Best workout leggings 2021 | CNN Underscored
We rounded up 10 staffers to put more than a dozen pairs of leggings to the test. Our testers (who wear a range of sizes and have some pretty strong opinions on leggings) judged each pair on quality, comfort, style and more. After weeks of testing, one stood out as the best workout leggings on the market (and you can find more of our favorite leggings in our comprehensive best leggings guide).
If you’re looking for a sweat-wicking, breathable legging that’ll move with you no matter how brutal your workout is, and a pair that’s so comfortable you’ll nearly forget you’re wearing it at all, the Lululemon Align Pant is an investment we can get behind.
The Lululemon brand is practically synonymous with the word “athleisure,” and whether you love it or love to hate it, one thing is certain: Lululemon makes some seriously fantastic leggings. Yes, $98 may seem like a steep price to pay, but if you’re serious about your fitness and/or yoga gear, you won’t be able to find anything better than the Lululemon Align Pant.
Touching the fabric of the Align is a sensation like none other, giving new meaning to the phrase “buttery soft.” (One of our testers may or may not have audibly oohed and aahed the first time she put them on.) That luxurious material translates into an extremely comfortable wearing experience, which showed in our testing when the Align Pant scored perfect marks for everyday comfort and stretch. But don’t let that soft material fool you — these leggings can handle any workout you throw at them. When it came to high-impact, super-sweaty activities, they held up remarkably, achieving nearly perfect marks. We were quick to understand what people mean when they say they truly forget they’re wearing any leggings at all with these on. We especially loved the material of these leggings, and how lightweight yet opaque they were. Plus, its high waistband was remarkably secure and remained supportive throughout workouts. One tester had an issue with the waistband rolling, but that seemed to be an issue due to sizing. Based on our experience (and on plenty of customer reviews noting the same), we might recommend sizing down one size for the best fit.
The Aligns were by far the best workout leggings we tested, but there are a few caveats: The material is a bit too thin to wear on cold days outdoors for an extended time. You could run to get the mail, but anything more than that and your legs might start feeling chilly. Also, according to our long-term wearers on staff, they tend to pill on the inner thighs over time if you don’t have a thigh gap — and honestly, how many of us do? — but it isn’t terribly noticeable and has never resulted in holes or tearing.
The Align Pant is available in sizes 0 through 20, and in three inseams: 25-inch, 28-inch and 31-inch (they see you, tall people!). Color offerings depend on the inseam, with the cropped version coming in 17 colors and patterns, the middle inseam in nine and the tallest inseam in four. With a basic silhouette, the pair also features a hidden waistband pocket big enough to fit a credit card, small stash of cash or key.
The Lululemon Align Pant leggings’ lightweight yet opaque material will have yogis, cyclists and any fitness fanatic, really, forgetting they’re wearing any leggings at all. The Align’s buttery soft and super-stretchy fabric was unlike any other we tested, and it’s sure to keep you feeling comfortable and supported no matter what your workout entails.
We researched the top leggings on the market and considered staff-recommended pairs that our editors have worn for years — for both working out and everyday wear, across a range of prices — and settled on a pool of 13 to put to the test.
We wore each legging several times, both before and after washing it, during high-impact, sweaty workouts as well as for lounging around the house and low-impact everyday activities to determine how comfortable each pair was overall. We considered whether the waistband rode up or rolled down during workouts, and if the leggings pinched or were otherwise uncomfortable to wear. We washed each pair at least four times, noting if running them through typical wash and dry cycles resulted in any noticeable pilling, fading or change in softness; we also observed whether the leggings attracted lint and pet hair, and used additional anecdotal evidence about durability from staffers with any long-term experience with leggings we tested. We looked at whether sizing was accurate and aligned with our normal sizes and if the leggings fit well across a range of body types.
We also considered the range of sizes, inseams and colors available, as well as factored in our collective (albeit subjective, of course) thoughts about each pair’s stylishness. We noted when pairs had fewer seams (which often results in less chafing, more comfort and a more flattering fit overall) and if they were designed with a gusset (a piece of material sewn into the crotch area to reinforce it, resulting in a more durable legging).
