Athletic Fit Shirts, Shorts and Jeans

Looking for a detailed, honest Barbell Apparel review? In this article, two contributors to The Modest Man share their firsthand experiences with the brand.

Photography by Anthony Bolognese

If there’s a paradox in the clothing industry, it’s in athleisure. As the professional way of life continues to change, so will dress requirements.

We’ve been consistently moving toward more casual wear and Americans are seeking options that offer both fashion and function.

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Athleisure clothing offers that solution — something you can wear to the gym but also wear to run errands.

In some cases, it may even be work appropriate. Despite the fact that this subcategory is growing quickly, there seems to be a dearth of brands committed to dressing the shorter man.

About Barbell Apparel

Barbell Apparel was one of the first companies to bring “athletic fit”’ into vogue with their stretch jeans.

Barbell Apparel Motive Dress Shirt white

They were the second most funded fashion project on Kickstarter and went on to present in ABC’s Shark Tank, where they crushed it with their Athletic Fit Havok Polo.

In this review, Robert Ordway and Ryan Hallstrom share their views on the brand after they each tested out some Barbell gear.

We’ll start with Ryan’s review.

Ryan’s Review

In early 2022, our Senior Editor, Ryan, reviewed some of the same pieces that Robert reviewed (and several new items as well!). He came to slightly different conclusions about Barbell Apparel than Robert.

He tried out Barbell’s:

  1. Ultralight Jogger
  2. Slim Athletic Fit Jeans in Dark Indigo
  3. Havok V in White
  4. Havok Short Sleeve in Rifle
  5. Havok Polo in Gray
  6. Anything Short
  7. Phantom Short
  8. Ranger Short (in two colors)
  9. Recover Hoodie

Here’s what Ryan had to say about the 10 items that Barbell sent him to review.

My Build

As a point of reference, I’ll start off by giving my measurements. I’m 5’6” and 140 pounds. I usually wear size 28×30 pants and size XS or S (shorter length) tops.

Since Barbell is geared towards athletes, I’ll also mention that I’m a distance runner, and I also do some weight training and calisthenics.

Barbell Apparel Jeans 

I ordered the size 28-inch waist regular length Slim Athletic Fit Jeans in Dark Indigo.

On their site, Barbell only sells jeans with “regular” (34”) and, in a few models, tall (36”) inseams. Since I normally wear jeans with a 30” inseam, I knew these jeans would be too long. As expected, I ended up with a 4-inch cuff.

Barbell Apparel jeans
Slim Athletic Fit Jeans in Dark Indigo

If you have this problem, check out this video to find out how to fold the Japanese cuff so you can wear your too-long jeans with style. (FYI: I’m not using this method in this photo). For a permanent solution, get your jeans hemmed (be sure to tell your tailor to keep the original hem).

Even though I ordered a size 28-inch waist (my usual size), these jeans are very loose in the waist — so loose that without a belt they’d fall down. The waistband seems to have a lot of stretch for comfort so I’d say it’s safe to size down a size (or three).

They fit pretty well everywhere else, except they’re a little saggy in the seat.

A card that came in the package says that you should wear the jeans for 1-2 hours to fully break them in. While I didn’t notice much of a change, if any, after a few hours of wear, besides the problems with the fit I mentioned, these seem like quality, comfortable jeans.

Barbell Apparel Tees

I ordered two different tees — the  Havok V in White and the Havok Short Sleeve in Rifle (both size small).

Both of these shirts have the same fit. They fit me well in the chest and arms, with the sleeves ending around mid-bicep.

Barbell Apparel tshirt
Havok Short Sleeve in Rifle

They are made out of a performance material (a polyester/spandex mix) and are super stretchy.

The one downside is that they are way too long for me. This problem isn’t unique to Barbell; most tees are too long for me. In fact, there are only a few brands that I’ve found that fit well.

Barbell Apparel Havok Polo Shirt

I also ordered an extra small Havok Polo in Gray.

To be honest, even though it’s an xs, the fit seems to be the same as the small Havok tees. Again, it fits well in the chest and sleeves but is a few inches too long.

Barbell Apparel polo shirt
Havok Polo in Gray

The fabric of the polo is just a little bit thicker and softer than the t-shirts. Even after just one wear, the fabric seems to have what I could only describe as “micro-pilling.” It’s not a big deal, and it actually looks kind of cool close-up.

