A Guide to Joggers, Sweatpants, Yoga Pants, Leggings, and Tights

The Differences & When to Wear Them

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It wasn't too far in the distant past when the options for athleticwear were fairly limited — cotton t-shirts, mesh athletic shorts, and heavy sweats were the typical options. And while certainly, many people still choose these items when hitting the gym or the streets for a quick workout, the availability of performance activewear has expanded exponentially. In fact, there's a wealth of science to back the improved cuts, styles, and high-tech fabrics that fill stores like Nike, Lululemon, and even Amazon.

Of course, with more athleticwear options to choose between, deciding which products are best for which activities can be a little confusing. That said, there are legitimate reasons to opt for joggers over yoga pants or tights over sweatpants. Part of this comes down to exercise location and weather conditions — you don't want to be caught wearing heavy cotton sweatpants for an outdoor run in a downpour or a heatwave, after all.

And part of it comes down to activity. Looser, more "comfy" athletic wear tends to be more appropriate for lower-intensity exercise, while form-fitting gear with performance features like four-way stretch, odor-resistance, and sweat-wicking material is ideal for higher-intensity workouts.

So if you've ever wondered what the differences are between joggers, sweatpants, yoga pants, leggings, and tights ... and when you should use each one ... this is the explainer you've been waiting for.

Terminology Cheat Sheet

Jogger: Typically made of a thicker fabric and have an elastic band at the ankles, giving them a tapered look.

Sweatpants: Made of thicker fabric, but have a looser, relaxed fit, with or without elastic bands at the ankles and waist.

Yoga pants: Feature a high waistband for comfort and are made of stretchy, moisture-wicking fabric.

Leggings: Similar to yoga pants, but more form-fitting and thinner. Typically made of spandex or similar material.

Tights: The thinnest material and most form-fitting.


Jogger Pants

Getty Images / DGBULBUL

Joggers are like a modern update to old-school sweatpants, straddling the divide between activewear and leisure wear. These pants tend to be looser at the hips and thighs, tapering to the ankles. Sometimes they're heavier, made of cotton or cotton blends for colder temperatures, and sometimes they're constructed of lighter-weight fabrics and performance fabric blends that are more suitable for moderate temperatures and indoor activities.

Joggers almost always have pockets, which is a handy feature for carrying phones, keys, and credit cards when out for a walk, although they frequently don't zip up. This makes the pockets' functionality less helpful during higher-intensity exercises like jogging or workouts that involve jumping or changing direction. They also usually have an elastic waistband that may or may not be equipped with a drawstring for a better fit.

Best Suited for:

Joggers can be used for a wide range of activities, particularly when they're constructed with fabrics that offer high-performance features like breathability, odor resistance, and quick-drying materials. That said, they tend to be best suited for lighter forms of exercise, like walking or jogging, simple gym workouts, or even casual wear to run errands or lounge around the house. You may not want to use joggers during activities that require a wider range of motion, like yoga, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines that require quick changes of direction. This is because joggers' looser fit and sometimes heavy fabrics can make these movements and exercises harder and less comfortable to perform.



Getty Images / RossHelen

Sweatpants are one of the OGs of athletic apparel, and chances are you have a few pairs already in your closet. While they can be comfortable and helpful during colder weather conditions, they're actually not one of the best options when it comes to high-performance activities. While there are various styles out there, most have a loose fit from the hips to the ankles, and may or may not feature elastic ankle cuffs.

The waistbands on sweatpants are almost always elastic with a drawstring to help keep them in place, and they're typically made of a heavier fabric that's soft and comfortable — like a cotton or cotton blend. They tend to have fewer performance-focused features, and due to their heavier construction, may not offer the breathability or sweat-wicking, quick-drying materials that are useful during high-intensity workouts.

Best Suited for:

Generally speaking, you should reserve sweatpants for outdoor, cold weather exercise or instances where you need an extra layer to help you get and stay warm during the warm-up and cool-down portions of your workout. They're not ideal for workouts where you'll be sweating heavily or need to move freely, as they can be bulky and hot.

You can also wear sweatpants for casual wear as they're typically very comfortable.

Yoga Pants

yoga pants

Verywell / Nick Kova

Yoga pants are incredibly popular for exercise and casual activities, and what may not be common knowledge, they're widely available in men's yoga pants and women's yoga pants styles. These pants are almost always fitted, featuring a wide waistband that may cut at the hips or be "high," cutting above the belly button. In some cases, the waistband is a "fold over" style that allows the user to choose a higher or lower fit. The stand-out features of yoga pants are their stretchy material (four-way stretch is a common descriptor, typically made of an elastane or spandex blend), and their breathability. This enables you to move easily between different stretches or poses without feeling restricted and helps keep you dry and odor-free during your workouts.

