How We Chose the 2019 SELF Fitness Award Winners

Every year, hundreds of sneakers, hiking boots, socks, sports bras, leggings, crops, tank tops, T-shirts, jackets, windbreakers, sunglasses, headphones, gym bags, foam rollers, and more fitness gear and apparel cross our desks at SELF. We do our best to try them all out. (It’s a tough job, people.)

Then, every fall, we take a step back to identify the very best of these new releases, the results of which culminate in our annual awards. All the winners of SELF’s Fitness Awards are our picks for the greatest new apparel, shoes, tools, and gear released each year.

Here’s how we chose the winners.

First, we determined which categories we wanted to test—this year we kept it fairly simple, focusing on workout shoes, leggings, sports bras, tops, and assorted gear and accessories (think trackers, socks, bags, headphones, and the like). Then we used our extensive editorial knowledge of the market to narrow the field to a set of finalists for each category, based on criteria for what fitness enthusiasts and athletes care about for each specific type of product, from functionality to style to size inclusivity.

A note about size inclusivity as a requirement: It’s no secret that fashion in general—and the fitness apparel market in particular—doesn’t create sufficient options for people who wear plus sizes. In far too many cases, brands will neglect to include plus-size options at all. So in the interest of selecting the best options for as many people as possible, we had a few rules around size inclusivity: If the brand offers straight sizes, their sizing must go up to at least an XL to be considered. Every roundup of winners must have multiple options that go up to at least a size 3X. The apparel must be tested by a variety of reviewers who wear plus sizes. And finally, we must list the size ranges offered for each winner, as well as the size worn by the quoted reviewer. It’s not a perfect system, but we hope that it helps to make our fitness awards more useful to more people than before.

Once we had settled on the finalists, we began testing. As with every year, most SELF editors tested products. But for this year’s judging, we also enlisted a group of 23 fitness professionals and enthusiasts from across the country to assist us in road testing all the finalists. We made sure our judges were experts in the areas they were testing (for instance, yoga teachers tested yoga sports bras, while runners tested running tights). Each product was tested by multiple people in a range of sizes, to accommodate for varied tastes and fits and needs.

In the end, our judges tested more than 250 distinct products. Judges were required to test each item at least twice using the product in the way it was advertised. That meant lifting in weight lifting shoes, jumping in high-impact sports bras, and even lounging in joggers (like we said, tough job). After testing, judges ranked their items on a scale of zero (awful) to five (amazing). Then they answered an extensive questionnaire that asked about things like comfort, durability, performance, and design, depending on the product and what matters most to the people using it in action.

Finally, we picked 87 winners. Our awards this year reflect the best—but as that number indicates, we were also highly selective. (Roughly one third of the finalists tested made the cut.) So rest assured that whether you’re a seasoned athlete looking for your next pair of racing sneakers or just thinking about trying your first studio class, there’s something on this list for you. These items are practical, functional, chic, and, above all, proven to stand up to your sweatiest workouts.

Keep scrolling to get to know our guest judges, and check out our complete list of 2019 Fitness Awards winners here.

Meet Our Judges

We hand-picked 23 top fitness enthusiasts and trainers from across the country to help road test our winning gear. Here’s a bit more about the folks who helped to judge our winning items.

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Courtesy of Amanda Butler/Morgan Johnson

Amanda Butler

Growing up in Nebraska, Amanda has always been drawn to an active lifestyle. When she wasn’t running hurdles for her school’s track team, she was choreographing dances with her friends in the studio. Since then, Amanda has toured the world on Royal Caribbean cruise line as a principal dancer and become a leading trainer in the New York fitness scene. In 2016, when Amanda found out she was pregnant with her son Parker, she knew that she wanted to prepare her body for the demands of motherhood. Since then, Amanda has seen the power that fitness has on her day-to-day life and is dedicated to helping other moms prepare for this extraordinary journey. Amanda is NASM CPT, PROnatal, AFAA Perinatal, AFAA Group Fitness, Kettle Bell Concepts, CPR/AED, and Nutritious Life Nutrition Certified. Follow her at @amandabutlernyc.

Renee Choi Photography/Morgan Johnson

Amanda Young

As a group fitness professional, health and life coach, educator, and licensed social worker, Amanda channels her energy into helping others achieve their wellness goals. She previously held the position of manager of group fitness talent development for Equinox and until recently spent two decades in the group fitness studio teaching multiple formats. Currently, Amanda is a school social worker for the NYC Department of Education. Her current certifications include ACE certified group fitness instructor, ACE health coach, Zumba, Schwinn Indoor Cycling, Kettlebell Concepts, TRX Training, and kickboxing. Amanda has starred in Acacia TV’s digital fitness videos and functioned as camera coach and fitness tech for companies like Reebok. Her media credits include Time, Refinery29, Daily News, NY1, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, and MSNBC. She is also the founder of Face the Change, a campaign to increase awareness and education of Trigeminal Neuralgia, a rare and debilitating chronic illness with which she was diagnosed in 2008. Follow her at @ayoungwayoflife.

