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Activewear Pants: How to Find the Right Size

Meredith Provensal

Activewear pants should be comfortable, feature exceptional performance fabrics that keep you cool and dry throughout your workout, and provide appropriate support and coverage for whatever type of activity you choose to do in them. However, finding the right size in activewear pants can be more complicated than it seems due to a number of variables in performance and sizing. Activewear is officially defined as “clothing designed to be worn for sports, exercise, and outdoor activities,” but we think that definition isn’t entirely accurate. We prefer to define activewear as “clothing that is intentionally stylish and may be focused on function, fashion, or both and is designed to be worn for sports, exercise, and outdoor activities but often worn in casual settings.” With more and more people wearing activewear clothing thanks to the "athleisure" trend to run errands, work out, lounge at home, and meet up with friends, you want to make sure that your clothing looks great and fits perfectly. There are endless options ranging from jogger pants, sweatpants, high waist yoga pants, bike shorts, skorts, track pants, ankle leggings, and everything in between! Here are the factors to consider when it comes to finding the right size for your activewear pants.

Types of Activewear Waistbands

Both men and women will have different options when it comes to waistbands on their activewear. Waistband types include thick, thin, and drawstring waistbands, and each has different pros and cons. Thick waistbands are popular with workout pants because they offer a substantial amount of support compared to thin waistbands and drawstring waistbands, and many people find them more comfortable. Pants with a thick waistband are less likely to ride up or down during a workout, thereby requiring fewer adjustments. However, thicker waistbands do sometimes provide too much support if you’re just lounging around in your activewear, as they can put extra pressure on your abdomen over time. Thin waistbands are extremely comfortable because they provide minimal pressure, but they also provide less support than thicker waistbands. Thin waistbands are best suited to activities that are low impact and don’t involve a lot of bouncing because pants with this type of waistband are more likely to ride up or down and may need to be adjusted. Drawstring waistbands are the ultimate solution if you want to be assured that your pants are going to stay put no matter what. However, drawstrings can dig into your waist, so while they’re ideal for activities that involve a lot of impact and jumping around, like running, they’re not so great for activities that involve a lot of bending and stretching, like yoga or cycling.

Types of Activewear Rises

Male or female, we’ve all experienced the frustration of activewear pants that just won’t stay up no matter what you try. The rise of your activewear pants plays a major role in where the pants sit on your body and how likely they are to stay put during certain activities. High rise bottoms are made to sit at your natural waist and sometimes will cover your navel. Pants like high rise leggings offer maximum support and coverage and are great for activities that have you bending over a lot, like yoga or pilates. Although you won’t need maximum coverage in activities where you’re predominantly upright, like spinning or running, they can still provide extra support and keep you feeling secure. Mid-rise sportswear bottoms usually come up to an inch or so below the navel and offer more support and coverage than low rise pants without the extra fabric and constraint of high rise bottoms. Most men’s activewear pants are designed to feature a mid-rise, as are some types of women’s activewear pants. Low rise pants, as the name suggests, hit even lower on the abdomen and are best suited toward lounging around the house or running errands. However, if you combine a drawstring waistband with a low rise style, you could receive the range of motion that you’re looking for while still being assured that your pants will stay up, thanks to the drawstring. It’s to avoid low rise pants for yoga and pilates, but you can perform high impact activities like running in them as long as they have a drawstring.

Types of Activewear Silhouettes

Activewear pants tend to come in either fitted or relaxed silhouettes for both men and women, although there is more variation among women’s styles. Men’s activewear pants will vary in silhouette depending on the activity; for example, golf pants typically have a more relaxed fit than pocket leggings worn for running in cold weather. Women’s silhouettes typically offer more variety. Relaxed pants with a breathable fit are available for activities like hiking and walking, while yoga, pilates, running, and cycling typically require a more fitted silhouette due to the activity type. Women’s leggings also have a number of different styles, from those that are fitted through the length of the leg to flared bootcut leggings that are similar to the wide-leg pants that we saw in the 80s. It’s important to consider the type of activity you’ll be performing when choosing a silhouette because you want to make sure that you have the freedom to move through the range of motion that is required while also feeling supported. In any case, make sure that your fabric is moisture-wicking so that you aren't drenched in sweat this summer! 

Types of Activewear Compression

Compression garments are increasingly popular in activewear, and pants are no exception. You can find activewear pants with both high and low compression. Pants that feature high compression are fit tightly to the body and offer maximum support, meaning your range of motion is likely to be somewhat restricted and it may feel difficult to pull on the pants. People with excess skin due to weight loss, or those that carry extra weight or have injuries to certain muscles, may feel more comfortable in high compression garments because of the extra support they provide. Compression pants keep your skin and tissues in place and can also help improve circulation. Low compression pants are great for people who do not need or like the feeling of high compression in their workout clothes or who are performing activities that need a full range of motion. 

How to Find the Right Size

If only every company used the same size chart, right? Until that happens, you’ll need to know your measurements and compare them to each activewear company’s size chart. When trying out a new brand, it is extremely important to always take your measurements and actually look at the company’s size chart, even if you think you know your size. This is because activewear sizing often varies depending on the type of material used and may run smaller than you would expect your size to be in normal clothes. Additionally, read the reviews on each product you’re considering purchasing. Look for the best sellers! You’ll get a much better idea of how the clothing can be expected to fit and may learn if you need to size up or size down based on the accuracy of the size chart. 

Men’s Measurements

Men should measure their waist circumference and their inseam in order to find accurate sizing for their activewear pants. The waist is measured by using a soft measuring tape to measure the circumference of the waist just above the belly button. Men should take the measurement while standing in a relaxed position and not “sucking in.” The inseam is measured from the groin down the inner side of the leg all the way down to the floor. Someone else will need to help you take this measurement, as you need to stand upright and keep your legs straight; bending over will result in an inaccurate measurement. Next, compare your waist and inseam measurements to the size chart. If you find that you are on the border between two different sizes and are not sure which size to order, consider the fit of the activewear pants. If the pants are designed to fit closer to the body, you might want to size up, while if the pants are a looser or relaxed fit, you may want to size down. Reading product reviews is a great way to get more information about how you can expect the pants to fit.

Women’s Measurements

Women’s activewear pants typically only require a waist measurement.  The waist is measured by using a soft measuring tape to measure the circumference of the waist just above the belly button. Women should take the measurement while standing in a relaxed position and not “sucking in.” The waist measurement will usually correspond to a size on the women’s sizing chart. In terms of pant length, especially for things like capri leggings, take note of the product description. Women’s activewear pants may come in capri pant lengths that hit just below the knee, 7/8 lengths that hit just above the ankle, or full-length pants. If the activewear pants do not have the option to select “petite,” “regular,” or “tall” pants, look at the description of the length to get a better idea for where the pants will hit on your body. Petite lengths are generally designed for women who are under 5’4” tall, while regular lengths are appropriate for women between 5’4” and 5’7”, and tall lengths are appropriate for women over 5’7” or those who have very long legs. Also, be on the lookout for junior sizing if you're a teenager.

At the end of the day, style your activewear pants with the appropriate top! Depending on the activity and the weather, you can go with a hoodie, sweatshirt, crew neck t-shirt, sleeveless tank top, or even a strappy sports bra! With all these options, you are bound to dress to impress in your activewear.

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