Don’t take your chances on workout apparel with these signs of wear and tear.

Are your go-to sneakers your lucky charm at every race? Does your favorite tank make you feel like a champ in spin class? While they may look fine, your best-loved pieces might not be working for you at this point, since everything has a shelf life.

“Because a lot of activewear is functional apparel by nature, there are characteristics that need to maintain their performance, such as support, muscle compression, and moisture- and odor-control features,” says Stefanie Seitz, design director and designer at Jockey Women’s Active. “Proper support is necessary to restrict movement of tissues and muscles, but it is also important to enhance movement, depending on one’s fitness regimen. For a top athlete, a strong, compressive fabric can warm and hold muscles in place. For a yoga enthusiast, optimal stretch and flexibility in fabrics are helpful when bending and stretching. For a female runner, especially with a fuller bust, a high-impact-level sports bra can mean all the difference in comfort by holding breast tissue in place.”

Wearing past-its-prime clothing isn’t just bad for functionality. “Your performance apparel should support you where you need it most without distraction,” notes Sarah Carlson, vice president of design for Athleta. “When you’re exercising, your focus should be on the activity rather than on the clothing that you’re wearing. If your pants are loose or your strap is falling off your shoulder, you’re likely to get preoccupied by correcting or adjusting the garment, which can affect performance and could even become a safety hazard in certain conditions.”

While nothing lasts forever, there are ways to extend the life of your gear. “It’s important to remember that the longevity of a workout garment is dependent on how you treat it,” Carlson says. “If you are wearing the right piece for your workout and take care when laundering, you will get the most out of your gear.” But it’s important to recognize when it’s time to upgrade.

Tanks and Tees

Life span: Up to a few years, with the right care.

Time to toss: If you use fabrics with moisture-wicking and odor-control technology, that’s typically the first thing to go. “Fabric treatments diminish over time, depending on the amount of use and washes,” Seitz explains. “When these finishes are adhered to the yarns before fabric is knit or woven, they tend to last longer than when they are chemically applied to finished fabrics.” If you notice they’re not drying as quickly or getting smelly, it is time to replace them.

Extension plan: “As a general rule, the less you wash, the longer the top will last,” says Carlson. “To maximize the lifespan of your tank or tee, wash with cold water on the gentle cycle and tumble dry low, or even better hang dry.”

Leggings and Shorts

Life span: Several years, depending on the intensity of your workouts as well as the quality of the bottoms.

Time to toss: “Over time, the stretch and recovery of fabric can start to diminish, and you might notice the waistband beginning to feel loose or some bagging out behind the knees,” Carlson says. “If you are pulling up your pants or adjusting them during your workout and find yourself becoming distracted by your pants rather than feeling supported by them, it may be time to purchase a new pair.” Also, because of the body-hugging stretch factor with leggings, the pants may become more see-through as the fibers break down, which signals you should say goodbye.

Extension plan: “No matter what the care label says, I always advise to hang leggings to dry because the heat of a dryer is detrimental to spandex,” Seitz states. Be sure to wash them in cold water on the gentle cycle with mild detergent and no softeners. “Also, washing them inside out without towels or other lint-creating items will keep your bottoms in peak performance condition,” Carlson says. “Performance fabrics are engineered to perform best for specific activities, so wearing the right bottom for your workout can help make each piece last longer.”


Life span: Approximately 400 miles of wear.

Time to toss: When the treads on your shoes are showing those miles, you’re overdue for a new pair. But typically, the inside of the sneaker will wear out first, specifically the midsole, which is the foam portion that provides support. If you experience any pain, including shin splints or aching knees or ankles, go shopping for a new pair ASAP.

Extension plan: Keep your kicks in a cool place, since heat breaks down the materials. Never put them in the dryer. The washing machine can break down the fabrics as well, so spot clean them when you need to.

Sports Bras

Life span: A well-made sports bra can last a solid year, give or take, depending on the amount of uses, your washing habits, and the intensity and duration of your workouts.

Time to toss: “The performance of a sports bra is critical for most women to have an enjoyable workout,” Carlson stresses. “If you start to notice a loss of support during your workouts, it’s time to upgrade to a new bra.” Be aware of how the elastic is holding up, whether it’s sewn inside a strap or armhole or it’s used externally as a strap or hem band.

Extension plan: “Sports bras can be very expensive, especially ones for high-impact activities, so they really should be taken care of as gently as possible,” Seitz says. “I always recommend following the care instructions carefully but also washing in a mesh bra bag and hanging or laying flat to dry to extend its life.” For increased longevity, it can help to have several different bras to switch between during the week and to ensure that you are wearing the right bra with the right support level.

Photo credit: Halfpoint Adobe Stock 79097149