In the latest iteration of Things People Are Talking About on TikTok, users of the app are posting about — and arguing over — whether or not to wear underwear during workouts. Some are proudly sharing videos saying they’re on Team Commando, while others are commenting: “I feel like that’s a bad idea.”
In light of the social media debate, fitness influencers Steph Claire Smith and Laura Henshaw discussed it during a recent episode of their “Kicpod” podcast. They shared a clip of the episode on Instagram, and the comments section has since blown up with even more opinions.
Both Smith and Henshaw say they could never, admitting they’d be worried about thrush (i.e. a yeast infection). A commenter feeling the same type of way added: “BUT what about the hygiene reason / health stuff that goes on down there? Ughhh I can’t imagine.” On the other side, people praise the practice for being super comfortable and freeing. “No undies all the way. So much more comfy! Liberate yourselves ;),” one commenter said.
Whether you’re already Team Commando and love it, curious about ditching underwear during workouts, or completely aghast at the thought, the discussion begs the question: is it OK to work out without underwear? And given the choice between the two, which is better for your vaginal health?
Great news: board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Jodie Horton, MD, weighed in here to set the record straight — and no matter which side you’re on, you might be surprised by her answer.
Should You Wear Underwear While Working Out?
Believe it or not, Dr. Horton recommends not wearing underwear when working out. “The vagina has normal [good] bacteria that prevents the overgrowth of bad bacteria like bacterial vaginosis and yeast. However, a warm, wet environment after a sweat sesh can be a breeding ground for infection,” she says. Wearing underwear adds another layer that can trap moisture and cause irritation, itching, and burning.
And if you’re worried about panty lines showing through your leggings, going commando for workouts is definitely better than wearing a thong, Dr. Horton says. “The thong’s friction and movement can introduce E. coli from the anus into the vagina and lead to potential urinary and vaginal infections,” she says. E. coli bacteria is naturally found in your digestive tract and often harmless, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, if that bacteria is transferred to your vagina or urethra (via, for example, your underwear), it can cause an infection like a UTI, the Mayo Clinic reports.
Even if you’re just wearing leggings to chill or work from home, Dr. Horton maintains her advice: “I recommend going commando and ditching the underwear,” she says.
However, if you want to tweak your approach depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle — for example, if you have more discharge or you’re on your period — of course, that’s totally OK.
The Best Underwear to Wear While Working Out
Can’t bring yourself to join Team Commando? It’s understandable. If you’re still going to wear underwear for your workouts, Dr. Horton has recommendations on which type is best.
Cotton underwear is not a good choice because it stays wet, Dr. Horton says, so moisture-wicking underwear (like the kind specifically made for workouts) is a great option. These underwear are usually lighter than your regular pair of undies and are generally made of polyester, nylon, or bamboo. “Besides absorbing moisture and allowing the vagina to stay dry, it can also help you cool down and regulate your body temperature, according to one European study,” she adds.
The Bottom Line on Wearing Underwear During Workouts
If you’re just not comfortable going commando at the gym and haven’t had any problems wearing underwear during workouts up to this point in your life, you’re probably OK to keep doing so (after all, you know your body better than anyone else!). However, if you love going commando for workouts — or want to give it a try — you officially have an ob-gyn’s stamp of approval.
Whether or not you decide to wear underwear during your workouts, it’s important to get out of your sweaty clothes soon after. As soon as you finish your workout, change into dry, clean clothes. If you have time, take a shower immediately after working out. Wash the vulva with warm water, and gently pat the vagina dry before putting new clothes on.
And if you notice anything odd going on after switching your workout-wear method of choice, consider seeing your ob-gyn to make sure everything is in the clear.
— Additional reporting by Jenny Sugar