Yoga pants can come in different lengths and cuts, but most typically are sold as full-length pants with a straight leg or a flared fit through the calves and ankles.

Best Suited for:

The most common use of yoga pants is right there in the name — yoga classes. That said, they're appropriate for other similar routines, like Pilates, stretching classes, or barre workouts. And there's no reason you shouldn't throw on a pair of yoga pants for lower-impact exercises like walking, weight machine circuits, or hula hooping.

One other common use for yoga pants is as casual athleisure wear. Yoga pants come in a wide variety of styles and colors, so stocking up your wardrobe to use yoga pants on the weekend or while traveling is a great idea. This is especially true if your after-hours activities tend to keep you on your feet and moving. Yoga pants can move with you while still giving you the chance to show off your personal style.



Verywell / Jessica Juliao

Yoga pants, leggings, and tights are words frequently used interchangeably to describe longer, fitted athletic pants, but there are some legitimate differences between the styles. Leggings, like yoga pants, tend to feature a fitted, wide waistband that may sit high or low through the hips and waist. That said, the waistband on leggings typically isn't a "fold over" style.

Also like yoga pants, leggings are fitted and made of stretchy, breathable materials. These are often made from spandex-cotton blends, or other blended materials like silk, bamboo, or merino wool to naturally maximize odor-resistance and sweat-wicking performance. They may also offer additional features like hidden pockets to carry a phone or keys, mesh inlays to improve airflow, and various levels of compression to maximize blood flow.

One thing to note about leggings is they often come in different lengths — they may be full-length (intended to reach all the way to the ankles), 7/8 length (intended to reach 7/8 of the way down the leg, typically ending just above the ankles), or cropped (typically cutting at or above the calf). They also tend to be moderately weighted (not too thin), which makes them a good choice for a wide range of activities. That said, some versions are heavier, making them a great option for outdoor workouts or a base layer during winter activities.

Best Suited for:

Leggings are ideal for a wide variety of activities thanks to their varied lengths, varied weights, and varied performance features. They're ideal for indoor and outdoor workouts, particularly those that will make you break a sweat, like running, cardio, cycling, or general gym-based routines. Heavier versions, or those constructed from fabrics like merino wool, are ideal for maintaining warmth while providing sweat-wicking, quick-drying features.

Like yoga pants, leggings come in many different colors, designs, and styles, so they're also perfect to use as casual athleisure attire.



Verywell / Jessica Juliao

Tights, once again, are often confused with yoga pants and leggings, but if you're looking for a phrase to differentiate tights from the other categories, "high-intensity performance" just might be it. Like the other categories, tights tend to be fitted with a wide waistband, but their material is often much thinner, which lends itself to being particularly stretchy, too. Tights are also often used as a base layer for cold weather workouts, so they tend to be 7/8-length or full-length, reaching to the ankles or even lower. This is different from leggings, which are frequently found in shorter calf- or knee-length options.

Tights also tend to be constructed of high-performance fabric blends with features ideal for higher-intensity workouts like zippable hidden pockets, cell phone sleeves, and sometimes a drawstring waistband to prevent the waist from falling during higher-intensity exercise.

Best Suited for:

Tights are ideal for high-intensity workouts like HIIT, CrossFit, outdoor running, or cycling. You can also layer them under shorts or sweatpants during cold, outdoor exercise to help improve warmth while wicking sweat and reducing the likelihood of chafing.

Tights tend to be less suitable for casual wear due to their thinner construction. It's best to save them for your tougher workouts and turn to leggings or yoga pants for errand-running Saturday mornings.

The Bottom Line

Given the wide availability of athletic attire, features, and styles, it's important to be well-versed in the different options so you can purchase the workout pants best suited for your needs. That said, many options are interchangeable or can double as exercise apparel and leisure attire. As such, it's best to choose the styles you like most with the performance features you most need. This will give you the most flexibility when it comes to choosing specific pants for each of your exercise routines.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Senthilkumar, M., Anbumani, N., & Hayavadana, J. (2011). "Elastane fabrics – A tool for stretch applications in sports." http://nopr.niscpr.res.in/handle/123456789/12655

  3. Kumar, S., Boominathan, S. K., & Raj, D. V. K. (2022). Comparative analysis on thermo-physiological behavior of eri silk, wool, and bamboo knitted fabrics toward sportswear. Journal of Natural Fibers, doi.org/10.1080/15440478.2021.1958406

  4. Broatch, J. R., Bishop, D. J., & Halson, S. (2018). Lower limb sports compression garments improve muscle blood flow and exercise performance during repeated-sprint cycling. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performancedoi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2017-0638

By Laura Williams
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.