8 workout staples that make getting fit a little more fun

It’s been a stressful year for many reasons. As such, I’ve been focusing on controlling the things I can (which sometimes feels like a VERY short list, ha!) and doing the smart baseline things known to be effective for stress management. That means I’ve been prioritizing solid nutrition, good sleep, and working out.

While none of those things are easy, I try to set myself up for success by planning ahead and making sure I have what I need in advance, so actually eating the decent food, going to bed on time, and getting those workouts in is as seamless as possible. (I wrote about this more in Don’t Overthink It.)

Having athletic clothes that fit and feel good makes gearing up for those workouts easier—and it’s not unreasonable to think fun workout attire also makes it a little more fun. I see gym clothes as an opportunity to wear colors I might not wear for my normal (read: heavily neutral) out-in-the-world wear, and that distinction brings me great joy: happy colors like aqua and turquoise feature heavily in my workout color palette!

Your mileage may vary when it comes to my workout staples. I’m tall, which means finding pants that don’t ride down is crucial (and not always easy). I don’t care about having current styles for workout clothes; I dislike shopping so I want these garments to last me a long, long time so I don’t have to seek out replacements. And I’m looking for gear that isn’t revealing but also feels cool and breathable for my humid climate.

A note about care: I washed my athletic apparel by hand for years, but since reading Laundry Love I started washing these garments in mesh bags, in warm water, on my washer’s express cycle. I let them mostly air dry, but often toss shirts and leggings (not shorts or sports bras) in the dryer for a few minutes to decrease wrinkling. HOWEVER. Laundry Love also taught me how easy hand-washing can be, and now I’ll sometimes quickly wash favorite garments by hand so I can have them ready for the next day without having to do a full load. This strategy is also a lifesaver when traveling! I typically use regular detergent, but if my clothes are especially stinky this is what I reach for.

Sports bras

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but for me sports bras and leggings are the hardest pieces to get right—so when I find something I love, I tend to stick with it. For years I’ve been partial to the Lululemon Energy Bra (medium support) and the Solace Bra from Athleta.


I’ve become a convert to American Giant Power Leggings. I like them so much I have two identical pairs in black, and I also really like their limited edition colors Blue Mountain and Grapeseed for variety.

I first discovered these leggings when the brand sponsored What Should I Read Next—and listeners began writing in telling me how much they loved the power leggings. They gave me a special discount to share with you today: take 15% off your first order with the code DARCY at checkout.

I haven’t found these to be well-suited for my long legs, but my petite friends at the gym swear by leggings from Old Navy.


The Athleta Mesh Racer Run Short 4″ is my go-to during the summer months. (I also like these Lululemon shorts, but they feel a little skimpier—though whether that’s good or bad is up to you!) My daughter also just got these shorts and they are adorable in person. Now I’m thinking about getting a pair for myself.

Tank tops

Good tanks are the easiest piece to find. I rotate between a few different options, like the Swiftly Breathe Muscle Tank, shown above, and Lululemon Sculpt Tank, which I have in black. If I liked the colors better, I’d get it in more. Teal Lagoon, for instance, is all sold out in my size! Love the color.

For a trim-fitting tank, I love the plentiful happy color options for Athleta’s Momentum Tank: orange and teal and fuschia, oh my! Again, many gym friends with fun workout apparel (especially those who seek out petite options) speak highly of Old Navy’s offerings.

Cute t-shirts

I’ve accumulated quite the collection of literary-themed tees, and I often wear these to run when it’s not too hot. (Funnily enough, I rarely wear them to work out at the gym—though when I do it nearly always leads to bookish conversations.)


If you listen to What Should I Read Next you’ve surely heard me talk about how much I love Bombas. These are the only athletic socks I wear; my whole family loves them. (Get yourself 20% off your first order.)

Hair ties

You can’t go wrong with Teleties! I also like these basic hair ties—they’re a classic for a reason.

