Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.
Testing out athletic gear surely keeps me accountable to fitness.
Recently, I was training to climb the stairs of the Empire State Building and took the opportunity to try out three leading athletic brands that make awesome gear from head to toe: adidas, On and lululemon.
Though these companies have been around for a while — adidas was founded almost 100 years ago in 1924, lululemon in 1998 and On in 2010 — the brands’ products offer very different benefits.
Throughout my testing journey, I met many elite athletes and asked them about their brand preferences too, as I’m no record-breaker. I do work out most days whether it’s running, barre, HIIT, weight training or most recently, climbing stairs — so though my gear isn’t going to experience the gold medal life, it gets a good testing.
Overall, out of the gear I tested, which I share below according to category, these are my findings:
adidas – there’s a reason it’s almost 100 years old; it has iconic styles but needs to get rid of the sewn-in labels.
On – so many effective activity-specific shoes, but need to provide consistent sizing.
lululemon – love the technical gear, more casual fabrics are underrated for working out.
When I asked “elite athletes” (in quotes, because the heat before me during the Empire State Run-Up was called “elite athletes”) what their favourite brand of fitness gear is, there wasn’t a lot of brand loyalty — I received more answers like “whatever singlet is clean.” Though I saw a lot of New Balance, Asics and Nike at the event, I’ve also been seeing the brands I’ve been testing everywhere, probably due to a dose of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon.
Here are my thoughts on the gear I tried:
adidas: adidas’ Ultraboost Light Shoes look bulky, but they’re 10.5 ounces (for a size nine) and feel featherlight. They have an extended heel, which offers extra cushioning, shock absorption and a unique silhouette. They’re supportive but not restricting. The Ultraboost Lights are great for running, climbing stairs or any sport where a lightweight shoe would be valuable. The outsole has a strong grip, ideal for wet surfaces, like a sweat-laden stairwell. The shoes promote sustainable manufacturing as the yarn used in the upper contains at least 50 per cent Parley Ocean Plastic and 50 per cent recycled polyester. They fit true-to-size.
On: On’s Cloudrunner shoes are designed for everyday training, not race day (that would be the Cloudflows). They are extremely comfortable and have excellent shock absorption, which makes them ideal for regular workouts to save the knees. Their defining feature is On’s signature “bubble” sole — the Cloudrunners have nine millimetres of that cushiony goodness and the shoe comes in at 8.8 ounces (doesn’t say which size this is for). I’m always excited to put on the Cloudrunners, as they’re so comfy, but they’re a bit of a wider fit, so wouldn’t consider these a performance shoe. I like these shoes for walking, HIIT-style workouts and stair-climbing training. The shoes are made from 30-35 per cent recycled material. I had to go up half a size in the Cloudrunners. The Cloudflows are true-to-size.
lululemon: lululemon’s Blissfeel 2 Women’s Running Shoes have a 30-day trial, so you can get a full refund if you don’t like them (you may return them in any condition). The Blissfeels have a stiffer sole compared to the other runners on this list. The Blissfeels are designed for everyday running, but I prefer them for fitness classes over running as I like a cushier heel for shock absorption. I like that these shoes are snug and my feet don’t shift within the shoes — this may be due to how they came to be — lululemon focused on creating a running shoe specifically for the female foot. They’re 9.7 ounces (for a women’s size eight) and true-to-size. Read our full review here.
adidas: The Aeroready Train Essentials Regular 3-Stripes Tank Top is a light, fitted, moisture-wicking shirt ready for many sweaty endeavours. It’s on the shorter side, so I only wear it with high-waisted bottoms and perhaps would skip it if feeling bloated. It’s made from 88 per cent recycled polyester and 12 per cent elastane single jersey — overall, it’s clear that adidas is well on its way to its sustainability goals.
