For casual workouts, almost any ratty old shirt will do.
But when you start pushing hard and getting serious about training, you’ll need better gear.
Quality workout shirts need to be comfortable, free of chafing, fairly priced, and suitable for a variety of movements and exercises.
It can be difficult to find all of these attributes in a single shirt, but it’s not impossible. Chances are, you’ll find different types of workout shirts work well for different activities, and you might line your closet with a couple of different options.
But what are the main types of workout shirts and tops you can buy?
The main types of workout tops you can choose from are:
- Long Sleeve
- Compression Shirts
- Sweatshirts & Hoodies
- Sports Bras
Let’s take a look at each of them and their main pros and cons!
We’ll also examine the different materials you’ll find in workout shirts and which ones might work best for you.
The 8 Different Types of Workout Shirts and Tops
Here are your main options when you start shopping around for workout and gym tops.
T-shirts are arguably the most common and most well-known workout shirt.
Once you find the right t-shirt, you can wear it for almost any workout.
Although, if you use your arms a lot for movements such as difficult yoga poses, overhead weightlifting, or boxing, then you may find a t-shirt slightly too restrictive for lateral movements.
The fabric of the shirt can move with your arms, and some people find this uncomfortable.
If you want your shirt to stay in place as you move, then workouts without lateral movements are best.
T-shirts are great for workouts like running, rowing, some calisthenics, and for use during workouts that aren’t focused on the upper body.
They’re also a great way to show off arm gains, if desired.
Racerbacks offer an awesome range of motion.
They’re like a specific type of tank top where the back is mostly open.
These shirts are excellent for activities that involve lateral movements and engaging the lats.
A lot of women’s yoga shirts are designed in a racerback style, and they’re pretty much good for any kind of workout you can imagine.
Racerbacks, however, aren’t as common in the men’s section. Instead, most men will opt for a…
Stringers come in a variety of styles, but they’re usually loose shirts with very narrow straps and a lot of room in the arm area.
The arms are open down to well below the armpit.
This provides a breathable experience, lets you move freely, and is fantastic for showing off your gains.
Like racerbacks, stringers are often quite open in the back, revealing the majority of your upper back.
The main difference between stringer and racerbacks is that stringers are looser, with larger gaps for your arms.
Stringers’ straps often sit higher on your shoulders, too.
It sometimes appears as though the two straps make up a loop for your neck, rather than individual straps for your arms to go through.
Tank tops are sleeveless, but they’re more form-fitting and offer more coverage than racerbacks and stringers.
These are great for arm and shoulder workouts where you’re moving laterally or making overhead motions.
There are no sleeves to restrict your movements, and the lack of fabric on your arms helps keep you cool during intense workouts.
(Read more: Should you wear a tank top to the gym?)
Long sleeve workout shirts are perfect for training in winter, especially when your gym is on the chillier side, or if you’re running outdoors.
You can easily wear them during your warm-up and wear a tank top underneath, then ditch the long sleeve shirt when you get ready and heated for your full workout.
If you have engagements right after the gym, then long sleeve workout shirts make fantastic casual attire.
It shouldn’t smell too strongly if you only wore it for your warmup; throw it on after removing the tank top, and head right to your casual gathering.
Long sleeve shirts are also fine to wear during your entire workout.
If they fit you well, then they shouldn’t restrict your movement.
They’re particularly useful for self-conscious people who are uncomfortable with people seeing their arms, back, and shoulders.
Compression shirts are great undershirts for working out in cold weather.
They’re mainly used for support, reducing muscle fatigue, and increasing blood flow to the muscles.
You can wear a compression shirt for any activity, and their only downside is their tightness and their slightly restrictive nature.
If you want to feel like you’re moving freely without a barrier, then perhaps a compression shirt isn’t for you.
Sweatshirts & Hoodies
Like long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts are perfect for wearing during warmups in winter.
They’re also great for outdoor workouts in cold weather.