Water bottle

Hydration is crucial when you’re working out; in fact, in the past year I’ve started carrying a water bottle nearly everywhere. An old friend gifted me this Copper Horse bottle when I appeared at The Strand last year. Now it’s almost always with me when I’m working out or on the go.

What are your workout favorites? We’d love to hear about your go-to items in the comments section!

P.S. 8 (mostly) little things I’m loving for mid-summer, and things I’ll wear 100x this summer.

8 workout staples that make getting fit a little more fun


Leave A Comment
  1. Susan says:

    Unfortunately, not sized for women above size 16 with a larger chest.
    When will companies realize that we exercise , too?

  2. Kim T says:

    Love this article … I’ve heard of Bombas, but never ordered. Well now I have and hope they live up to the hype as my son who is 6’6″ and has a heck of time finding socks is getting a 3 pack of golf sock for Christmas LOL … and ordered some for my daughter and me! Loved the selection and the fact they give a pair for every pair purchased is just awesome. Excited to get them, hope the family is too 🙂

  3. Kim says:

    I fully second Old Navy leggings!! I’m 5’9” and a size small, but the tall leggings are wonderful for me. They’re even a little long on me, but I don’t even notice the extra fabric at my ankles. They would definitely work for someone taller as well. I’ve had a couple pairs for 6-7 years, so they last a long time. I machine wash them in cold and let them air dry. I like the ones with compression and/or sculpt; they’re extremely flattering. And for the price, you really can’t go wrong. They’re easily my favorite work out pants!

  4. Jennifer says:

    great list of workout ideas! I’ve overhauled my workout wardrobe now that I’m back in the gym. I love workout tees from LLBean. They are really well made and comfortable…and last for years.

    Speaking of your love of neutral colors, I’d enjoy seeing you in tops of any color in your photos! Years ago, I took the “Color me beautiful” class and never looked back. I know exactly which colors work for me and brighten my face. I had a friend who would wear only browns and taupes. After changing the colors she wore, people kept coming up to her and commenting on how lovely she looked – thinking she had changed her hair style. Nope, just wore the right colors!

    • Suzy says:

      I second Jennifer’s recommendations about Color Me Beautiful and more colors for you!! Makes all the difference! I would love to see your aqua or turquoise tops, hint, hint… and get the Color Me Beautiful book….! My mother wore brown and gold because she had brown hair, but oh man, when she changed to jewel tones after having her colors “done”, POP!! She was dazzling, and it really liberated her to wear colors with confidence. No more neutrals.

    • Susan says:

      There’s a woman who does color consultations — her company is called Created Colorful. She has a website and is on Insta gram.I had my colors done and realized I’d been wearing 90% wrong colors for years. I had to admit the colors she suggested for me were SO MUCH BETTER on me.

  5. Marie Braz says:

    All my running gear gets thrown in the wash once a week to be washed together and hung to dry, no fuss. Under Armour and New Balance makes well made gear that lasts forever. Neither brand is cheap but purchased on sale makes them affordable. Lululemon lasts forever too but does not go on sale in Canada. Markdown items are not returnable and the selection is poor.

  6. Shannon says:

    Tuff Athletics leggings from Costco are one of the things saving my life these days. I’ve heard them compared to Lululemon but at a much more manageable price point.

  7. cecilia says:

    I would like to recommend the SheFit sports bras. https://shefit.com/ I love them. They are fully adjustable which is huge for me because I am short. And they have a huge size range. I was a plus size when I started exercising and I know how hard it is to find bigger sizes.
    I also like the leggings at Target – the All in Motion ones. They have good compression and come in plus sizes.

  8. Abby says:

    I’m petite (5’) and on the curvy side. My workout gear is a combination of Althleta and Old Navy. Althleta is really size inclusive for everyone and I’ve been very impressed with the quality. Wacoal also makes a pretty good sports bra if you’re curvy. I absolutely love Bombas socks- they are definitely pricey but once you start wearing them it’s hard to go back!

