This Swimwear Is Also Workout Attire
For serious training sessions that end in the ocean, any old bikini won’t do. Here are our favorite specialized sets.
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On a recent six-mile beach run in Florida, the temperature was nearly 90 degrees and the humidity 65 percent. My face was so red from the heat that people were staring. I wanted nothing more than to seek relief in the cool blue water just 50 feet from where I was trudging through deep sand—but not at the expense of my $110 running tights, which probably would not have taken well to salt water. Wearing a swimsuit underneath them was not a flattering look, and so I’d chosen the function of my running clothes over the reward of a post-workout dip.
To avoid this dilemma in the future, I started searching the web for crossover athletic wear that could function during a rigorous workout and work in the water for a swim, paddle, or just to cool off. My typical workouts include running, hiking, sprinting stairs, yoga, and Pilates. I live by the ocean, so the ability to transition from a challenging training session workout on land straight into the water is essential in the summer.
Reading reviews for swim-train crossover apparel, I realized I wasn’t alone. Happy customers wrote about their ability to use it both for a tough hike and a jump in a waterfall, or to chase their kids on the beach and then hop in the kayak. But coverage preferences run the gamut. Some women will only run in a full-coverage legging, while others are comfortable in a cheeky bikini bottom. Some need as much top support as they can get, while others are happiest with just a couple of spaghetti straps.
Personally, I’m willing to wear less than I might typically be comfortable with at the gym in order to stay as cool as possible. I’m a size 8, five feet six, 150 pounds, and about a 34C bra size. I like crop tops to keep fabric off my stomach, but need at least medium top support. I would opt for short shorts if my thighs didn’t rub against each other and chafe when they get wet, so I’m always wearing at least a bike-short bottom, if not a full legging.
To hone in on a broad selection of functional, high-performing options, I spent a week working out in five different crossover athletic swimwear sets of all different styles. I looked for suits that were comfortable and that would fit a wide range of support preferences and body types. Unfortunately, the plus-size category is still lacking. Athleta offers the Pacifica Illume UPF Fitted Tank ($54) and the Marin Board Short ($59) in sizes XXS to 3X. Still, these pieces don’t constitute a complete crossover kit: the tank doesn’t have built-in support, so you’d still need to choose between a swim top or a sports bra underneath. Many of the brands featured below are increasing their plus-size lines, and we encourage them to expand their efforts into the crossover active-swim category.
Athleta Freestyle Camo Crop Bikini Top ($64) and Offshore Paddle Tight ($98)
Size range: XXS to XL (top, both A-C and D-DD versions) and XXS to XL (bottom)
With a longer crop cut and a ⅞ tight, this pairing from Athleta gives a good amount coverage while still keeping you cool. The Freestyle Camo Crop hits at about the belly button, with a collarbone-high neckline, providing more heat relief than a full tank, while still offering more sun protection than a bikini. While the bottom seam is elastic-free and stays loose on your skin, a hidden, built-in sports bra and removable padded cups still add support. Athleta offers this top in XXS-XL in both an A-C cup and a D-DD cup.
Both the Freestyle Camo Crop and the Offshore Paddle Tight are made from a recycled nylon blended with Lycra, meaning you get the quick-dry features of nylon with the snug fit of Lycra. I personally liked wearing tights, because they kept the sand off my legs while doing an ab workout on the beach, and prevented chafing.
Body Glove Flourish Eco-Conscious Equalizer Cross-Over Sports Bra ($41) and Flourish Eco-Conscious Roam Cross-Over Capri ($66)
Sizes: XS to XL (top and bottom)
On a barefoot run where you might get wet up to your ankles, a capri can be a better option than a full-length legging. Body Glove’s Flourish collection, a collaboration with professional surfer Tatiana Weston-Webb, is made from 79 percent recycled polyester and designed specifically for land-to-sea activities.
The Roam Cross-Over capri hits a few inches below my knee and has a mid-rise, extra-wide waistband that doesn’t dig or roll down during an ab workout. The super-stretchy fabric meant they also worked especially well for yoga.
The Equalizer Cross-Over is cut like a traditional sports bra, which means it offers a lot of support and also transitions to the gym without looking like you’re wearing a swimsuit, despite the UPF 50+ water-friendly fabric. The ribbed mesh back panel provides extra ventilation while a wide bottom elastic band offers lots of chest support.
