or not. And if I’m not feeling my most confident, my Align leggings nearly always do the trick.

Lululemon Align leggings

It seems every high street store now has its own athleisure or fitness line, but which is best? Have you tried any that you think are great value for money?
M&S Goodmove definitely. And Gap. Alice Liveing’s range at Primark is amazing value and very good quality.

If budget was an issue, what would you say is the important purchase for people to make?
This is a tricky question because it depends on your body shape and type of exercise. For instance, if your breasts are on the large side then a good sports bra is a must. And I believe a sports bra should be sized like a regular bra – with back and cup fittings. Keeping your girls strapped in is so important, especially if you’re jumping or running. A decent pair of trainers is worth investing in if you are doing impact exercises (running, HIIT etc) for injury prevention. But they needn’t be expensive. Nike, Adidas and Asics all have pairs that cost less than £50 (see the section on trainers later in the post).

Which brands do you think really nail it when it comes to size inclusivity?
Firstly I would say to any woman when choosing leggings go a size or two smaller. I’m a size 12/14 with very big hips and bum, yet I wear UK size 10 in Lululemon (the brand’s leggings come in US sizes so a UK 10 is a US size 6.) And I wear small in Under Armour. You want the sucking in, supportive effect of leggings when jumping about and you achieve that with smaller sizes. This tip immediately brings lots of brands back onto the table for size-16+ women. Nike and Adidas now stock a wide range of plus size pieces and I know other huge brands are planning to follow suit very soon.

Do you think there are any shapes or styles of fitness wear that are universally flattering?
High waisted leggings are a must. I won’t wear anything else. Vests that are high cut around the shoulders are really great for making your shoulders look strong and defined and don’t fall into trap of wearing baggy tops. Form fitting is better. The least flattering cut for training tops are ones cut just on the curve of your shoulder. The more shoulder on show, the more flattering.

In your experience, where are the best places to shop for sports bras? Especially for those with larger busts.
Sports bras sized in small, medium or large in crop top styles should be avoided if you’ve got bigger boobs. In my opinion they simply do not offer enough support. Always opt for a style with a back and cup size. I’m a 34E and I wear Lululemon’s Enlite bra. It keeps everything in place. There’s also a brand called MAAREE which has brilliant sports bras for larger boobs.

Lululemon Enlite bra
MAAREE Solidarity high-impact sports bra

Follow Claire on Instagram here. Women’s Health magazine is available in print monthly or online here.

Who is doing fitness wear well on the high street?

COS have just launched a new activewear range. It’s a simple capsule collection made from recycled materials, but really well made considering the main range prices – £29 for a sports bra and £49 for seamless leggings that are genuinely up to the job of working out.

Recycled NYLON sports bra, COS
Recycled NYLON seamless leggings, COS

Saskia says, ‘Lululemon is my absolute go-to for core kit. The tech spec and quality is superb – and although more expensive, will last forever.’

Lululemon Fast and Free tight 11 25″
Lululemon Cross Chill jacket

Saskia says, ‘Girlfriend Collective and Nimble are sustainable options that are up to the mark. Both sell great sets made from recycled waste that are superb quality.’

Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise legging
Girlfriend Collective
Nimble, Breeze on By Tank

Saskia says, ‘I really rate Goodmove by Marks & Spencer.’

Layered running shorts, Goodmove at Marks & Spencer
Extra High Impact Serious Sports bra, Goodmove at Marks & Spencer

And ‘H&M’s activewear collection is great on style and spec.’

Seamless bum sculpting tights, H&M
Padded hooded outdoor jacket, H&M
Sports tights, H&M

ARKET has an easy to shop capsule gym wardrobe. While OYSHO is ace, beautiful, well made and legit tech! DAY WON are another brand I really rate. You can find them at Fashercise in the UK. Fabletics are awesome – and have some great offers on right now, And I also really love Free People Movement.’

Flower power leggings, Free People Movement

Sports wear options for size 16+ can often be a little dull, but Saskia suggests checking out Nike, which she says is squat proof and colourful.

Good American is a bit more expensive, but great. You see every piece on three different body types too.’

And talking of bras, she says great technical support for bigger busts and good looking bras don’t often go hand in hand. But Shock Absorber and Chantelle have genuine expertise in the area and are a great option for larger busts.

Like Claire, Saskia also recommends MAAREE, ‘they are a superb brand who invented the ‘overband,’ which is a supportive band that goes across the top of the bust so you don’t have to ‘hold on’ while running!’