Finally, we gave every pair the “squat test” to see how opaque the material was, noted how moisture-wicking the fabric seemed to be during runs/workouts, looked at how much stretch and movement the fabric had and considered whether the leggings were crafted using eco-friendly, sustainable and/or organic materials.
Based on the categories and testing procedures listed above, we gave all leggings a score in each subcategory, combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category, then totaled those numbers for a final overall score. We broke down the scores as follows:
- Function/fit had a total of 50 points: comfort (20 points), durability (15 points), fit across sizes (10 points) and sizing accuracy (5 points).
- Style had a total of 45 points: size availability (10 points), inseam availability (10 points), color availability (10 points), general aesthetics (5 points), seams (5 points) and gusset (5 points).
- Material had a total of 35 points: opacity (10 points), moisture-wicking ability (10 points), amount of stretch (10 points) and eco-friendly and/or organic fabric (5 points).
We also took value into consideration, weighing the leggings’ price points against their quality.
Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight ($98; athleta.gap.com)
If you’re looking for a legging that does it all, you can’t go wrong with the Athleta Salutation Stash Pocket II 7/8 Tight. In fact, in our overall guide to the best leggings, we named them the best overall leggings. Featuring pockets big enough to stash things like your phone or wallet, we loved this pair for its comfort during workouts and everyday activities alike, high-quality construction, secure waistband and chic aesthetic. If you want to know more and see why we named them the best, check out our full best guide here.
Zella Live In High-Waist Legging ($59; nordstrom.com)
In our testing, we named the Zella Live In leggings as the best pair to wear as pants, thanks to their durable, slightly heavier weight, compressive but nonconstricting fabric and ability to pair with virtually anything. Check out our full thoughts here.
Colorful Koala Women’s High-Waisted Yoga Pants 7/8 Length Leggings With Pockets (starting at $25; amazon.com)
If you’re not looking to shell out as much cash, the Colorful Koala Yoga Pants are a more wallet-friendly option to the other winners. They’re soft, comfortable leggings — with substantial pockets to boot — that we found as much a pleasure to wear during workouts as we did lounging around the house. They’re also available in a whopping 33 colorways, so you’re sure to find one that suits your style — or several. Read more about these budget leggings here.
Lululemon Wunder Under High-Rise Tight ($98; lululemon.com)
While this pair didn’t quite have that “second skin”-type stretch to it as the Lululemon Aligns did, we were still impressed by their comfort and performance. We appreciated their supportive but nonconstricting waistband, their opacity and their smooth, soft feel to the touch. Some long-term wearers of the Wunder Unders have noted they’ve held up exceedingly well after years of washes, with no pilling, lint or fading to note, making them a worthy investment for their nearly three-figure price tag.
Our testers considered this pair stylish enough to wear outside of the gym (they also have a hidden waistband pocket big enough to fit a credit card), and their thicker fabric makes them a good choice to wear in chillier weather too. That said, some of us felt the material was a little too thick and constricting for optimally comfortable workouts in warmer weather, and one found the waistband to sometimes roll beneath her belly button during workouts, which wasn’t ideal. If, however, you’re looking for leggings that feel a bit more like shapewear and give you that “held in” feeling — and/or you want a good pair for running outdoors when the weather isn’t sweltering — these are a great option that have proven excellent at standing up to years of wear. They’re available in sizes 00 through 20, in 25-inch and 28-inch inseams and seven colors.
Girlfriend Collective Compressive High-Rise Legging ($68; girlfriend.com)
We found these leggings to be very comfortable for everyday wear, and they racked up a perfect score in opacity, passing the squat test with flying colors. Each pair is made from recycled water bottles (25 of ’em, to be exact), and we’re big fans of Girlfriend Collective’s ethos of creating sustainable garments and upholding ethical work environments.