On: The Active Tank is so soft and breathable. It has an opening at the back which is great for ventilation but also for showing off cute sports bras. There is a sewn-in tag but it doesn’t bother me, unlike adidas’ which can be irritating if not cut out. This is the tank I’d want to wear if I’m feeling bloated but it still fits snug enough to support a workout.
lululemon: I bought the Love Tank Top when I was going to Arizona during a heat wave — in fact, I bought three Love Tank Tops. Sure, this tank is categorized as “casual” because it doesn’t offer technical benefits, like being moisture-wicking. However, it’s made from Pima cotton, which is soft and breathable. I ended up wearing the Love Tank Top during the climb because it’s just so soft. lululemon’s tags easily rip out of its garments, however, not all of its clothes have the size printed on them, so I can forget which size works best for me. Also, because lululemon uses flat stitching, it’s often hard to determine if the shirt is inside out or not — not such a bad thing.
adidas: The Yoga Studio Five-Inch Short Leggings probably don’t need to be called “leggings” and just “shorts” but name aside, feel so smooth. These shorts feel more like cotton than On’s or lululemon’s shorts which I like. They’re made from 79 per cent recycled polyester and 21 per cent elastane interlock and are beautifully high-rise. At this point, I don’t have any patience for any other rise. They’re tight, but their cotton-like texture makes you feel less sucked in than the compression On shorts below.
On: I ended up wearing the Sprinter Shorts for the Empire State Run-Up because they’re tight and comfy. Leggings and shorts can sometimes ride up or down, neither ideal, but the Sprinter Shorts stay right in place. I also like that there are pockets — I had my phone in the shorts’ pocket throughout the race and they stayed exactly where I liked them.
lululemon: lululemon’s Align High-Rise Short 6″ are a classic biker short. They’re simple, soft and stay in place during yoga and other types of activities. They have a small hidden waistband pocket, but it’s not large enough for a phone and I wouldn’t want to keep a key or another hard pokey item on my waist. These are great for yoga, light running and casual wear.
adidas: The adidas Powerreact Training Medium-Support 3-Stripes Bra makes my small chest feel nice and snug and probably gives it more credit than it deserves. It’s a great workout bra for workouts with low-to-medium levels of intensity. The back is made from a breathable mesh and its racerback — making it a perfect bra to wear under the Aeroready Train Essentials Regular 3-Stripes Tank Top. Also, it’s made from 89 per cent recycled polyester and 11 per cent elastane interlock.
On: The Performance Bra doesn’t give the gals as much of a boost as the adidas’ bra, but it’s ready for a sweaty, bouncy workout. I really like this bra and find it easier to take on and off than others. I recommend this bra and don’t have anything negative to say, but larger-chested women may seek more support.
lululemon: The Like a Cloud Bra Light Support knows what it is — a very comfortable, low support bra. It’s great for everyday wear but not for running or any other bouncy endeavours.
adidas: adidas offers many sock styles. I didn’t try any of the brand’s running socks but love the classic crew socks for everyday fitness and casual wear.
On: When it comes to fitness, I’ve graduated to only wearing ones that are left-right socks. Though left-right socks are often more expensive, they’re so much more comfortable. At this point, I barely understand tube socks that aren’t designed for the left versus right foot. On’s Performance Low Socks are super comfy, they stay in a place and they keep my feet cool.
lululemon: Get ready for compression with the Women’s MacroPillow Crew Sock. They have the cushioning in the right place, which makes them very comfortable — once they’re on — they’re tight and take some extra oomph to get into.
I’ve been working out for decades, and often default to wearing lululemon because it’s most familiar to me. Throughout my Empire State Run-Up training, I was intentionally trying out different brands to check my bias. Though I still love lululemon and its technical and casual wear, I’m excited to diversify my fitness wardrobe to find out what’s out there.
My overall favourite shoe is a cushy On (like the Cloudrunners) for day-to-day wear and New Balance Fresh Foams (this wasn’t one of the brands I was testing for this challenge, but tried them during a half marathon, and love them) and the Ultraboosts for running and other fitness outings.
adidas’ has the most selection, so it likely has something for everyone. On is the newest to the scene and offers a unique shoe design that could also accommodate many. lululemon offers technical garments that wear well over time — I’ve just worn a shirt or two inside out once or twice.
Training to climb the Empire State Building in 30 days
MyFitnessPal review: Does the health and fitness tracker help accomplish goals?
Shopping Essentials is a category written by research-obsessed shopping experts. Explore product reviews, recommendations and launches — plus behind-the-scenes info on your favourite brands and hidden gems — learn more here or sign up for our newsletter.