  9. Linda says:

    Sad to see you giving so much attention to Lululemon, which has been sizeist for years. Even if they are offering a few more sizes than they used to, their treatment of larger women (and I’m not even talking plus-size) has always been shoddy.

  10. Suzy says:

    My problem with sports bras is that they’re so hard to get on and off! I wear a C cup, and it just seems like the fabric rolls and twists and stick, and I struggle and pull, and twist myself into a pretzel, and end up getting quite a workout right there! Sweat and all!

  11. Suzy says:

    I meant to say, too, that for at least 15 minutes, I thought your picture was of legs and feet, a little blurred with motion…you know, like a can-can lineup…Hah! I finally realized it’s tops on hangers!

  12. Susan says:

    I live in Canada, and my go to for comfortable, hard wearing, well designed, reasonably priced exercise clothing is Shambala brand from Marks. Retail stores and online. When I find a piece I love I buy it in all the colours I like, because I’m not big on shopping, plus they revamp their inventory frequently, so sometimes I have returned to buy a favourite item and it is no longer available! So I have learned to just stock up right away. And available in tons of sizes, which is appreciated.

  13. Stacy says:

    I’m 6’0” and the Old Navy tall leggings work really well for me although I often have to size up one from my regular pant size with their compression leggings. They only offer tall running shorts in black but wish they were offered in the fun colors and prints as they have in past years.

  14. Julie Palmer says:

    Enjoyed this article!! Hope you will check out Storyline Collection Clothing. They are an easy wear, easy care line of clothing that can be for workout, business, or for going out to dinner/supper!

  15. Lindsay says:

    Does anyone have a recommendation for a good zip-front sports bra for large-bust women who need a high-level of support? I bought one from Old Navy this summer, but the zipper doesn’t stay up. I’m willing to spend more and buy 2-3 nice ones. I’m tired of pulling a sports bra over my head! Isn’t it the worst?

    • Susan says:

      Check out Caralyn Mirand’s recommendations. She has a website and is on social media. She has great advice for large-chested women and women over a size 12.

  16. Kate Dillingham says:

    My go to workout wear is by Bend Active, a local company in Columbus, Oh. I love their cropped leggings that have pockets on the side of the legs for my phone (and waste bags for when I walk my dog!)

  17. Mariah Hanley says:

    I love the Zella leggings- especially the live in leggings. I also like their live in capris with picket. I wish the live in leggings had a pocket. I also love the soft pocket restore leggings. Good for walks in the spring and fall! I also like their sports bras.

    Hydroflask with a sport lid all the way for a water bottle.

    Uniqlo sometimes has some workout clothes. I got a super lightweight Airism hoodie there a few years ago that was perfect to cover my arms when I wanted to make sure they didn’t get sunburnt.

  18. Lauren says:

    Fun list, thanks!
    I have really bad neuropathy and so leggings and socks that squeeze are pure torture for me. I would love to find looser fitting pants/capris and socks that don’t squeeze to help get me to the gym more frequently!
    I swim and would live to do more yoga… being tall and having a long torso makes finding any fitness wear really challenging. And I want to look young and fun too 🙂

    • Alison says:

      Lauren, I really only like to wear leggings to yoga class, so for other gym classes/activities I’ve really enjoyed getting jogger pants from Gap. Comfortable, easy to work out in, and not fitted. Hope that helps!

  19. Natalie says:

    I love Balega socks for working out, they are about $13-$15 on Amazon. Just make sure they are genuinely Balega socks because there are a lot of imitations out there! I usually shop for my workout clothes at TJ Maxx/Marshalls because they are cheap and carry a lot of the Avia brand, which I love love love. For sneakers, I like Brooks Ghost but I have wide feet so I’m considering trying Altra’s next, as they a have a wide toe box.

  20. Megan Hebert says:

    I would love to recommend Zyia Activewear for your next leggings or sports bra purchase! They are similar in quality to Lulu, but even better!!! The light n tight line stays in place during workouts and even gives you an extra tummy tuck. The luxe line is super soft!
    Check it out: myzyia.com/meganhebert

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