I’ve always been a fan of big things: Big muscles. Big weights. Big hair. (One of my favorite sayings used to be, “The higher the hair the closer to God,” and I still say it sometimes, in full jest, tongue firmly planted in cheek.)
Big things also often mean the same to me as comfortable things, like pillows, sweat shirts, and cars with a backseat I can stretch my legs out in. I like it when I can spread out, it just feels good.
And I feel the same about my workout tights: while I want them fitted (all the better to showcase the big muscles while avoiding extra fabric scrunching up and around my body during workouts) I have a hard and fast rule no matter the brand:
The waistband must be high. Like almost to my bra, high. Low-rise leggings are not welcome here.
No matter what clothes you choose to workout in, feeling comfortable in your workout gear is imperative; anything else is a distraction from the hard work you’re putting in. For me, that means workout leggings my body can spread out in, with a waistband that won’t grab or pinch in weird places, and that I don’t feel the need to yank up after every set of squats.
I know many of you are on board with this too and so I conducted my own research for the best, high-waisted leggings around (It was a tough job, but I was up to the challenge!). The pros and cons of my favorites are reviewed below and if you give them a try, I hope you love them, too!
Because the higher the waist. . .well, you know.
Here’s something you may have already picked up on: clothes sizing seems to be mostly arbitrary. Depending on the brand, I can wear bottoms anywhere between a size 8 and 12. Because of the stretchy fabric, leggings offer more wiggle room when it comes to sizing so here is my weight and measurements, for reference (the size of each pair of leggings I wear is included in each review):
Height: 5′ 6″
Weight (measured this morning, buck-naked and post-pee): 188 lbs.
Waist: 32 inches
Hips: 42 inches
Thighs: 24 inches
High-Waist Airbrush Legging (Photo credit: Kate Gallagher)
Alo leggings are branded for yoga but they’re really perfect for anyone who loves to move, in any way. Gusset lined with no side seams, the waist of the High-Waist Airbrush Legging is deliciously lofty (mere inches between my bra and the waistband), the 4-way stretch fabric is smooth, and the flat-locked seam construction is solid. I purchased the leggings in the photo in August 2016 and the color has remained bright and the fabric has not even a single pill after many, many washings (in cold water, always).
Full transparency: these leggings are an investment. The full prices of Alo leggings range from $82 (mine) to $125 but I’ve never been disappointed by the selection on the sale section of their website. You can purchase Alo leggings via the website or at Nordstrom (brick-and-mortar stores and online) but if you are a fitness professional, you can sign up for their “Yoga Pro Program.” A current fitness certification is required—but not limited to yoga; I used my RKC to qualify—and once you are approved, you will receive 35% off all Alo products, including sale items.
The con: size availability. Sizes range from XX-Small to Large, and in this brand I can comfortably wear a size Medium.
Victoria Sport, from Victoria’s Secret
The Knockout by Victoria Sport Pocket Tight (Photo credit: Kate Gallagher)
I’ll be honest, Victoria’s Secret keeps pleasantly surprising me with their sport apparel, so much so they’ve become my go-to for leggings and sports bras (check out my favorites HERE). During their semi-annual sale you can bet I’m wading into the hurricane of whirling bras, leggings, and nightshirts, throwing ‘bows with the crowd, to grab my size in these $69.50 leggings at half-off.
(One could avoid this scenario entirely by shopping online, I just think I enjoy the rush emerging victoriously with my winnings clutched in hand.)
The Knockout by Victoria Sport Pocket Tight is my tight for when I’m doing work: the thicker compression fabric feels perfect for heavy farmer carries, deadlifts, and plyometrics. The waist goes well over my belly button so not a single adjustment needs to be made. (And who doesn’t love leggings with pockets?)
Available sizes are again an issue here: The Knockout Tight runs from X-Small to X-Large, and come in short, regular, and long lengths. I wear a size Medium in the Knockout Sport Tight and the fit feels like my legs, butt, and waist are wrapped in casing. If they were to split—which they haven’t, these suckers are hardy—my thighs would puff out like sausage, and out of all the leggings in this post, these are the least cozy. But, whether it’s down to the compression or the sturdy construction, they are so far the most durable and they are the leggings I get the most compliments on. Worth it to me, for the workout anyway, before I shuck them later for comfy sweats.
Superfit Capris in Laser Silver (Photo credit: Kate Gallagher)
Besides feeling like a superhero in her leggings, Superfit Hero founder Mikki Krimmel mission, listed on her website, is one I embrace wholeheartedly: “To help women develop their superpowers: STRENGTH, CONFIDENCE & LEADERSHIP.” With sizing available from X-Small to XXXX-Large, Superfit Hero is a forward-thinking, body-positive and size inclusive brand of athletic apparel. Of all brands reviewed in this post, they rock this message the best and hardest.
