Have you ever pulled on a pair of compression leggings, only to find your underwear uncomfortably bunched or twisted? Or worried that your panty lines might be visible to the person behind you in yoga class? Maybe you're just tired of stopping to make not-so-subtle adjustments during your run or walk. Whether it's due to comfort, aesthetics or ventilation, the "unmentionable" question may have crossed your mind at some point. And it's about to get, well, mentioned: Do you really need to wear underwear while working out, or is it ever okay to go commando?
With advances in today's high-tech workout gear, stepping out sans skivvies is a lot more acceptable—and comfortable—than it used to be. Many styles of fitness leggings are designed with form-fitting, seamless fabrics and opaque panels, allowing you to safely ditch the drawers without worrying about any uncomfortable chafing or embarrassing peek-a-boo moments. Similarly, many types of running shorts come with a built-in liner that pretty much does the job of underwear, minimizing any chances of wardrobe malfunctions during stretching time.
Fitness trainer Rui Li is one of the many who chooses not to wear underwear underneath her workout pants. "I don't find it necessary, and I'm not a fan of the visible panty line through the spandex," she says. "Many women will often choose thong underwear [to avoid lines], which I'm always surprised by, because how comfortable is a constant wedgie?"
As a runner, Matt Fitzgerald, author of "The Endurance Diet," points out that nearly all running shorts come with a built-in liner, and adds that "riding a bike with underwear under your bike shorts would be insane. " Acting as a representative of the male perspective on the to-wear-or-not-to-wear dilemma, Fitzgerald says that the only exercise in which he does sometimes wear underwear is weightlifting because it doesn't generate as must sweat and it's not a high-friction, repetitive-motion activity. "For me, it's really a comfort question," he says. "If you can exercise comfortably with underwear under whatever else you're wearing, there's no harm in it. But standard underwear types, such as cotton briefs, are not very comfortable in most activities because they hold moisture and exacerbate friction."
That said, moisture and heat are a recipe for bacterial and yeast infections, so it's important to choose workout bottoms with wicking fabrics to keep you dry down there. Even with the right fabrics, some degree of sweat is inevitable, so try to change and shower or rinse off as quickly as possible after exercising. And, of course, wash and dry your pants or shorts before wearing them for the next session.
If you're still unsure about going commando for fear of someone getting a glimpse of your goods, rest assured that there are plenty of leggings designed to keep everything under wraps. For peace of mind, try on your pants at home and do a "flash test" with a trusted loved one to ensure that you can do even the deepest squat without risking any indecent exposure.
Of course, if you suffer from any type of exercise-induced incontinence—you know, when a leaky bladder has you avoiding jumping jacks like the plague—going panty-free may not be a possibility. In that case, you may want to choose underwear designed to absorb leaks or consider wearing a liner during workouts.
Is Commando a No-Go?
Still can't wrap your head around eliminating that lower layer? No problem—there are plenty of comfortable, hygienic underwear options designed specifically for working out. Cotton isn’t a terrible choice, but there are also options made from high-tech, antimicrobial fabrics that will move with you, wick away moisture and boost the freshness factor.
"Breathability is really important, because of the billions of microorganisms that live in harmony, keeping each other in check in the nether regions," Li says. "Should oxygen be restricted, it will likely kill off some forms of organisms while encouraging the growth of others, thereby upsetting the delicate ecosystem. Additionally, any kind of slight rubbing from the material will turn into a major rash after however many miles you've walked or run, [which is not only] physically uncomfortable, but can cause ingrown hairs and leave you more exposed to infections."
Just as with new fitness apparel and shoes, be sure to test out your new workout underwear before wearing them to a race or a long boot camp class.