Katie Thompson/Morgan Johnson

Amy Marturana Winderl

Amy is a writer, editor, and certified personal trainer. She covers a wide variety of health and fitness topics, from exercise science to practical workout tips, and has tested more fitness apparel and gear than she could ever remember. Her go-to workouts include hiking, running, boxing, and strength-focused group fitness classes. She lives in black leggings and never travels anywhere without a set of mini resistance bands and a pair of running sneakers. Follow her at @amymart.

Remi Pyrdol/Morgan Johnson

Bianca Vesco

Bianca is a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and Wilhelmina fitness model. Originally from Ohio, Bianca moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. She is holds certifications as a NASM certified personal trainer, AFAA group fitness instructor, TRX, and kettlebell basics. She has been featured in Cosmopolitan, and created the 2018 New Year’s Challenge for SELF Magazine. Follow her at @biancapaigefit.

Jay Sullivan/Morgan Johnson

Bree Koegel

Bree Koegel is a highly sought-after personal trainer and Wilhelmina fitness model living in NYC. She is the face of the free at-home fitness app FitOn, and enjoys working regularly with top brands such as Athleta, Bowflex, Zappos, and more. Follow her at @breekoegel.

Courtesy of Chasi Jernigan/Morgan Johnson

Chasi Jernigan

Chasi Jernigan is a certified fitness instructor, body-positive motivator, and all-around creative with a passion for women’s empowerment. After losing more than 100 pounds herself, Chasi created the first body-positive space in Tupelo, Mississippi, for women struggling with gym intimidation. She stands by the mantra “Fitness Has No Size” and continues to break fitness stereotypes by being fit and over 200 pounds. Chasi’s blog Sweat in Mascara was created as a source of inspiration and to remind plus-size women that they can accomplish anything. Follow her at @chasijernigan

Courtesy of Cindy Yu/Morgan Johnson

Cindy Yu

Cindy been a certified personal trainer and group exercise fitness instructor for 20 years. She strives to provide high-quality fitness instruction through her love of being active and knowledge of fitness and health. Cindy enjoys a variety of indoor and outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, skating, cycling, and distance running. She has completed a series of 10K and half- to full-marathon races. Married and a mom of three boys, Cindy focuses most of her time on pre- and postnatal clients and stay-at-home and working moms, helping them achieve their fitness goals. Follow her at @cindyyufitness.

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James Ryang/Morgan Johnson

Jess Sims

Jess Sims is a NASM certified personal trainer and One Peloton tread instructor. She also created the Ready, Set, Sweat Challenge for SELF Magazine. Follow her at @jsimsfit.

Laura Perlstein/Morgan Johnson

Jessamyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley is a yoga teacher, body-positivity advocate, and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. Jessamyn uses high-energy vinyasa flow as a way to move past mental and emotional barriers. Her classes provide a body-positive approach to yoga that celebrates students’ bodies and encourages them to ask “How do I feel?” rather than “How do I look?” when practicing yoga. Follow her at @mynameisjessamyn.

Courtesy of Jessica Rihal/Morgan Johnson

Jessica Rihal

Jessica Rihal decided to become a yoga teacher herself after noticing a lack of diversity among yoga instructors. Now a certified 200-hour instructor, Jessica regularly teaches classes in southern California. Follow her at @jessicajadeyoga.

Andrew Cebulka/Morgan Johnson

Kathryn Budig

Kathryn Budig is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher and author known for her accessibility, humor, and ability to empower her students through her message “Aim true.” With over a decade of experience, Budig has served as a yoga editor, contributed recipes and sat on the Yahoo Health Advisory Board, and regularly contributes to Yoga Journal and MindBodyGreen. She was an athlete in Under Armour’s “I WILL WHAT I WANT” campaign, cohosted of the podcast Free Cookies, teaches regular online classes on, and is the founder of her animal project, Poses for Paws. She is the creator of the Aim True Yoga DVD produced by Gaiam, author of The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga and Aim True. Follow her at @kathrynbudig.

Porterhouse Photography/Morgan Johnson

Lita Lewis

The way Lewis sees it, fitness isn’t about being skinny or curvy—it’s about being the best version of yourself. That means standing by yourself through life’s challenges just as much as it means celebrating your physical abilities. As a motivational speaker and life coach, Lita is all about building strong minds and bodies while sharing her positive messaging via social media. Lita has been featured in numerous publications and starred in the Stronger With SELF fitness challenge. Follow her at @followthelita.

Vairdy Andrew/Morgan Johnson

Louise Green

Louise has been changing the narrative and idealistic standards of our fitness culture since 2007. Originally a personal trainer, Green has banked over 10,000 hours physically training women who are considered outside the “cultural norm.” Louise has refined a unique intelligence into how this group is motivated and responds to fitness practices and messaging. Through brand partnerships, size-inclusive fitness apps, and ground-breaking education for fitness leaders, Louise has mobilized a global movement of change. Louise is the first plus-size athlete to be featured in elite magazines such as Triathlete, Bicycling, IMPACT, and Runner’s World. Green is the celebrated author of Big Fit Girl, a sought-after speaker, and a columnist at SELF magazine. Follow her at @louisegreen_bigfitgirl.