‘I also have to mention Nike, who have invested a huge amount of research and development into its FE/NOM Flyknit sports bra. It’s a solid option and it looks great.’

NIKE FE/NOM Flyknit women’s sports bra

Follow Saskia on Instagram here and her fashion pages in Women’s Health magazine in print and online here.

When it comes to fitness wear, would you say price does matter?

My answer here is a little yes and no. On the one hand, I think you can buy brilliant, inexpensive activewear that fits perfectly, is comfortable and stays in place during your workout. Examples of this can be found at Primark for example (I’ve done three activewear collections with them) and H&M too.

On the other hand, if you’re after real performance wear that lasts wash after wash, I’d say investing in a few key pieces is important. A good, supportive sports bra is something that many less expensive activewear collections lack, and additionally some leggings that are on the less expensive side might not pass the ‘squat test’ after a few washes.

So, in summary, if you’re working out a few times a week and feel comfortable in high street gym wear then please don’t feel you need to spend half your salary on new pieces, but if you’re really getting in to your training and finding that you want something that’s really going to last and provide that extra support then a few key pieces will go a long way.

Do you think we need to spend a lot of money on leggings, for example?

Again, I’m very split here. I do appreciate the technology (sweat proof, sweat wicking, compression tech etc) that goes in to the more expensive leggings that hike up their price. I also appreciate that they FEEL lovely and sometimes you just want to feel good when you’re working out and to not spend the entire session hoiking your leggings up.

But, you can find really good quality leggings at high street prices. Brands such as Fabletics, Nike, Adidas, Onzie, Lilybod and TALA all have leggings that price around £50 and are really good options for good quality leggings that will last.

Every high street brand now seems to have its own athleisure collection. Which do you rate?

Of course I’m biased here and would say Primark have a really excellent, super affordable active wear range. But, I’m happy to admit there are also some other great options out there. H&M has had an activewear offering for a while and has a really good range of good quality product. I’d say ASOS are also up there with good quality affordable workout gear, and they have a nice range of bright colours too which I like. Another brand I’m a big fan of is GAP who surprisingly have in my opinion, the best high street offering when it comes to fitness gear. It’s soft, supportive and affordable and I’d definitely recommend their sports bras for those wanting more support. I’d say ASOS is a real hero with their ‘curve’ range which offers really lovely pieces. Nike also now have a plus size range which is really progressive and is of good quality too. 

If budget was an issue, what would you say is the important purchase for people to make?

A good pair of trainers for support and a good sports bra that makes sure everything stays in place and you feel comfortable. 

In your experience, where are the best places to shop for sports bras? Especially those catering for women with larger busts.

When it comes to those with a bigger bust, I would highly recommend Triumph. I absolutely love their collection and think they provide flattering, form fitting bras that importantly hold everything in place just as you’d want it to. 

Alice Liveing in her Primark activewear collection

Follow Alice on Instagram here and her website here

When it comes to fitness wear, would you say price does matter?

I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker and I have some great budget activewear, but once I finally tried Lululemon, I definitely got the hype! Luckily, there are brands out there that can deliver quality whatever the budget.

Do you think we really need to be spending £80+ on leggings?

Of course you don’t! If you can afford to and exercise regularly, or work in fitness, then go for it – the cost-per-wear value makes them worth the splurge. But I have H&M leggings that perform just as well as styles from the spendier brands. Quality is important though – a sheer bum when you squat is a big no-no! At £34, you can’t go wrong with Nike’s One leggings, designed for everything from HIIT to yoga. If you can spend a little more, Gymshark’s styles deliver the kind of body-sculpting fit you’d usually associate with more expensive labels.

NIKE ONE leggings

Which high street activewear ranges have you tried and rate?

H&M and Gap Fit are my high street faves. The leggings consistently pass the squat test and the designs look way more expensive than they are. H&M scores extra points for offering sustainable styles – look out for the Conscious label.

GAP FIT leggings

If budget was an issue, what would you say is the one thing people should buy?

Definitely leggings! I find they’re a bit like bikinis – you pack 10 to take on holiday but only end up wearing 2 or 3. I’ve got tons of leggings but always end up rotating the three pairs that fit like a glove and feel super comfortable. Oh, and a good sports bra is a non-negotiable too.

Who do you think are really size inclusive when it comes to fitness wear?