I own the Superfit Capris in Laser Silver ($89) in a Medium and with 88% nylon/12% spandex material, the fit is sleek yet comfortable, and the waist hits right above my belly button. The design on the legs is so snazzy that when I don them, I’m certain they make me move faster. Make sure you tuck in your shirt so everyone can see your badge of superhero status.
All of Superfit Hero apparel comes with the Superfit Guarantee where they will exchange to a new size for free, and first-time shoppers will receive a 15% off discount on their first order. Happy shopping!
High Rise Go-Dry Compression Legging (Photo credit: Kate Gallagher)
You guys. These leggings! The fit and fabric (85% poly/15% spandex) of the High Rise Go-Dry Compression Legging ($29) is the best mix of comfort, function, and style. I will be honest: I went in not expecting to love them simply because many of the clothes I’ve bought from Old Navy haven’t held up. This is my go-to brand for play clothes that I don’t mind dirty-ing up, because many of the t-shirts, shorts, and skirts I’ve bought in the past haven’t lasted past two or three wearings.
Not so with these particular leggings. The color, shape, and fabric have held up perfectly through repeated washings (and several trips through the dryer because my husband is so helpful but often forgets to hang my clothes on the line), making the more approachable price tag even sweeter.
Sizing runs from X-Small to XXXX-Large, and here’s to hoping their fits-bodies-of-many-sizes approach—set in motion in large part by small business owners like Mikki Krimmel of Superfit Hero—helps push other large companies in the same direction. I’ve only tried the High Rise Go-Dry Cool Compression in size Medium but I’m so impressed I’ll surely be going back for more.
Nola Legging (Photo cred: Kate Gallagher)
Oh, you want your leggings to feel like butter, do you? I hear you and I’ve got you covered! The Nola Leggings from Tasc Performance are so smooth you won’t be able to stop running your hands over your legs. The fabric is 51% organic cotton, 34% bamboo, and 15% lycra woven into a 4-way stretch so while the fit feels supportive, it’s not restrictive. They are exceptionally breathable too, with moisture wicking and natural UPF 50+ sun protection.
Many people who left a review for these leggings on the Tasc website raved about them, while also saying they weren’t see-through. For me, they are very see-through, so the opaque factor may depend on how thick your meat-suit is. Inside the gym is one story (my gym is such that you could likely show up wearing a paper bag and people would applaud you for being creatively thrifty) but outside the gym I wear these cozy, buttery leggings with a tunic or long sweater.
Sizes range from X-Small to X-Large and I comfortably wear a size Large in the Nola legging. Tasc size availability in all of their clothing is minimal, and they offer just one, capri-style legging, in an extended size.
C9, from Target
Embrace High-Waist Leggings (Photo credit: Kate Gallagher)
I see you, Target. I see you’ve been stepping up your active wear game and I like it! The Embrace High-Waist Leggings ($29) from C9, however, just meet my standards of high-waisted leggings for my build. Of all reviewed, they are the lowest of the high, sitting right on level with my bellybutton.
According to Target.com, the Embrace was rated “#1 in a nationwide textile lab testing,” and “Good Housekeeping rated these mesh inset tights best for fabric durability, moisture wicking, opacity, comfort/fit, stretch recovery and shrinkage. As seen on Good Morning America, wearers found these leggings trendy and flattering for daily wear but still athletic enough for the gym.”
I don’t wholeheartedly disagree: my size Large (the Embrace style is available up to size XXXX, but in a capri) fits snugly yet comfortably and the 85% poly/15% spandex fabric was breathable through a recent workout packed with heavy deadlifts and kettlebell swings. The perforated design on this pair is particularly cute and the price tag more palatable than many others, and if not for feeling slightly shorted on the high waist claim these would rank as a top favorite.
Zella Live-In High-Waist Leggings (Photo Cred: Kate Gallagher)
Ending on a high note: Zella leggings are the bee’s knees and my all-around favorite. I have several pairs and I love each and everyone of their high-waisted versions for their fit, comfort, and style. A Nordstrom store brand, Zella legging sizes range from X-Small to XXX-Large and the effort put into on-trend patterns and colors is equal throughout the range (what I’m sayin’ is larger-sized styles aren’t limited to basic black or grey).
The waistband of the Live-In High Waisted Legging ($54, and I wear size Medium) is lusciously high, the fabric 88% polyester/12% spandex, and I wear them for simply everything: lifting, sprinting, conditioning circuits, and yoga. (And when I say yoga, I mean the kind where you lie in savasana or propped up on bolsters for 45 minutes.) All of my Zella brand leggings have held up extraordinarily well through many workouts and washing, with nary a pill, faded color, or split seam to be found.
There you have it! Out of all high-waisted leggings reviewed here, Old Navy and Zella are my top picks when it comes to price, style, and fit (for many sizes). What are your favorite workout leggings? Let me know in the comments!