With all of the different brands and styles of workout leggings on the market, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find at least one pair that you love. In fact, it’s likely you’ll find multiple pairs that you love for each type of workout that you do. That doesn’t mean you need a specialized pair of leggings for every activity—but it does mean that you shouldn’t have to settle for subpar leggings.

When shopping for leggings (or any other workout bottom), the most important features to consider are fabric quality, waistband, and length, says Bianca Vesco, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and fitness model. These features are important to make sure that your leggings fit comfortably and perform well during workouts. After all, you ultimately need your leggings to feel secure and stay up as you move, says Sarah Taylor, certified personal trainer, plus-size model, and owner of virtual fitness studio Fitness by Sarah Taylor. Otherwise, they’re just going to distract from your workout, instead of adding to it.

While softer, stretchier materials are typically ideal for activities that call for stretching or moving through a deep range of motion, like yoga or weight lifting, tighter, compressive leggings are usually great for high-impact activities like running, says Alison Staples, RRCA-certified run coach and physical therapist assistant. It’s also important to consider how sweaty you plan to get and if the leggings are made of material that can help keep you dry and comfortable.

The best way to test leggings is to put them on and move how you’ll move during a workout. Squat, jump, twist, burpee…do anything you might do in a workout. Even just wearing them during everyday movements can give you a sense of how they’ll perform, says Vesco.

According to our experts, there are some important features to look for in leggings to ensure they’ll fit great and hold up throughout your workout of choice. For our SELF Certified Sports Bra and Leggings Awards, where we rigorously test and evaluate sports bras and leggings and then award the best of the best in order to help you decide what’s worth buying, we wanted to know exactly what those criteria are. We talked to Vesco, Taylor, Staples, and Janeil Mason, M.A., personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and creator of Fit and Lit, to find out what they recommend.

Leggings Evaluation and Testing Criteria

Waistband Fit and Comfort 

The waistband can make a huge impact on how comfortable and secure a pair of leggings are during a workout. “Low-rise is wildly impractical during a workout because it’s going to move, and parts of me I don’t want to hang out will hang out,” says Vesco. “So high-rise is way more ideal, but only if it stays in place!” Some flat seams tend to roll down, while others pull and rub or even dig into the skin. Taylor says she also prefers a high waist on leggings because they feel more secure. We test out whether a waistband is ideal by doing the workouts we intend to do in that pair of leggings and noting how comfortable the waistband is and if it moves or changes during the workout.

Fabric Quality 

The squat test is a real and important thing when it comes to deciding if leggings are made of quality materials. “I always test with squats to see if leggings are see-through; if they are, they are a no go,” says Taylor. Simply bending over in front of a mirror and checking out if the pants are see-through in the butt area works too, says Mason. “I would love it if all leggings could just pass a see-through test before they go into production,” adds Vesco, “although if the leggings are super cozy and still see-through, I may buy them anyway just for life and not working out.”

Fit

The waistband can play a big role here, too, but overall, it’s important to test if your leggings stay in place during high-impact workouts, says Mason. “I don’t want my leggings falling down while I’m teaching or filming a workout. I perform mostly high-impact exercises so this is super important to me,” says Mason. If you find yourself having to constantly pull up or adjust leggings during a workout, then they may not be the best pants for that activity.

Length

“It’s important to try leggings on to see where they fall on your body,” says Staples. Depending on your height, certain lengths of leggings may cut off at different spots and be uncomfortable. For example, Vesco notes that crops are too short for her and always bunch up behind her knees. She finds that for her, full-length leggings are just too long, but 7/8-lengths are just right. If you’re taller and can’t find leggings that are long enough, look at brands that sell “tall” versions, notes Staples.

Ease to Put On and Take Off 

You shouldn’t hear ripping seams every time you pull on a pair of leggings. First, it’s uncomfortable and annoying to have to struggle to put pants on; second, you’re likely ripping the stitching a little bit each time, and your pants won’t hold up for as long as you’d like. Plus, Staples says, “if it’s hard to get the leggings on pre-workout, just imagine how hard it’ll be to get them off when you’re done.”

Moisture Management 

Avoid choosing colors and fabrics that will put every bit of your sweat on display, says Staples. While there’s not really a way to test this until you are wearing leggings for a sweaty workout, Mason notes that lighter colors typically show sweat more. Fabric can also make a huge difference here. “This is the time of athleisure, which means we are all going about our lives after workouts (or no workouts) and living in leggings. Those leggings need to dry quickly and without odor so I can wear them all day,” says Vesco. To test for this, we take note of how wet leggings get during a sweaty workout, and how long it takes for the moisture to evaporate.

Activity-Specific Features 

Certain types of workouts may warrant special added features. For example, Staples notes that pockets on leggings can be clutch for carrying small items on a run. A built-in drawstring can sometimes be helpful to keep leggings in place during high-impact workouts, Mason says. You may want leggings that are extra stretchy for yoga, and ones that are made with tighter, compressive material for running.

How You Feel

“Choose what makes you feel good,” says Staples. “When you’re low on motivation to work out, having clothes you feel good about might just give you that extra boost to get it done.” While this is quite subjective, it’s important to think about how you feel wearing a particular pair of leggings and if they help you feel more confident and ready to sweat.

How SELF Tests Leggings

Experts Consulted for These Guidelines

Product Reviews Using These Guidelines

This leggings buying guide was developed for our SELF Certified Sports Bra, Leggings, and Shorts Awards. See all our 2020 winners here. 

Source: self.com