Prana Christie Top ($65) and Datum Short ($55)
Sizes: XS to XL (top and bottom)
Prana’s Christie is a shorter crop top, landing just a little bit lower than a sports bra, with a scooped neckline that covers about half the chest and an even more deeply scooped back for a feminine look. Mesh side panels provide ventilation. Padded cups give you a little added protection but can also be removed. I sized down from a medium to a small on this top for an extra-snug fit that was supportive enough for inversions and a HIIT workout.
With its two-inch inseam, the Datum short is ideal for those who really want to be wearing as little fabric as possible while retaining full bum coverage. Its wide, mid-rise waistband won’t dig in, and sits high enough to stay put in a hot-yoga down dog, without the stifling feel of a high-rise fit.
For the yoga studio or a run on the beach, I prefer more coverage than this piece offers. But during a 20-minute HIIT workout in the privacy of my backyard, these shorts stayed in place and kept me much cooler than a pair of longer bike shorts would.
Both the Christie and the Datum are fully lined, meaning you don’t have to worry about them becoming see-through when wet, yet the UPF 50+ fabric is still plenty breathable for sweaty sessions. They’re also made from 78 percent recycled nylon and constructed in a Fair Trade Certified factory.
Lululemon Train to Beach Top ($68) and Train to Beach 10-Inch High-Rise Short ($68)
Sizes: 2 to 12 (top and bottom)
The $110 tights I mentioned earlier are from Lululemon, and they’re the best leggings I’ve ever owned. So it came as no surprise to me that this Train to Beach set had the same attention to detail and fabric functionality.
The line is aptly named, as it’s designed specifically for workouts that mix land and sea. The top is cut like a full-coverage sports bra, with a wide and tight bottom band and removable padded cup inserts. The front features a heavy duty top-to-bottom zipper that you can open partially for airflow (it didn’t budge during my workouts. The top fits very snug, so the zipper also makes it easier to put on and take off. The fabric offers UPF 50+ protection, but look out for the big keyhole in the back, which puts you at risk for sunburns or strange tan lines. Still, this is a seriously supportive top that will get through the most rigorous workouts.
Pair the top with the ten-inch short to eliminate chafing while still getting the cooling benefits of a short. The inseam is longer than most bike-style shorts, and prevents water from irritating your thighs on shoreline runs. The high-rise waist offers a lot of comfort, and a tight, compression-like fit keeps everything tucked in. Bonus: the back pocket features a key loop, a feature that’s difficult to find in stylish women’s activewear. I wore this ensemble for a sprint series on the stairs at my local beach. I was worried the seamless leg openings would roll up as I stretched my legs up the stairs, but they stayed put and there was no hem cutting into my skin. After 15 sprints, I ran straight into the water. Both top and shorts stayed put while diving through the shorepound.
Patagonia Nanogrip Nireta Bikini Top ($75) and Nanogrip Nireta Bikini Bottoms ($69)
Sizes: XS to XL (top) and XXS to XL (bottom)
Some women love to workout in just a bikini. But in order to really go your hardest, you’ll need a suit that doesn’t budge. Patagonia’s Nanogrip fabric is designed specifically to prevent fabric movement: the grippy nanofiber lining is slip resistant when wet.
That means the Nireta Bikini Bottoms stay put better than other similar bottoms. The low-rise, medium-wide waistband doesn’t dig into the hips, and the slightly cheeky cut is cute, but still practical for a workout.
Pair the bottoms with the Nanogrip Nireta Bikini Top, which provides full coverage on the chest and plenty of support thanks to an extra-secure cross-strap system. If you’re between sizes, I would suggest sizing up. In a medium, the straps dug into my skin and created rolls, which was uncomfortable and unflattering. A size up would have fixed this problem, at least from a comfort perspective. Removable padded inserts add protection. Even though the bottom band is somewhat loose, this top won’t go anywhere as you jump, sprint, or practice handstands.
The set is made from 83 percent recycled nylon sourced from post-industrial waste, discards from weaving mills, and postconsumer fishing nets. Plus, it’s sewn in a Fair Trade Certified factory.