New gym clothes promise to lift, tighten, and even tone. But do they really work?

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Updated: November 16, 2015

Lose 10 pounds in four weeks! Drop two dress sizes this month! We're all familiar with the attention-grabbing taglines that go along with products and plans designed to get you the trim and toned body you've always wanted. Here's one you haven't heard: Have five kids in 10 years! That's what I did, and trust me, there is no trimming or toning involved. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm not trying to knock my body--I'm strong, healthy, and generally pretty happy with myself--but you can understand why the idea of fitness shapewear (i.e. Spanx for sweating in) is so appealing to me. In fact, it's so appealing that I own no less than 18 separate pieces of athletic gear promising to lift, tighten, tuck, and even tone my trouble zones.

I'm not the only one intrigued by these products. Almost every major brand, including Fila, Reebok, and Champion is coming out with their own line of toning tops and shaping shorts (and pants, jackets, and undies), not to mention new brands like StyleFirm and Casall who specialize in shaping gear. So how do the multi-tasking clothes hold up under an intense workout? And do they live up to their big promises? Here's my mummy-with-a-tummy's experience:

The Pros

There's really only one reason why fitness shapewear even exists: because we all want to look good. And we don't just want to look good, we want to look better. As in, better than we really look. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Feeling confident about the way we look can be key to feeling comfortable going to the gym, a place that's practically guaranteed to be populated with super fit people. And yet athletic clothing with its thin fabric, ultra stretchiness, and bright colors can be pretty unforgiving. Shapewear on the other hand is equipped with hidden "tummy controlling" panels, mesh inserts, flattering seams, and optical illusion patterns! And while they may not live up to all the hype - you'll notice that even shapewear is modeled by women who definitely don't need it - these clothes do a better job holding me in and up than regular workout duds. (To see my piece-by-piece breakdown, check out our slideshow on all the options!)

Another perk (ha!) is that most shapewear is also, by its very nature, compression gear, and multiple studies have linked wearing compression clothing with minor improvements in performance and muscle recovery when worn for at least an hour after your workout. (Now you have permission from scientists to do your grocery shopping in your yoga pants!)

The Cons

The biggest problem with athletic shapewear is that the fat has to go somewhere, and that usually means the ultra-tight, tummy-controlling waistband gives you a muffin top wherever the compression stops. Even if you pair your toning pants with a shaping top, it doesn't quite ameliorate the squish factor. Some brands handle this better than others but all that I've tested have this problem to some degree. My other issue is that I tend to carry my weight in my thighs and most shapewear only focuses on your stomach.

What concerns most people, however, is that shapewear is not known for being terribly comfortable, and if there's one place a girl should be able to breathe unrestricted, it's during her workout. Thankfully almost all of the items I've tried are very comfortable and don't feel too constricting. Since the fabric is generally thicker than regular spandex, it's not great for keeping you cool, but it seems to hold up longer under tough workouts.

The bottom line: I don't wear them during every workout, but I definitely like having them as an option! What's your opinion: Do you think it's "cheating" to wear shapewear to the gym or is it a good confidence booster? Have you ever tried these?


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