Baby Spanx! Somewhere someone is trying to buy these …

Having five kids in ten years was not kind to my body. While the kids are 100% worth it (except for #4 today, right now he’s at about 70% thanks to an incident with a grocery cart and a display of condoms and reading glasses (I know, what?!) I’d rather not talk about), my boobs deflated while my thighs expanded and I’ve got so much loose skin on my stomach I have to tuck it into my jeans. Seriously, I call it my skin apron. It’s kind of amazing. I’m not trying to knock my body — I’m strong, healthy and generally pretty happy with myself (and hey birthing 5 kids is kind of an athletic achievement in it’s own right, yes?) — 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. All of which seems kind of ironic considering that’s why I’m in the gym in the first place, right?

But I’m not the only one intrigued by these products as evidenced by almost every major brand including Fila, Reebok and Champion coming out with their own line of toning tops and shaping shorts (and pants, jackets and undies), not to mention all the new brands like StyleFirm and Casall who specialize in shaping gear. So how do the clothes hold up under a really hard workout? And do they live up to their pretty promises? Here’s my mummy-with-a-tummy’s experience.

The Pros

Let’s be honest: there’s really only one reason why fitness shapewear even exists and that’s 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 in ourselves and how we look can be key to feeling comfortable going to a gym 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. Enter shapewear with its hidden “tummy controlling” panels, mesh inserts, flattering seams and optical illusion patterns! And while I don’t think they live up to all the hype – you’ll notice that even shapewear is modeled by women who definitely don’t need it – they do better at holding me in and up than regular workout duds. (To see my piece-by-piece breakdown, check out my slideshow on!)

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! Plus the thicker fabric means they are less likely to go transparent when you’re in a deep squat!

The Cons

The biggest problem with athletic shapewear in my book is that the fat has to go somewhere. Unless the pants go up to your armpits (and there are some that do) that usually means the ultra-tight tummy-controlling waistband gives you a muffin top wherever the compression stops. Even wearing a shaping top doesn’t quite ameliorate the squish factor (and moves some of the fat out your armpits). Some brands handle this better than others but I’d say all of them 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 I’ve found that most all of the items I’ve tried are very comfortable and don’t feel overly constricting. Since the fabric is generally thicker than regular spandex, while it can make you feel quite a bit hotter, it also seems to hold up longer under tough workouts.

And of course I wonder a little bit about the meta message of all this. Are we telling women you have to look fit to get fit? That makes no sense. Perhaps shapewear is solving the wrong problem – shouldn’t we be focusing on changing society’s perception of what makes a woman’s body beautiful rather than changing our bodies to fit the perception? On the other hand, women have been wearing shapewear of some kind for centuries and at least my StyleFirm jacket doesn’t make me faint or have whale boning in it. (And also, this jacket is the most flattering jacket I have ever owned. I seriously love this thing. I wear it everywhere. All the time. And no they’re not paying me to say that.)

In the end, for myself, while I don’t wear them every workout, 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 any of them?

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  1. I enjoyed this piece. 🙂 Nice personal touch. Refreshing, even!

    I am pro shapewear. I think more people should utilize it. I think I should find a use for it as well.

    Shapewear as fitness clothing could be a positive thing. I think it gives a visual of what one could look forward to as a result. Looking “hot”, and wearing a flattering outfit while working out can be extremely motivating.

  2. Great article!

  3. Spanx has changed the way women dress and we can thank one person, Sara Blakely, who created Spanx by cutting up a pair of panty hose to create an undergarment to fight the dreaded VBL—Visible Panty Line. Growing from one women’s entrepreneurial dream, the Spanx shapewear line now includes Spanx panties, tummy control shapewear, Spanx hosiery, and new Spanx bras.
    Celebrities swear by Spanx and for good reason. The various Spanx styles smooth, shape, and can make you look 5-10 pounds slimmer. With styles that range from panties to thigh-length to footless pantyhose to full bodysuits, Spanx styles solve any fashion challenge we women have. Shape your waist, shape your thights, shape pretty much everything and do so in comfort that earlier girdle-wearing generations could have only dreamed about.

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