The Best Compression Leggings of 2023

Your legs will feel oh-so-supported.

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Best Compression Leggings

Shape / Kristin Kempa

Not all leggings are created equal, and compression leggings are a prime example. Unlike yoga pants, the style is designed to hug the body like a second skin to create slight constriction without affecting your movement — and the benefits go beyond a subtle booty lift. 

In fact, a 2019 study found that compression tights had a significant positive impact on muscle recovery, especially after a high-intensity sweat session. “Compression provides heat and stimulation to the muscle which increases blood flow, and oxygenation to improve metabolism,” explains Dr. Stephen Liu, chairman, co-founder, and CEO of Forme. “Physiologically, compression reduces lactic acid build-up, circulates necessary nutrients to reduce muscle fatigue, and improves balance and mobility.”

You can also wear compression leggings during workouts, notes Maggi Gao, NASM-certified personal trainer, Level 2 Russian Kettlebell Certified. She recommends wearing them for “anything that will give you a prolonged buildup of lactic acid -— such as endurance training (long distance running, long workout sessions, or even prolonged manual labor), or a HIIT workout that trains your anaerobic capacity, which will make the body produce more lactic acid.”

And bonus: The compressive design fixes common legging complaints, such as the waistband rolling or falling down during a workout. Compression also requires four-way stretch, typically provided by spandex, which creates a more durable style with plenty of snapback after wear.

If you’re convinced that compression leggings are worth a try, you might be overwhelmed by how many options are available and how to sift through which compression leggings are actually worth your hard-earned paycheck. We reached out to medical experts and real-world fitness trainers to understand how compression impacts your workouts (and recovery) and what features are most important when shopping for compression leggings. With that expert insight, we hand-selected the best compression leggings for workouts, based on what features are must-haves. Some of these items (like the Lululemon SenseKnit Leggings) we tested ourselves, while others we decided on after serious research. Whether you’re addicted to pockets or you swear by adjustable waistbands, these compression leggings will fit the bill.

Editor's Note on BPA in Activewear

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in many types of plastic, and research has shown that exposure to BPA can lead to harmful health effects like asthma, cardiovascular disease, and hormonal imbalance.


On May 19, 2023, we updated this article to reflect the news that the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sent legal notices to eight activewear brands whose clothing was tested and could expose wearers to up to 40 times the safe limit of BPA (3 micrograms), based on standards set in California. Products and brands impacted were Sweaty Betty; leggings from Nike, Athleta, Champion, Patagonia, and Kohl’s; shorts from Champion, Nike, and Adidas; and athletic shirts from Fabletics. This action is following a first set of notices to 14 activewear brands in October 2022.


As of this update, no specific products have been recalled, and more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of BPA in activewear. We may recommend these products or similar activewear options in this list, and we'll continue to monitor the situation and update our recommendations accordingly. In the meantime, experts advise changing out of your activewear quickly post-workout as a safety measure, since BPA clears the system relatively quickly.

Best High Compression

Spanx Booty Boost Active Cropped Leggings

Spanx Booty Boost Active Cropped Leggings

Spanx

Why We Like It: There’s no chance of camel toe.

It’s Worth Noting: You may need to size up from your usual size.

When a pair of leggings is approved by Jennifer Garner, you know they’ve got to be some of the best compression leggings around. The Spanx Booty Burst Active Cropped Leggings are beloved for their high-rise, contoured waistband — which lifts your butt and makes it look even better. The performance fabric is designed to wick sweat and remain breathable during your sweatiest workouts, and the thick waistband holds everything in place. 

One note: These leggings feel a little tight around the waist before you’ve broken them in, and you may feel more comfortable ordering up a size. Yes, the compression works that well. 

Key specs: Sizes: XS to 3X | Pockets | Not adjustable

Best Support

Forme Sculpt+ Leggings

Forme Sculpt+ Leggings

Forme 

Why We Like It: These innovative leggings are designed to improve posture and alignment.

