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Is It OK Not to Wear Underwear When You Work Out?

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Photo: Alena Mozhjer / Shutterstock

You might feel the urge to ditch the panties and go bare in your leggings before heading to spin class—no panty lines or wedgies to worry about—but is that really such a good idea? Do you risk any gross side effects happening down there? Will it make you smell more? Can you wear your leggings again before tossing them in the laundry? When it comes to maintaining a healthy vagina, there's no such thing as TMI.

Go Ahead, Go Commando

First, is it safe to not wear underwear when you work out? Yep. Nothing too serious health-wise is going to happen, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn in New York. It boils down to an individual preference, and results can depend on the intensity of the workout, says Dr. Dweck. "Some women prefer to go commando during running, elliptical, spinning, kickboxing, etc., which affords less chafing, less visible lines in tighter workout clothes, and gives a sense of more mobility and flexibility," she says. So, if underwear and extra fabric are rubbing you the wrong way (literally) during your workout, going commando might actually have performance benefits.

More workout clothes brands are starting to considering careful placement of all sewn seams in an effort to prevent chaffing in "sensitive places," says Dr. Dweck.

What's more, if you're doing any kind of long-distance activity where you're seated—think cycling or horseback riding—proper gear can include padded shorts with a fabric that helps wicks moisture and protect against chafing in the first place. (See: Your Guide to Buying the Best Bike Shorts)

Reasons to Reconsider

An exception for when you'll probably want to keep those undies on? When you're on your period. While the leaking reasons are obvious, Dr. Dweck suggests that you might want a layer of padding anytime as an extra layer of cushion. And hey, if you want to wear underwear when you work out because you just do, at least make sure it falls under the category of best underwear for women who work out hard.

You might also notice workout-related body odor faster when you sweat panty-less. "Perspiration allows skin bacteria in hair-bearing areas, including the genital area, to cause body odor," says Dr. Dweck. With no fabric barrier between your sweaty body and your leggings, the leggings will be the place that traps the sweat that causes that specific, recognizable stench (you know the one we're talking about).

However, wearing underwear during a HIIT class isn't going to save you from the risk of yeast or bacterial infections, says Dr. Dweck, which can happen anytime you're wearing tight, sweaty clothing when exercising, whether it's underwear or leggings. "Yeast and bacteria thrive in moist, dark, warm places such as in the genital area confined in tight nonbreathable material during and after a workout," she says. So, regardless of what you're wearing or not wearing below the belt, you'll still need to change out of your leggings ASAP when finished with your workout.

The Underwear Bottom Line

The fitness commando debate is purely a personal preference decision. Just know what side effects come with both choices, and you'll make the right call for your bod and your workout.

 

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