Not all leggings for women are made the same, 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.
A 2019 study found that compression tights had a significant positive impact on muscle recovery, especially after a high-intensity sweat session. That's because compression restricts blood flow, so "it can cut down on swelling, which stiffens the muscles and joints," Michele Olson, PhD, the senior clinical professor of sport science at Huntingdon College, previously told Shape. (Related: The Best Compression Socks for Women)
While the effects of compression gear on performance are up for debate, that doesn't mean you should skip the style in the gym. The compressive design fixes common legging complaints, like the waistband rolling or falling down during a workout. It also requires four-way stretch, typically provided by spandex, which creates a more durable style with plenty of snapback after wear.
But there is one downside to compression gear: The term is completely unregulated. This makes it difficult to understand when you're truly getting compression leggings or just another standard pair. Rather than trying all dozens of styles to understand their fit, Shape's team of shopping experts shared their top seven picks for the best compression leggings, including how long they've worn them for, what they wear them for, and how compressive they are on a scale from 1 to 5.
Below, shop tried-and-true leggings from brands like Lululemon, Spanx, and Sweaty Betty.
Approved Activities: Running, HIIT, errands
"These 'no camel-toe' leggings are like a needle in a haystack. They're super compressive yet still comfortable enough to wear all day. The u-shaped waistband and second-skin fit also means they're the most flattering leggings I own." [Editor's note: You may need to size up from your usual size.] — Jayla Andrulonis, ecommerce writer
"These Instill Tights from lulu are made with the brand's new SmoothCover fabric, which is basically the power yoga leggings material of my dreams. So many other leggings make me choose between softness and compression, and the last thing I want to do is adjust my waistband between down and up dog. That totally kills my vibe and, quite literally, gets in the way of my flow. In true Lululemon fashion, the tight's seaming is uber-flattering, and the SmoothCover fabric makes these leggings feel like second skin but not skin tight. They've officially edged out my favorite Fast and Free tight." —Alyssa Sparacino, deputy editor
Approved Activities: Hiking, yoga, lounging
"Full transparency: I bought these Girlfriend Collective leggings mainly because I wanted a pair with pockets, but now I love them for so many more reasons. They're completely opaque, and the stitching makes them feel structured (in a good way). I like that the fabric has a bit of heft to it, which is great for colder months when I'm walking or hiking outside. I'm a little under 5'2", and it can be hard for me to find leggings that won't scrunch, but the shorter inseam option fits me perfectly — right above the ankle and above my belly button. As an added bonus, I love that you can return the leggings instead of throwing them away. Girlfriend Collective recycles the polyester from used leggings through its ReGirlfriend program and gives you a $15 credit!" —Brie Hiramine, senior director of commerce content and strategy
Approved Activities: Pilates, HIIT, walking, cycling classes
"Sweaty Betty once revealed a pair of these leggings sell every 90 seconds, and it's not hard to see why. The buttery soft fabric is breathable yet skin-tight, adding just the right amount of sculpting around my curves and bum. Despite many washes and wears, the elastane and polyamide blend has always snapped back to retain the leggings' glove-like fit. It's why I own two pairs — I hate when they're dirty and I can't wear them." —Braelyn Wood, health and wellness e-commerce lead
Approved Activities: Cycling classes, HIIT, lounging
"If you want something sculpting yet stretchy, then Spanx's Every.Wear Active Icon Leggings should be your go-to. Instead of digging into my waist, these leggings have a special smoothing waistband that hugs my curves and offers plenty of support without feeling suffocating. Like other Spanx leggings, they flatter your entire silhouette, and they're super breathable, so I don't feel overly sweaty even when I'm doing an intense HIIT workout." —Nina Huang, lifestyle e-commerce writer
Approved Activities: HIIT, kickboxing, cycling classes, strength training
"I can't stand skin-tight, ultra-compressive leggings when I'm working out, so I prefer wearing supportive tights that hold my muscles in place without squeezing my body. Lululemon's Invigorate High-Rise Leggings hit the sweet spot. They're more supportive than the brand's barely-there Aligns, making them perfect for crunches and Spinning. Yet they're still made with a sweat-wicking fabric that's breathable and soft. A huge bonus: They have massive side pockets to hold a phone, keys, cardholder, or even hand sanitizer." —NH
Approved Activities: Strength training, yoga, HIIT
"I own three pairs of Terez's 'tall band' leggings, including one hi-shine pair. All three of them offer medium compression, which is my personal sweet spot, since they lightly hug you without squeezing you to an uncomfortable extent. (Terez also makes pairs with high-compression Uplift fabric, if that's more your speed.) Their 3-inch waistbands are both flattering and comfy, and I've found that they haven't stretched or faded despite the many laundry cycles I've put them through. Plus, Terez can't be beat when it comes to colorful prints." —Renee Cherry, staff writer