A few other things we loved about these leggings: They’re available in perhaps the widest range of sizes of all the pairs we tested, from XXS through 6XL (for context, they accommodate waists from 22.5 to 52 inches and hips from 32 to 62.5 inches), and their three inseams also span a wide range (19.5, 23.75 and 28.5 inches), so finding the ideal length no matter your height is in the bag. From our experience, they seem to be true to size. The leggings are available in six colors as well as seven additional limited-edition colors at the moment. They also wash and dry beautifully, looking as good as new after several wash cycles.
The material, true to this product’s name, is compressive without feeling restrictive, plus the leggings also feature much-coveted small side pockets. This pair ultimately didn’t snag a winning spot, however, because we found them to be a bit too stiff for comfortable high-impact workouts, and our testers had mixed feelings about the waistband consistently staying put throughout an exercise session. If you’re looking for a pair of everyday leggings that you can feel good about wearing, though, we think these are a solid pair — and we appreciate the brand’s commitment to inclusive sizing and eco-friendly manufacturing.
CRZ Yoga High-Waist Tight Yoga Pants (starting at $24.99; amazon.com)
Long considered a budget-friendly pair comparable to the ranks of Lululemon’s Align, we sought out to see if the comparison was warranted. What we found was a legging that delivers a whole lot for a relatively paltry price tag. Available in a whopping 41 colors and patterns, aesthetically these leggings are a no-frills pair that indeed feel almost as buttery soft as the Aligns, albeit a tad less sturdy. (They also feature a tiny hidden waistband pocket, like the Align.) While most of us found them to be as comfortable for intense workouts as for lounging around the house, nearly forgetting we were wearing any leggings at all, one tester did have some issues with the waistband, which tended to roll down consistently during runs.
A few other reasons we didn’t ultimately name the CRZ Yoga leggings our best budget pair: Larger sizes tended to be less opaque, and the fabric attracted more lint and pet hair than we’d prefer. Still, after several washes, we didn’t observe any noticeable pilling or fading, and they remained as soft and comfortable as the first wear. We also appreciated that these leggings are available in sizes XXS through XXL, a wider range than most of the budget pairs we tested.
The Colorful Koala leggings edged out this pair by just a tiny margin, pushed ahead because of their convenient larger pockets and a more secure waistband. And like with the Colorful Koala leggings, if you’re on the taller side, you might find the cropped length a tad too short, namely for outdoor wear in colder weather, but they are also available in a 28-inch inseam (again, though, we didn’t test the full-length option ourselves).
Leggings Depot High-Waisted Legging (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)
Given this pair’s over-15,000 5-star ratings and $10 price point, we knew we had to try it for ourselves to see what all the hype could be about. Could all these customers be wrong? Well, yes and no. For 10 bucks, you get what you’d expect: a super-comfortable pair of leggings, and that’s about it.
Unlike all the other leggings in our testing pool, this pair is not designed with a gusset, meaning that it’s more likely to be prone to tearing at the crotch area. While the leggings scored high marks in the opaque and stretchiness categories, and they’re soft both inside and out, they’re not optimal for working out, as the material is a bit too thick for ideal comfort during a sweat sesh, and they didn’t seem to be very sweat-wicking either (not a surprise given their low price point). If you’re looking for a pair to lounge around or sleep in and not much else, though? These will do just fine, and you won’t break the bank stocking up on a few. They’re also available in a staggering 44 colors and patterns.
Old Navy High-Waisted Elevate Compression Leggings ($22, originally $29.99; oldnavy.gap.com)
We were pleasantly surprised by this pair, given their budget price point. The Old Navy leggings retained their shape and color really well (even after multiple washes), were exceedingly comfy and breathable, and are designed in an unassuming way that makes wearing them as part of a nonworkout outfit easy-breezy. The full-length leggings are not only available in sizes XS through XXL, but they also come in three inseams: 26.5, 28 and 31 inches, the latter of which (bonus for the taller folks in the room) is among the longest inseams offered out of all the pairs we tested.
While they are crafted with a moisture-wicking poly-spandex blend, they didn’t ultimately snag a winning spot, as we found the Colorful Koala pair to have a more flattering fit (one of our testers noted the Old Navy leggings pooled at the ankles a bit), with the addition of pockets and a material that wasn’t a magnet for lint and pet hair, as these tended to be.
