Let’s get physical!
No, we haven't recreated THAT Olivia Newton John video. But we have tested the best sportswear for your 2018 fitness regime
I’d hazard a guess that you’re attempting to increase your movement levels this month, after weeks of mainlining mince pies and Bailey’s. I know I am. But January is a tough time of year to start/resume a fitness regime – it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s icy, it’s peak sniffles season and each evening the sofa’n’Netflix emit their siren call.
But, in my experience, snazzy new workout kit can make all the difference – just as you’re more excited about a party when you’re debuting a fancy new frock, I find the lure of a shiny new gym outfit can make all the difference between me leaping out of bed to go for a run and hitting snooze.
There’s been an explosion in the – hideous word alert! – athleisure market recently, so what to choose? Here at Muddy HQ we’ve been testing out various sportswear brands to find the kit to add some pizzazz to our January jogs. Want the lowdown? Ready, steady, go…
Adrenna custom core leggings (£149), core sports bra (£94) and custom short-sleeved T-shirt (£92), tested by Muddy founder Hero Brown
The lowdown: Adrenna launched in 2017 with hip buzz phrases aplenty, with talk of mindful manufacturing and sustainable style. A premium UK brand that works only with Europe based suppliers (reducing the distance the garments take to get to your door), it also support fair wages. Of course, all this counts for nothing if the clobber looks terrible but its capsule range of leggings, bra tops and T-shirts successfully blends practicality and cool.
The look: My 15-year-old son looked nervous when he realised he’d be running next to me wearing this eye-popping electric blue combo (meh, get over it!), but I’m a fan of bold colour and loved it – I kind of felt like a workout superhero. The pink band at the top of the pants gave them a pretty edge too. You can select from six colours for the waistbands and 4 colours for the leggings and add optional pockets so you have choice here. I liked the chunkiness of the bra top too – no spingly spangly straps for pretend exercisers –this bra top meant business and though it states it’s for low to medium impact I had no problem running in it.
The performance: I was exercising in the New Zealand sun and managed not to overheat in this gear so that’s a plus (the mesh in the back of the knees and the top of the tee definitely helped). The bra, though a bit faffy to put on with its cross-over back, held everything in place better than many of my existing overshoulder boulder-holders. One thing I’d say about the running pants though is that the waist band kept rolling down – you’ll be fine if you have a flat tummy but if you’re a bit spherical comme moi, it’s a bit annoying to keep having to hoist it up. Note to self: stop eating!
The verdict: Me likey. It’s a premium brand, and feels and looks the part, though of course it’s very expensive as workout wear goes. Suitable for yoga and pilates (what isn’t?), but as everything is tight-fitting I’d probably use it more for sweating it out on a workout. Also worth noting that everything I tried on here was a Large. I’m size 14 and was on the upper end of squeezing into it so bear that in mind when ordering. The sizes go up to XL which will probably mean a comfy 14 to low 16. There’s currently a sale on if you like the kit but are scared by the price tag.
Sweaty Betty zero gravity run leggings (£95) and compound workout vest (£40), tested by associate editor Kerry Potter
The lowdown: Bad brand name, fantastic products, basically. The veteran women’s sportswear company is known as an innovator (if you wear patterned leggings, for example, it’ll probably be down to them), but it’s one of the most expensive of the bunch, with the outfit above coming in at £135.
The look: Expensive Sweaty Betty may be, but the designs are divine. My rule with leggings is stick to dark shades – no one needs to see my thighs clad in white Lycra – and these hit the spot, in their demure hues of forest green, burgundy and navy, rather than bog-standard black. I adored the quirky Japanese landscape pattern print, while the technical fabric has pleasing bum-sculpting qualities. They come in two lengths, short and regular – another big tick from this 5-foot-nothing shortie. The black racerback vest is flatteringly cut (unlike some, which make me look like a brickie) but it’s skimpy so you definitely need a suitable-for-public-viewing sports bra underneath it.
The performance: The outfit felt extremely lightweight during my runs and there was no annoying slide-down with the leggings. There are mesh panels in the back of the knees and the back of the vest to banish pooling sweat, while the main fabrics wick away moisture with great efficiency. I really noticed the difference after my 10k – I cooled down far more quickly than normal.
The verdict: Pricey, yes, but keep an eye out for their excellent sales. It’s also worth noting this gear has held its shape and colour well after several washes, unlike some cheaper brands. Let’s call it activewear’s answer to the investment buy.
Joules kiana active T-shirt (£24.95), sana active vest (£34.95), swift active leggings (£49.95), tested by commercial director Katie Molloy
The lowdown: This fast-growing quintessentially British brand is big on wellies, coats and practical, outdoorsy casualwear for the whole family, with a liberal sprinkling of animal motifs and cheerful colourways. But what I didn’t know was that they do an activewear range too.
The look: With its zingy patterns and palette, this design isn’t for shrinking violets, but I found it rather cheering under dingy January skies. It straddles that line between hardcore gym kit and loungewear – I’d happily wear the sweatshirt with jeans.
The performance: I took my new gear for a spin on a freezing, wintery 5k run with the dog and it was warm, and comfortable, with the high quality fabric meaning the leggings didn’t slip down and dried quickly afterwards. Plus, the leggings’ zip pocket was just the right size for my key and dog treats. The fabrics might be a bit hot/thick for an intense gym class but it’s perfect for outdoor exercise.
The verdict: It’s perhaps not for hardcore minimalists or high-tech fabric-obsessives but it’s well-priced, durable, bright’n’breezy and washes brilliantly.