Thankfully the industry is making progress on the inclusivity front. US brand Girlfriend Collective is my new favourite discovery. Not only does it take a 360 approach to sustainability, the website features models of all ages, shapes and ethnicities. Fabletics, Nike and ASOS’ in-house brand 4505 also make activewear accessible for everyone. A universally flattering style has to be a high-waisted legging and longer line crop top combo – if you prefer extra coverage, throw a loose, longline vest top over.

ASOS 4505 CURVE high waisted leggings

In your experience, where are the best places to shop for sports bras?

I’m small chested so I can get away with a crop top or less supportive bra even for higher impact activities, but Triumph, Lululemon and Shock Absorber are the brands that come up time and time again when I speak to women who need more support. Nike and Girlfriend Collective do great crop tops – and when I was pregnant and needed to accommodate bigger boobs but didn’t want to spend a lot of money I bought a couple of H&M sports bras that I still wear now.

Triumph Triaction Hybrid lite sports bra

Follow Gemma on Instagram here.

My final expert is focusing only on trainers, specifically those for running.

‘I’m Fi Coe and I run womenswear and marketing for Coes Stores. We have five shops across East Anglia and I look after fashion, sports and gifts. Our sports department has a huge running community with our own running club (Rushmere Community Runners). As a keen runner myself (I started off just running for 1 minute and walking for 2!) I’ve tried out so many brands and styles of trainers over the years so should hopefully be able to give you some advice.’

What is the most important thing to consider when it comes to selecting trainers?
The single most important thing when selecting trainers is the fit, which is influenced by your gait. The easiest way to test your gait is to do the simple ‘shower step’ test. Once you get out of the shower put your feet directly on the ground and see what shape the print leaves. If your footmark has a gap where the arch is you will more than likely be a neutral runner which means you need to look out for a neutral shoe. If the footprint is complete (with no arch) you will more than likely over-pronate when you run, which means you will need a more structured shoe (with more support)

The other point to consider is good cushioning as this will give you support and bounce when you run. You can also look at the way you tie your laces to help make adjustments to comfort.

Most women’s trainers come with a standard width which will be indicated with a B. Wide fits are available to order but generally B width is good most people. Trainers can come up small so often its worth going up at least 1/2 a size from your normal shoe size, particularly with Brooks and Asics.

Does price matter?
Generally no – however the more you pay the better the cushioning will be, this in turn will give you more support and last longer. If you pay more, it doesn’t automatically make you run faster!

Should people serious about improving their running have gait analysis before they buy a new pair of trainers?
Yes! We would always recommend that people do have gait analysis before buying a new pair of trainers. We can analyse your technique and running style to help find you the best trainers to suit you. It also gives you the opportunity to try out various styles and brands to see how they feel before you buy.

Can this be done online?
Yes it can. We are launching our online gait analysis service on our website at the beginning of June. It will involve sending us three short videos of your technique, a photo of your trainers and some measurements of your feet. We can then analyse your gait and recommend the best new shoes for you.

Do you find people find a brand they like and then just re-buy the same style over and over?
Definitely, once our customers find a trainer that suits them they tend to stick to it. Having said this trainer technology improves every single season so new cushioning, fits, fabrics and styles are being launched all the time. That’s why is so important to get some good advice – you won’t want to be spending lots of money on something that really isn’t the right shoe for you.

Fi has selected three brands they regularly sell and recommend:

NEUTRAL TRAINER: ASICS GEL CUMULUS 21 MK (all available from Coes)
STRUCTURED TRAINER: ASICS GT 2000
NEUTRAL TRAINER: BROOKS GLYCERIN 17
STRUCTURED TRAINER: BROOKS LEVITATE 3
NEUTRAL TRAINER: NIKE AIR ZOOM PEGASUS 36
STRUCTURED TRAINER: NIKE W AIR ZOOM STRUCTURE 22

Follow Fi on Instagram here and visit Coes online here.

A HUGE thank you all my brilliant experts for their time and advice.

  • Comments ( 4 )

  • avatar
    Lindsey

    This is so thorough and brilliantly helpful, thank you for putting this together! I’ve been contemplating a pair of Lululemon leggings for a while now and I think this has tipped me over the edge! Thanks again x

    • avatar
      Erica

      Amazing! Glad it was helpful Lindsey! x

  • avatar
    Lisa Autumn

    YAY so many amazing pieces! I might have just placed a little order 😉

    Lisa | lisaautumn.com

  • avatar
    Wendy

    Never imagined I would see my running club get a shout out on your blog! Miss them so much.

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