It’s Worth Noting: Sizing is limited.

If you like your compression leggings with a side of science, you’ll love the Forme Sculpt+ Leggings. The 3D waistband alignment technology (which is patent-pending, BTW) has several layers of pliant fabrics that engage your core, glutes, and spine to improve your posture, stability, and mobility. The result? Reduced lower back and hip pain, less stiffness, and faster recovery. The compression is mostly in the waistband area, and the fit in the legs is snug but comfortable. Another interesting note? Forme’s leggings are FDA-registered in the spine brace category, so you can purchase them with your FSA or HSA (although a prescription may be required).

At the time of publishing, Forme’s size range is still relatively limited, as are their colorways. They’re also a little pricier than other compression leggings on the market.  

Key specs: Sizes: XS to XXL | No pockets | Not adjustable

Best Medium Compression

Nike Go Firm-Support Full-Length Leggings

Nike Go Women's Firm-Support High-Waisted Full-Length Leggings with Pockets

Nike

Why We Like It: Six pockets give you plenty of space to store your must-haves.

It’s Worth Noting: The top of the waistband is prone to curling.

For a not-too-tight, not-too-light level of compression, the Nike Go Firm-Support Leggings offer just the right amount of support (and they’re Shape editor-approved, too). They’re crafted with Nike’s InfinaLock fabric, a sleek, midweight material that’s strong enough to stay in place, but light enough that you can move around without feeling restricted. Want proof? “I wore the Nike Go leggings for a day-long fitness photo shoot, followed by a workout,” says Kristen Geil, senior fitness editor at Shape. “During the photo shoot, I was on the move: squatting, moving equipment, repositioning lights, and doing everything short of actually working out myself. I felt like I was able to do everything I needed on set, without stressing out about my leggings riding up or down in an awkward way.” You’ll also appreciate the multiple pockets, the extra-wide waistband, and the internal drawstring for adjustability.

We did notice that the waistband on these compression leggings tends to roll down a tad after repeated use. It didn’t both us during our many tests, but it’s worth flagging.

Key specs: Sizes: XS to 2XL | Pockets | Adjustable

Best Compression Leggings for Runners

Lululemon SenseKnit High Rise Running Tight 28”

SenseKnit High-Rise Running Tight 28"

Lululemon

Why We Like It: These compression leggings offer engineered zones of support where runners need it the most.

It’s Worth Noting: Sizes and colors are limited.

Serious runners know the impact a good pair of compression leggings can have on your run — they can mean the difference between a PR and stopping every five steps to yank up your waistband. Lululemon’s SenseKnit High Rise Running Tights (which we reviewed in full here) were designed with runners in mind, crafted with targeted compression and breathable ventilation so you don’t overheat. They also run true to size, which takes the guesswork out of shopping for compression leggings. They felt like a second skin on our legs, and we especially appreciated that they still held their shape after multiple uses and washes.

However, they’re not necessarily for shoppers looking for a steal. These premium leggings are priced to match their high-performance promises, and the size range is rather limited at the time of publish. 

Key specs: Sizes: 0 to 14 | Pockets | Adjustable

Best High-Waisted

Terez Hi-Shine Leggings

Terez Hi-Shine Leggings

Terez 

Why We Like It: These fun-first leggings come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.

It’s Worth Noting: The 29” inseam may be long on petite shoppers.

Terez’s “tall band” leggings (meaning they have a thicker waistband) are perfect for those who prefer high-rise workout leggings. The Hi-Shine fabric is sweat-wicking with medium compression, so it feels like they’re lightly hugging you (not squeezing you like a boa constrictor). These compression leggings are as well-suited for hot girl walks as they are for 5Ks. 

While the dizzying array of colors and patterns available is oh-so-fun to sort through, think twice before ordering light-colored leggings — they may not pass the squat test.

