Why Do Gymnasts Wear Leotards?

young ballerinas standing near ballet barre

If you’re heading off to a gymnastics class, or if you’re going to a competition, you’ll probably be wearing a leotard. If you want to be a competitor or a team member, the most critical factor in your outfit is allowing you to do your best. But why do gymnasts wear leotards?

Gymnasts wear leotards because they improve flexibility and movement, minimize fabric friction and help the gymnasts feel dryer during competition. These tight-fitting garments are made from fabrics like cotton, lycra, nylon, or spandex blend. 

Leotards have been worn for decades in gymnastics and have been the staple in most events, so this tradition has no reason to stop. In fact, there are many reasons why wearing leotards is an obligation in competitive levels of the sport. Keep reading to find out what they are. 

How Do Leotards Improve Safety?

Leotards improve safety by preventing skin abrasion, improving balance, range of movement, and preventing tripping hazards. The fabric on other items might catch on the gymnast’s hands, skin, or equipment if it was not tight-fitting, for instance, during climbing or performing on bars. 

Here are other advantages of wearing leotards: 

  • Leotards are lighter than tights or other types of clothing, enabling gymnasts to perform more complicated movements. You don’t go swimming in street clothes for much the same reason, as they tend to weigh the athlete down, making movements clunky and clumsy. On the other hand, Leotards prevent athletes from even having to think about what they’re wearing. 
  • Leotards allow for a greater range of motion than tights and other clothing, which improves gymnasts’ performance by increasing flexibility and muscle control. Other clothing types can be restrictive in how much motion they allow. Gymnasts can be very flexible, so their clothing needs to be as well. 
  • Leotards can prevent injuries by reducing friction between body parts that might contact each other wearing different clothing. Imagine running a marathon in jeans. The rough, loose fabric would chafe the inside of your thighs, making movement painful. The same goes for gymnastics. Athletes wear the clothes that are most comfortable for them.
  • Leotards allow gymnasts to look better and perform better by simply looking more stylish and professional. Sometimes a point of contention, much of the reason that leotards are subject to dress code and are often beautifully designed is to bolster the showmanship of the performance.
  • Leotards feel dry and comfortable during training. Gymnastics is an intensive sport, and athletes tend to get sweaty. Leotards provide breathability that prevents uncomfortable heat and sweat buildup. 
  • Leotards can help keep the athlete’s body cooler during hot or humid conditions, which improves performance. No athlete performs well under extreme heat or other duress. Leotards are designed to minimize these factors. 

Gymnastics Dress Code

The first and the most important reason why gymnasts wear leotards is for safety purposes. 

Wearing leotards instead of other clothing allows them to feel more comfortable while training, which improves their performance. For this reason, among others, the gymnastics dress code requires athletes to wear leotards during competition. 

ittle ballet girl standing at ballet barre in studio

The International Gymnastics Federation requires its athletes to wear leotards during competition. The guidelines they set forward are stringent on exactly what athletes can and cannot wear. 

Many countries participating in the Olympics participate on a national team that will perform on behalf of that country. This means that there are specific general requirements gymnasts have to meet before being allowed onto this team. 

Female Leotards

In many countries, women wear leotards at competitions. 

However, there is also a variation on the concept that includes a skirt component as well. In this case, a skirt with a waistband is worn over the leotard. In addition, leotards have been used in gymnastics for decades as everyday clothing by gym rats worldwide. 

As far as using leotards during daily life goes, there are no real drawbacks to wearing them other than just looking silly when you’re not training. 

Male Leotards

Men’s leotards are built a bit differently from women’s leotards but are functionally very similar. In most cases, however, men will wear shorts over their leotards. Men’s leotards are prohibited from being as showy or visually interesting as women’s, with low cuts and sequins not allowed.

Why Do Female Gymnasts Wear Skimpy Outfits?

Female gymnasts wear skimpy outfits because they’re made to look attractive. Some argue that female gymnasts wear skimpy outfits for safety and comfort reasons, but this is not entirely true. When it comes to revealing leotards, it’s mostly for showmanship. 

dance teacher helping group of little girls practicing in studio

Still, there is always an element of style, as with everything else in life. And unfortunately, women’s gymnastics can be a very sexualized event. Much of the reasoning behind the dress code feeds into sexist, old-fashioned traditions not rooted in the athlete’s wellbeing. 

In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the German Women’s Gymnastics team broke tradition by wearing full-body leotards instead of the high-cut, revealing leotards athletes typically wear. The leotards had high necklines and went all the way to their ankles. 

They remained safe and comfortable but without revealing too much of their bodies. 

Sex appeal can be a gambit to entice audiences to watch the Olympics. However, objectification of people’s bodies is frowned on and expected to be suppressed in modern times. 

Do Gymnasts Wear Anything Under Their Leotards?

Although leotards are tight-fitting to reduce skin abrasion, gymnasts don’t need to wear anything under their leotards. Some leotards come with a built-in, removable liner, which means you can wear leotards without standard undergarments. 

Gymnasts may wear workout shorts under their leotards if they wish to feel more comfortable during practice or competition. However, they’re often shorter than what you would wear on a walk or at the mall. 


Leotards encourage the safety, comfort, and professionalism of athletes. They can allow for a greater range of movement and flexibility. The tight-fitting nature prevents friction between body parts, which enhances the gymnast’s performance. 

The design of leotards may be aesthetically questionable to some, but the functionality is undeniable. The overall look of these outfits greatly benefits their overall function. Gymnastics is an intense sport, so the athletes have to wear comfortable and functional clothes to perform at their best.