They’re an excellent shirt to wear for traveling to and from the gym, too.
Some people choose to do their entire workout in light and flexible hoodies, while others use them mainly during warm ups and then remove them to workout in the tank top or other shirt underneath.
Be careful with sweatshirts, though, as the cotton ones are a nightmare if they start chafing.
(Read more: Why people wear sweatpants and hoodies at the gym)
Sports bras are fantastic for women to wear under their workout clothes, but they can also be worn on their own without something overtop.
If it’s a particularly warm day, then a sports bra is a smart choice of attire.
They mainly add support, and they’re always made of materials that help keep sweat away from your body.
There are also workout crop toys available for women who want a little more coverage, but who also want to show off their midriff.
Sports bras and sports crop tops are particularly useful for ab day, as there’s no fabric to rub against your abdominal muscles during exercises like crunches.
Workouts can sometimes be more comfortable without fabric in the way.
Workout Shirts Materials
Once you figure out which type or style of gym shirt you might need, you’ll still have to choose what material you want it to be made of.
And boy, do you have a lot of choices!
The materials below range from natural to synthetic, and they all have positive uses during workouts.
There are drawbacks to each, too, but there’s no downside that you can’t overcome.
Cotton is an eco-friendly, natural material that’s highly affordable and readily available.
It’s great for people who can’t afford official workout gear—most clothing stores have cheap cotton t-shirts, tank tops, racerbacks, long sleeve shirts, and sometimes sweatshirts.
It’s a comfortable material to work out in as it’s naturally stretchy and soft, and it doesn’t retain much odor after a heavy workout.
However, it does retain sweat. It absorbs moisture easily, and it can chafe when wet.
You can help eliminate chafing by creating a barrier between you and your shirt.
You can do this using moisturizer, cornstarch, or talcum powder. Ideally, you could use both moisturizer and a powdery substance to create a double barrier.
Wool is naturally breathable and eco-friendly, and certain wools can help regulate your temperature.
Merino wool is particularly adept at temperature regulation.
Wool also wicks moisture away from your skin, so it helps keep you dry.
Because wool doesn’t get damp, you also remain free of chafing, unlike with cotton.
You’ll usually find wool used in t-shirts, sweatshirts, and long sleeve shirts. You might occasionally find it in racerbacks or tanktops.
Nylon, polypropylene, and polyester are three highly similar materials that you often find blended in sportswear.
Nylon may also be called elastane.
All three materials, even when blended, are lightweight and breathable. They wick sweat away from the body so that it sits on the surface of the clothing to evaporate.
Polyester has UV protection, so it’s highlight beneficial for outdoor workouts in summer.
These are materials that you’ll want to consider, especially if you want something form-fitting. They’re stretchy, but they retain their original shape when removed.
The only downside to these blends is that they hold onto odors that are difficult to wash out.
Mesh is the most breathable fabric there is.
It’s usually made of the poly and nylon blends above, but it’s more breathable as it’s full of small holes that let air circulate.
It’s the perfect material for keeping cool.
If you live in a hot area, then you should look for mesh clothing. It does hold odor, but it’s worth it for keeping cool.
You’ll find all types of workout shirts in mesh forms, excluding sweatshirts.
Compression shirts are usually made of spandex, and there’s often some nylon or a poly blend in there, too.
This provides a tight fit that stretches with your body. Again, the main downside to this is odor retention.
Spandex and compression material are otherwise fantastic materials for workout gear.
There’s a great variety of workout shirts on the market that work for all weathers and purposes.
You can show off, cover up, stay warm, and cool off; there’s no limit to what you can do and feel with the right shirt.
Selecting the right type of shirt can greatly benefit the comfort you feel during your workout.
It’d be a good idea to grab a few types of shirts for different scenarios.
Remember not to wear anything loose or baggy on machines or while running, and if something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to try a different style or a different material!
Before you go, here are some more guides that might help:
Hope this helps!