Key specs: Sizes: XXS to XL | No pockets | Not adjustable

Best Adjustable

Sweaty Betty Power 7/8 Workout Leggings

sweaty-betty-power-78-workout-leggings

Sweaty Betty

Why We Like It: Even after multiple washes, the fabric “snaps back” and doesn’t sag.

It’s Worth Noting: There’s only one side pocket, and it’s quite small.

To get the elusive perfect-fitting compression leggings, an adjustable drawstring is key — but the fabric also has to be the right blend of supportive and flexible. The Sweaty Betty Power Workout Leggings are buttery soft and lighter in weight than other compression leggings for a barely-there feel. Plus, the elastane and polyamide blend is durable enough to stand up to multiple washes and wears, and it reliably snaps back to retain the leggings' glove-like fit.

If you’re pockets-obsessed, take note: These leggings have one side pocket on the lefthand side that’s a little too small for most phones. There is a back zip pocket in the waistband.

Key specs: Sizes: XXS to XXL | Pockets | Adjustable

Best with Pockets

Lululemon Wunder Train High-Rise Tight with Pockets 25-Inch

4.9
lululemon Wunder Train High-Rise Tight with Pockets

Lululemon

Why We Like It: The fast-drying fabric doesn’t bog you down during sweaty workouts. 

It’s Worth Noting: They run a little small.

Lululemon’s Wunder Train leggings are ultra-popular among the gym crowd, thanks to their fast-drying fabric. The four-way stretch moves with you during every single squat and lunge, and there’s added Lycra to help the leggings spring back into shape after multiple watches and wears. But these particular leggings are an upgrade over the traditional Wunder Train tights for one major reason: pockets. Each pair of leggings has two side drop-in pockets that comfortably secure your phone in place, plus a hidden pocket in the waistband for your must-haves (think: credit card or house key). 

If you’re between sizes or usually find Lululemon leggings to run small, definitely size up. These leggings are a little tight, but the upside is that they stay locked in place through every movement.

Key specs: Sizes: 0 to 20 | Pockets | Adjustable

Best Light Compression

Girlfriend Collective High-Rise Pocket Legging

 Girlfriend Collective High-Rise Pocket Legging

 Girlfriend Collective

Why We Like It: They’re completely opaque — not transparent whatsoever.

It’s Worth Noting: The pockets are too small for most phones.

Girlfriend Collective is already winning on karma points (their clothes are made with recycled materials, and you can return worn Girlfriend Collective clothing to their recycling program), and now, they’ve got some of the best compression leggings for those who prefer light compression, too. The stitching makes these leggings feel structured (but not stiff), and the material is thick enough for colder weather. They also have different inseam options to fit different heights, and their wide range of sizes is extra inclusive.

Although these compression leggings have pockets, the pockets are a little too small to fit most phones. The waistband also tends to roll down a bit during lower-body movements such as squats.

Key specs: Sizes: XXS to 6XL | Pockets | Not adjustable

How We Selected

We started our journey to find the best compression leggings by interviewing experts on the subject to fully understand the effect that compression can have on your workouts and recovery. Dr. Stephen Liu is chairman/founder of Forme, a posture and back care technology company. He holds a B.A. in Biology and Psychology from UCLA and an M.D. from the University of Southern California. Maggi Gao is an NYC-based fitness coach with certifications in kettlebell training and pre/postnatal performance training. Next, we used their insight to research the best compression leggings available, selecting our finalists based on features, inclusive sizing, comfort, durability, and our own editors’ recommendations. 

What to Know About Compression Leggings

When shopping for compression leggings, you’ll want to consider features such as adjustability, waistband width, sizing, and fabric. Here’s what to know when choosing among different pairs.


Adjustability

If you’re frequently in-between sizes or your weight fluctuates, you might prefer a compression legging with adjustability. Some compression leggings have internal drawstrings to tighten or loosen the waistband as needed, while others do not.