Courtesy of Maria Odugba/Morgan Johnson

Maria Odugba

Maria is a NASM-certified personal trainer, plus she holds a bachelors degree in sports and exercise science and a masters in exercise physiology. She found her passion for fitness and yoga in late 2014. She believes that any- and everybody can create their own fitness journey and that an individual’s capabilities are not measured by stereotypes or social norms. She has a passion to help other people reach their goals. Follow her at @asap.yogi.

Paige Festa/Morgan Johnson

Morit Summers

Morit Summers is an NSCA-CPT-certified trainer. She also holds RKC level 2 and Crossfit Level 1, and is a USAW Level 2 coach. She has been defying industry standards since 2007 with her all-inclusive fitness approach. Morit believes in fitness for everyone and wants all people—regardless of their ethnicity, size, or skill level—to feel welcome in any fitness environment. This belief and determination led to her opening her own all-inclusive gym, Form Fitness, home of Morit Summers Personal Training. Follow her at @moritsummers.

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Courtesy of Rachel Denis/Morgan Johnson

Rachel Denis

Rachel is a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records. Follow her at @rachbarnard.

Courtesy of Rosimer Suarez/Morgan Johnson

Rosimer Suarez

Rosimer Suarez is a special-education teacher currently living in Oklahoma City. She loves starting her mornings with high-intensity interval training or strength training because it sets her up for the day and keeps her energized. During her spare time, she like to cozy up with a good book with her cat curled up by her side.

Courtesy of Roz Mays/Morgan Johnson

Roz “The Diva” Mays

NASM-certified Roz “The Diva” Mays has dedicated many late nights at the gym to becoming a stronger and healthier athlete. Pole dancing is her movement of choice, followed by TRX, strength and conditioning, and flexibility. Among her finest contributions to the pole world has been creating Dangerous Curves: A Celebration of Plus Size Pole Dancers. Her talents have been featured in the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, ESPN, and other publications. She loves to teach obnoxiously loud classes at Body & Pole and IncrediPole in New York City. She’s also the subject of Dangerous Curves, an award-winning documentary. Follow her at @rozthediva.

Courtesy of Sarah Sapora/Morgan Johnson

Sarah Sapora

In 2016, at the age of 37, Sarah was in physical pain all the time, but even more importantly, Sarah felt like her own life was passing her by. Sarah wanted to find a way to get healthier without spinning on what she calls the “Diet Culture Wheel of Shame.” Unable to find what she was looking for, Sarah decided to become the person she needed to see. For the past three years she has been sharing her journey of fitness and strength training, Kundalini yoga and meditation, nutrition and food, but most importantly, what she called “soul archaeology.” Follow her at @sarahsapora.

Katiuska Idrovo/Morgan Johnson

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor is the owner of Fitness by Sarah Taylor, and is a certified personal trainer, former Miss Plus Canada, plus-size model, blogger, and motivational speaker. Having been a plus-size woman for most of her life, she knows what it’s like to walk into a gym, feel intimidated, and not know what to do. Sarah wanted to make a safe space for women to feel comfortable while working out, build their strength, and their confidence—in and outside of the gym. She owns a boutique studio in downtown Toronto and offers online video-based programs. Follow her at @fitnessbysarahtaylor.

Wes Klain/Morgan Johnson

Selena Watkins

Selena Watkins is a renowned fitness trainer, instructor, world-touring professional dancer, founder of Socanomics and Miss Black USA 2012. She is a NASM-certified Personal Trainer, alumni SoulCycle instructor, founding instructor of the Studio Live Fitness app, founding instructor of Rise by We at WeWork, an alumni NBA dancer for the Brooklyn Nets, and spent several years as an assistant producer for the legendary radio station 98.7 KissFM. As a performing artist, Selena has performed on world tour with Nicki Minaj and has taken the stage alongside Da Baby, Alison Hinds, Rihanna, Janelle Monáe, Pharrell Williams, and more. She is known to break the rules to empower others to take charge of their wellness and happiness. Follow her at @selenawatkins.

Jane Hu/Morgan Johnson

Shauna Harrison

Shauna is a self-proclaimed nerd, hip-hop head, jock, and yogi. A graduate of Stanford, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins, she simultaneously pursued academics and fitness, obtaining her PhD in Public Health and teaching fitness classes across the country. Not only is Shauna the creator of Muscle + Flow, she is an adjunct associate at Johns Hopkins and served as a panelist for multiple universities and organizations covering the subject of fitness, yoga, wellness, and public health. She runs the #SWEATADAY challenge and set up a SWEATADAY scholarship to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to get out and move. Shauna is also a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a contributing writer for Yoga Digest. Follow her at @shaunaharrison.

Courtesy of Tai McQueen/Morgan Johnson

Tai McQueen

Tai is a certified personal trainer who currently offers personal training services in Houston, Texas. Her training methods include weight training, HIIT (high--intensity interval training), and endurance training. Follow her at @taimcqueen.


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