Lululemon plank to pike tight (£108) and breeze by long sleeve top (£68), tested by associate editor Kerry Potter
The lowdown: The upmarket Canadian label is an obsession for chic NYC yoga bunnies. Although its prices are enough to give me a decidedly non-Zen panic attack – over a hundred quid for a pair of leggings? They better be the fanciest pants of all time for that kinda money.
The look: OK, OK, their magical bum and thigh smoothing powers are indeed pretty fancy. The plain black leggings are the most flattering I’ve ever worn, while the sleek white perforated long sleeve top garnered a compliment from the personal trainer at my gym on its first outing.
The performance: The leggings have clever grippy detailing on the sides so I could hold certain yoga positions for longer without my legs slipping, while the high waist and four-way stretch fabric minimized flesh jiggle, keeping everything in place. The top didn’t ride up and provided excellent ventilation and sweat-wicking during an intense ashtanga session.
The verdict: I appreciate people might balk at dropping the best part of £200 on a pair of leggings and a top, but there’s no denying this is quality gear, with as much style as it has substance. If you work out a lot I reckon it’s just about worth the splurge.
Jigsaw seam detail leggings (£65), rib back T shirt (£65) and double faced zip sweatshirt (£98), tested by editorial/sales assistant Sarah Taylor
The lowdown: Everyone’s favourite top-end high street brand in the ’90s, Jigsaw has recently staged a comeback, with a laser-like focus on high quality basics from cashmere jumpers to wool coats to the perfect jeans. If you’ve not popped in recently, you really should – you’ll want to buy it all. And now they’ve ventured into – that word again – athleisurewear.
The look: You don’t go to Jigsaw for jazziness and their workout gear is no exception. It’s low-key and minimal, with luxe fabrics and finishes – think plain black leggings and tops in muted pink and berry shades, embellished with chic rose-gold zips and pulls. The sweatshirts are especially lovely, rendered in pleasingly thick, double-faced fabrics (cotton on the outside, soft viscose inside). I’d say this is more loungewear than full-on workout gear – you’d certainly be hard pressed to find someone more chic to wear to loll on the sofa.
The performance: That said, I put my outfit through its paces at the gym and it actually held up rather well, deftly wicking away sweat after my spin class and fitness bootcamp. The cut of the T-shirt didn’t quite work for those kind of sessions – it kept riding up to flash my belly during burpees (apologies, class mates). I’d usually wear something closer-fitting. If you’re obsessed with technical fabrics, this might not be the brand for you but, overall, not bad at all.
The verdict: This kit is stylish and sturdy enough to take you seamlessly from the school run to the gym to the coffee shop to the, er, sofa. I really like how the whole range co-ordinates, so you can mix and match pieces and layer them up – ideal if you whirl out of the house in two minutes flat in the morning, without time for outfit planning. It all comes at a price but that’s as you’d expect from Jigsaw.
Zakti Activewear flash forward running jacket (£45) and dashing II run tights (£30), tested by marketing director Sascha Way
The lowdown: No, I hadn’t heard of it either. Zakti was launched in 2016 by Mark Neale, who also runs outdoor gear specialists Mountain Warehouse. This is relevant because it means Zakti designers have access to MW’s spiffy hi-tech performance fabrics, with economies of scale keeping prices low. So basically you get a lot of bang for your buck.
The look: The well-cut jacket – silver grey with cool neon orange trim – went down a treat at my outdoor bootcamp, garnering compliments aplenty, while the flattering dark grey leggings were the perfect fit. It’s cool and understated – just how I like my workout gear. You know how the right kit puts a spring in your step? This made me feel full of zing and zest – and, let’s face it, how often does that happen in January?
The performance: Impeccable, basically. I’ve used it for running and bootcamps, on freezing, dingy days and unseasonably mild ones, and it’s been uniformly brilliant. The leggings stay glued in place through all manner of squats and planks, and the jacket does a great job of keeping out the howling winds (although I’ve yet to use it in the rain so I’m not sure how waterproof it is). It’s also highly reflective, lighting me up like a Belisha beacon – a great safety feature when you’re road-running in the murk. You can literally see me coming a mile off.
The verdict: I’m seriously impressed with Zakti – it’s great value for money and looks/feels/performs like a premium brand. Plus it has that under-the-radar cool factor. I think we have a winner!
Russell Athletic camouflage active leggings (£20) and performance track jacket (£28), tested by editorial assistant Sophie Hadjikyriacos
The lowdown: This US brand tends to kit out major league baseball and basketball teams, but has now entered UK supermarket territory, via Tu at Sainsbury’s. (It’s worth keeping an eye on Tu by the way – they have some surprisingly chic pieces.) It wouldn’t normally occur to me to buy workout gear alongside my spuds, but the convenience – and low prices – are appealing.
The look: I’d always associated Russell Athletic with big, shouty logos but I was pleased to discover a newly pared-down, upmarket look. I love the leggings’ streetwise pink and orange camouflage print which felt appropriate for conquering the punch bag at my box fit class. However, I’m not a fan of the folded waistband which creates a weird bulge when my top goes over it. The jacket’s high collar is classic and cosy, and the block colour means I can wear it with a number of different patterned bottoms without clashing.
The performance: The cotton leggings did not wick away sweat as much as I would’ve like while I boxed, however they were very supple and moved with me. The jacket’s zip pockets are very handy and kept my keys safe on the walk to and from the gym. Brucey bonus – the fabrics did not crease even after being scrunched in my gym bag all day. Not bad at all.
The verdict: It’s pretty good for this January-friendly price-point – after all, you’re not going to get the latest innovations in fabric in a 20 quid pair of leggings. That said, this kit is probably best suited to low-impact exercise rather than sweaty, strenuous cardio.