Fabletics Trinity High-Waisted Utility Legging ($84.95 for nonmembers or $59.95 for members; fabletics.com)
There wasn’t much not to like about this pair of leggings — in fact, it scored top marks pretty much across the board, with particularly high scores for both comfort and stylishness. We love that these have pockets (both side pockets and a discreet back zipper pocket), how they fared well after multiple wash and dry cycles, snapping right back into shape and looking good as new, and how well they kept us warm outdoors in near-freezing temperatures. They come in three inseams, are offered in sizes XXS through 4XL and are available in 11 colors, from neutrals to bright and bold hues.
A few things to mention: Although certainly useful, the pockets don’t lie flush against the shape of the leggings, so when sitting down they kind of stuck out. Also, after hours of wear, one of our testers noted that the compressing high waist started to feel a little tight. One of the main reasons we didn’t crown these our overall winning pair, though? Fabletics’ subscription-based business model. While new members can snag two pairs for the ridiculously wallet-friendly price of two for $24, existing members pay $59.95. If you don’t want to commit to a $49.95-per-month membership, you’ll be shelling out $84.95 per pair. If you’ve already bought into the Fabletics membership or are thinking about it, you can’t go wrong with these leggings.
Oalka Women Yoga Pants Workout Running Leggings (starting at $9.99; amazon.com)
What we loved about these leggings: They’re available in 61 (nope, not a typo!) colorways and patterns, with the option to select a pocketed or nonpocketed design. The pockets are big enough to fit a standard smartphone, and they scored high marks in the opacity category. Overall, we were impressed by their quality given their $20 price point.
What we didn’t love: Sizing was a bit off for all of our testers (some noted that the leggings ran a little big and others said they ran too small in their normal size), and they were longer than ideal. For those on the shorter side, this can be a deal breaker since only one inseam length is offered. We didn’t find them stylish enough to be seamlessly integrated into an everyday outfit — aesthetically, they’re decidedly a workout legging — and placement of the pocket was awkward. The design of the front seam wasn’t very flattering, we found the waistband frequently had a hard time staying put and the fabric was a bit too stiff for the most comfortable workouts.
Outdoor Voices Springs 7/8 Leggings ($78; outdoorvoices.com)
Among all the leggings we tested, this Outdoor Voices pair held up perhaps the best of them all — after our tests, they proved to be super durable after many workouts and washes, appearing like new, with no pilling, fading or lint to speak of. They didn’t shrink when one of our testers put them in the dryer on a hot cycle too, and there was no color transfer from either.
They’re a super-stylish, flattering pair that made us feel confident when wearing ’em, both for exercising and doing everyday stuff. Compared to the other higher-end leggings we tested, however, we didn’t find these to blow us away in the comfort department, particularly during sweaty, high-impact workouts. Overall, our testers wished the fabric allowed for freer movement and weren’t quite as stiff, though they’d be a great pair for outdoor activity on cooler days. We appreciated their relatively expansive size range (from XXS through 3XL), though note that they are available in just two colorways and one inseam length. They’re also shipped in 100% recycled paper envelopes or recyclable boxes, and according to the brand, it has been reducing its use of conventional fabrics in favor of more sustainable materials.
JoyLab High-Waisted Seamless 7/8 Leggings ($34; target.com)
We had mixed feelings about these JoyLab leggings from Target. While some of our testers appreciated how soft and stretchy they were, for the most part, we found them unsupportive and uncomfortable for workouts. The design of these leggings was polarizing, with some finding their aesthetic stylish and others not so much. (The perforated detail is really not ideal for colder climates, and some of us weren’t a fan of the really noticeable ribbing on the waistband and ankles.) A bit less opaque than our favorites in the testing pool, these did, however, hold up well after several washes. The leggings are available in four colors and sizes XS through XL. Although we had intended on initially testing a different pair of JoyLab leggings, we learned that they had been discontinued and that this style was the most similar. Unfortunately, these just didn’t hit the mark for us overall.
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