Waistband Width

“[Waistbands] can range from waist high to below rib cage, from a few inches to 7 to 8 inches,” says Dr. Liu. “The higher the waistband, the more back support you will have due to core activation, [and] increased intra-abdominal pressure, with ‘tucked in’ effects.”

In general, most leggings with compression have thicker waistbands for comfort. A thicker waistband often — but not always! — means the waistband will be less prone to rolling down in the middle of your workout, too. Plus, “if the waistband isn't thick enough, with the extra tightness of the compression the leggings could cut into your belly and be more uncomfortable,” points out Gao. 


Sizing

When in doubt, size up for compression leggings. The snug fit means these leggings tend to run small, and going up a size will ensure that you’re still comfortable and able to move freely. “If you're not used to tight or form-fitting clothing, ease into the idea of wearing compression leggings,” explains Gao. “If you buy in your normal size, prepare for a tight squeeze! Of course, we want compression but most of the time I recommend sizing up for a more comfortable fit while still reaping the benefits.”

Fabric

Choosing the best compression leggings goes beyond deciding whether the fabric feels buttery soft, says Dr. Liu. “The ratio of elastane or spandex in the mix should preferably be 25% plus,” he explains. “‘Denier’ refers to the weight (i.e., thickness) of the threads of a fabric. The higher the denier the greater the compression.”

And beyond compression, the fabric of your compression leggings hints at how long they’ll last.  “When the leggings have a tighter, thicker, and heavier fabric, that means the compression tightness is more extreme and durable,” explains Dr. Liu. 

Finally, you’ll want to consider the stretch of the fabric. Dr. Liu recommends four-way stretch for full mobility and variable compression.

Who Shouldn’t Wear Compression Leggings

While you may want to enjoy the perks of wearing compression leggings, the tight pants aren’t for everyone. “Because compression leggings are tight and are on the thicker side, they restrict air access to the skin,” points out Gao. “ People who know they are more prone to yeast infections or any type of infection in the genitals should steer clear, or be very aware of limiting time wearing the leggings or not wearing them at all.” People with gastrointestinal sensitivities may also want to avoid compression leggings; the tight squeeze on the stomach can be uncomfortable and may cause bloating. If you have certain medical conditions or you’re pregnant, Dr. Liu recommends checking in with your physician or physical therapist to understand any potential limitations.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What do compression leggings do?

    Compression leggings increase blood flow during exercise, which may improve endurance, performance, and recovery speeds during and after exercise. Some compression leggings may also help with balance by promoting your proprioception (aka your ability to sense the position, movement, and force of your body) and increasing your awareness of your muscles. Finally, compression leggings can help reduce swelling, soreness, and nerve pain while improving circulation. 

  • Do compression leggings help with running?

    Yes, compression leggings are good for running. They can increase the flow of oxygenated blood to muscles during and after exercise, which helps reduce water retention and swelling, allowing you to run and recover at faster speeds.

  • Are compression leggings supposed to be tight?

    Yes, compression leggings will likely feel tight, especially during your first couple of wears. However, they shouldn’t prevent you from moving freely and comfortably, so if you’re not able to function in your usual size of leggings, consider sizing up in compression styles.

  • Do compression leggings run true to size?

    The sizing of compression leggings varies by brand. To get the most accurate picture, read product specs and details, and scour customer reviews to better understand the fit of each pair.

Why Trust Shape

As an industry leader in the health and wellness space, Shape is the go-to guide for women looking for trusted product reviews and recommendations to help you on your wellness journey. For every roundup we share, we include expert perspectives, relevant research, and our real-world experience to back up our recommendations. Kristen Geil is the senior fitness editor at Shape, and over her 7+ years in the fitness industry, she’s tried hundreds of leggings for every workout you can imagine. She recently led Shape’s first-ever Best in Fitness Awards, which featured an entire category dedicated to the best activewear picks, and she’s a NASM-certified personal trainer.

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