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6 Tips for Trying on Workout Clothes

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Trying on regular clothes may not be your favorite thing to do, but chances are you have a pretty solid routine down: Check out the front, check out the back, maybe do a quick sorority girl pose or selfie exchange with a friend, and you have a decent idea of whether you'll be buying or bailing.

But trying on workout clothes comes with its own unique set of problems. Mainly because you're not just testing for form, you're testing for function. After all, a top that looks good in the dressing room might start chafing on mile ten of your half-marathon. A bra that seems supportive enough while you're just standing around could prove to be no match for a set of intense burpees. Pants that seem opaque enough under the unforgiving glare of the dressing room could turn totally transparent when you're downward-dogging it in the studio. (Find out What Fitness Editors Really Wear to Work Out.) 

We were sick of wasting money on workout gear that quickly proved to be unwearable at the gym. So we asked fashion and fitness pros how they tried on clothes to ensure that the garments could hold up to a serious sweat session.

Almost universally, they said the most important thing was to start by reading the label. As you probably already know, when it comes to fitness, cotton is rotten—many pros said to avoid even trying it on. “Cotton will retain moisture and take forever to try, leading to potential chafing issues. Merino wool or synthetic fibers like Lycra and Spandex are much better options,” says Lisa Niren, a head coach at Peloton Cycle. Once you've selected a few cotton-free pieces to take to the dressing room, try these six expert-approved moves to separate the winners from the losers.

The Toe Touch: One common suggestion was what Beth Weinstein, founder of running clothes company OnlyAtoms, calls “the Lulu look test”: Bend over in front of a full-length mirror, then peek through your legs. You're checking to see if the fabric covering your butt turns see-through, or if your waistband rides down or your shirt's hemline rides up to reveal a little to much of your behind.

The Twist Test: From there, try doing a deep lunge or split squat. “Both exercises require the biggest movement in pants, so it'll test the fabric for sure,” says Steven Mack, owner and trainer of Simple Solutions Fitness. If you're in a smaller dressing room, regular body squats work too. Pay attention to the seams, waistband, and fabric: If anything's irritating in the dressing room, it'll feel a million times worse once you've been sweating. “Also note how everything feels around your joints—shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, armpits, knees, ankles,” suggests certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist Shane Allen, of Personal Trainer Food. “If something feels too tight or irritating, go for a larger size or different design.”

The Jump Start: “Jumping jacks are another great way to see if the fabric is stretching in the right places and keeping you on lockdown where you need extra security,” adds Cave CrossFit's Allison Hagendorf, a health and lifestyle coach. (Translation: It's a good sports bra test.) “Raising your arms overhead is a must to check on chafing too.” Then run in place for about 15 seconds, making sure to really swing your arms and pull your knees up to your chest, suggests Allen. “This will give you a good idea of how everything will—or won't—stay in place while you're doing cardio or polymetric workouts.” Also try to deliberately rub your elbows against your waist and your inner thighs against each other. These are two top chafing spots, points out Arial Friedman, a trainer with Groove Anywhere. “Make sure the material doesn't irritate your skin and slides easily.”

The Breathe Easy: After all these moves, your body temp should be a bit elevated (though hopefully you're not sweating—that would be a dressing room faux pas). “If you feel totally overheated, you may want to find thinner or more breathable fabric,” says Allen. (Are There Harmful Chemicals Hidden in Your Workout Clothes?

The Finishing Touch: “Remember how tired your muscles are after a workout, and don't buy pieces that are hard to get on and off,” notes certified personal trainer Trinity Perkins, founder of Train With Trin, LLC. “If you're struggling to pull that racerback bra over your head in the dressing room, trying to get it off after a shoulder workout will be almost impossible!” Genius.

The Selfie Screening: “Lastly, of course, ask yourself the most important question of all,” says Weinstein. “How will I look in my post-race selfie? Kidding... Kind of.” (Take a cue from these Celebrities Who Look Amazing in Workout Clothes.) 

These six tests should give you a pretty good idea of the quality and comfort of the piece you're trying on. But if something comes up during your sweat session, remember this: “Most brands stand behind their products. So even if you go for a couple runs in the new items, if you're really not happy ask for a return or store credit!” says Weinstein.

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