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How Tight Should Workout Shirts Be?

July 10, 2020

A workout shirt shouldn’t just be a nondescript piece of clothing that you’ve pulled out of your drawer. If you’re taking the time to put in the work to improve your body, you deserve activewear that is suited to the activity. And you should look good in your workout clothes, too. After all, you deserve it.

But if you want to look good while you’re getting in your workout, the question of fit arises. And fit has a functional component as well. Workout shirts that fit well will move with you when you’re doing your workout, so you won’t be held back from making the most of your time in the gym or on the road. Let’s look at men's workout shirts, how they should fit, and more.

Types of Workout Shirts

There are lots of different types of workouts, so it only figures that there are plenty of different types of workout tops. Let’s break it down.

The All-Arounder

Not every workout is going to be an extreme activity, so sometimes it's nice to have a good all-purpose and comfortable shirt that’s just as good in the gym as it is at the grocery store. Shirts like the best seller Willy California 101 crew neck short sleeve t-shirt are a great example. The cut is a tad more relaxed than a dedicated workout t-shirt and the fabric, a blend of cotton and polyester, is soft but still moves moisture away from the skin during moderate level activities. 

The Technical Shirt 

When your workout is more intense, you want a gym t-shirt that’s up to the task. A specific workout shirt is a great investment. Well-built workout shirts generally are a bit more form-fitting across the shoulders, chest, and arms than a regular tee shirt, and often incorporate some spandex or elastane in the fabric blend to allow for easy movement. Look for things like a compression shirt, a dri fit crewneck t-shirt, a v-neck training t-shirt, a running shirt, or even a compression crop top for hardcore lifting. 

Some Other Options 

You don’t have to always stick with a regular short-sleeve workout shirt. Depending on your activity and where you do it, you may enjoy the extra coverage of a long-sleeve workout shirt, or even a quarter-zip pullover, hoodie, or sweatshirt, to wear with a pair of thermal leggings during the winter. During the summer, you could get more airflow with a workout tank top or sleeveless muscle tank.

What’s Your Activity of Choice?

Well-fitting workout shirts are versatile enough for almost any activity, but different occasions and activities that might call for somewhat different fits. Consider what the primary activity you’ll be doing is when you’re shopping for your workout shirts. 

  • If you’re engaging in a high-intensity activity in a controlled environment, for instance, HIIT training or Crossfit, or high-intensity spin classes, go for a more form-fitting, slimmer fit. You’ll want to be sure the shirt has sufficient freedom of movement built-in, but you don’t want it to be loose and get in your way. Moisture-wicking fabric is a must, of course! 
  • If your activity is somewhat less intense, like a hatha yoga class, you might want to look for a somewhat more relaxed fit. Consider soft yoga tops like cotton, bamboo, or hemp blends for the shirt’s fabric.  
  • Going outside for a run when it’s cool? You’ll probably want to layer heatgear, which may require a little thinking ahead. For example, if you like to layer a long-sleeve t-shirt or quarter-zip over a base layer, be sure the base layer is cut slim, but go a little larger with the top layer. That’ll stop the layers from binding against each other, so you’ll be able to move freely while keeping snug and warm in your long sleeve shirt. 

The Elements of a Perfect Fit

Check these boxes when you want the perfect fit with your workout shirt. 

  • The neck shouldn’t be too tight, to prevent rubbing and constriction. But an opening that’s large enough to show any of your shoulders is too loose.  
  • Short sleeves should stop around the mid-bicep and hug your arm lightly. If they’re choking your biceps they’re too tight. 
  • Judge the fit of the torso by pinching the fabric on either side of your stomach. If you can gather one to two inches of fabric you’ve got it just right. Remember, though, pinch, don’t pull on the fabric. 
  • The length of your workout shirt should extend down to below the waist. That provides enough length to tuck the shirt in or presents a neat appearance if you’re wearing the shirt untucked. 

Fabrics Can Make a Difference in Fit

Just as a wool sweater doesn’t drape like a silk scarf, different fabrics and fabric blends can have a big effect on how your workout shirt fits. Keep in mind the characteristics of the fabrics the shirts you’re looking at are made from to ensure a good fit.  

  • Spandex (lycra). This stretchy fabric is your friend when it comes to workout shirts. Because of its stretchy qualities, even a small amount blended into your shirt will allow free movement, even if you’re rocking a slim cut shirt.
  • Polyester. Polyester is a go-to fabric for workout shirts because it is lightweight and has excellent moisture management properties. Combined with spandex, it will fit and wear well.
  • Cotton. Cotton has real drawbacks as a workout fabric since it soaks up sweat and weighs you down the longer your workout goes on. Blended with polyester and a little spandex, though, it works well for shirts built to work in the gym and on the town. 

The Right Fit for Your Workout

Take care when picking a shirt for your workout. Consider what kind of exercise or activity you’ll be doing, how hard your activity will be, and the kind of temperatures you’ll be working out in. The right shirt — one that breathes and moves with you, and one that fits well — will make your exercise time more fun and more productive. 

Your workout shirt is more than just a functional piece of gear. It’s a statement about how you look and how you feel, and the fit should reflect that. Don’t be content with any old baggy shirt. Find a shirt that conforms to you and your movements and you’ll find that heading to the gym won’t be quite as much of a chore as it may have been before.