This polo might be a good choice for some athleisure looks, but I don’t really know where I’d wear it. Personally, I wouldn’t really wear a polo to the gym or to go running. This polo can’t really be dressed up — even for a backyard barbeque. I’d wear at least a cotton piqué polo as it’s a little less casual.

However, it does seem like an excellent option for the golf course, given the tucked-in length and performance fabric.

Barbell Apparel Joggers

The Ultralight Jogger in Charcoal (size small) fits really well. The length is spot on, and they fit well in the waist. They’re very comfortable.

I’ve worn these a lot since getting them. Recently, I wore them for a long run in the hills. They weren’t ideal to wear while it was sleeting because they’re made from thin, breathable fabric.

Barbell Apparel hoodie joggers
Ultralight Jogger in Charcoal and Recover Hoodie in Rifle

If it’s too cold for shorts, I’d rather wear running tights than these. (I should have realized that “ultralight joggers” aren’t the best choice in cold weather).

However, these joggers would be great to wear for warming up before races, for going to the gym, and for hiking in mild weather. Of course, they’re comfortable for just wearing around the house too.

These joggers offer good value at a reasonable price. I’d say they’re not quite Lululemon quality but they’re still really nice (and cost substantially less).

Barbell Apparel Shorts

I tried out four pairs of Barbell shorts —  the Anything Short in Charcoal (size 28), the Phantom Short in Black (size s), and the Ranger Short (size s) in both Charcoal and Navy.

The Anything Short is fantastic. I love that they have a zipper pocket in the front and in the back. They’re made from a stretchy material, but there’s not too much stretch in the waistband.

Since it has belt loops, it’s easy to dress up. For my taste, for what is essentially a smart-casual pair of shorts, they’re too short, but a lot of guys prefer this length.

Barbell Apparel shorts
Phantom Short

However, shorter shorts are great for running. When I’m out training, the Phantom Short is the perfect length. I like that both front pockets and the back pocket zip shut, which helps me to keep track of my stuff when I’m running.

The drawstring waist is another important feature. While these shorts probably aren’t made specifically for running, a lining would be nice. With a lining, along with an internal key pocket in the waistband, these would be the ideal pair of running shorts.

The Ranger Short also has zipper pockets and a drawstring. It also has a small, discreet Barbell logo on the front left leg. While I’m not usually a fan of visible logos, I don’t mind it here since it’s scaled-down and tastefully done. Again, it would’ve been great if this pair of shorts had a lining and key pocket.

Between the Phantom and the Ranger, I’d choose the Phantom since it’s slightly longer and has a back zipper pocket which the Ranger doesn’t have.

Barbell Apparel Recover Hoodie

The Recover Hoodie in Rifle (size s) is made to fit snugly. It fits me pretty well.

However, like all the other tops I received, it is too long in the body. The sleeves are also too long. I tried shrinking the hoodie a bit in the dryer (a risky move), but it came out the exact same size.

I especially like the color and the zippers on the kangaroo pouch. If this hoodie was the right length, I know I’d wear it all the time.

Ryan’s Recommendation

For someone of my height and build, I’d only recommend Barbell’s shorts and joggers. For someone taller than me, I’d recommend their tees, jeans, and hoodie.

I wouldn’t recommend the Havok polo because I think that for $58 you could find something better elsewhere (for example, UNIQLO’s polos are pretty good quality, sell for half the price, and are available with more options).

Overall, Barbell is a good brand to check out if you’re an athletic and/or bigger guy.

Robert’s Review

For this section from way back in 2019, Robert tried out Barbell’s:

  1. Ranger Short
  2. Phantom Short
  3. Havoc Short Sleeve Tee
  4. Ultralight Phantom Tank
  5. Scout Henley
  6. Straight Athletic Fit Jeans
  7. Slim Athletic Fit Jeans
  8. Ultralight Polo
  9. Motive Dress Shirt

Here’s his experience with these items.

Barbell Apparel Shorts

Barbell sent me two pairs of shorts, the Ranger in Charcoal and Phantom in Black. Both are size small. Both have zipper pockets, but the Phantom has a rear zipper pocket as well.

Barbell Apparel Phantom Short in Black
Phantom Short in Black

The Phantom’s front pockets are also slanted forward off from the hip seam, and the waistband is two inches compared to the standard 1.5.

Both shorts are 16” long, but the Ranger has an 11” rise and the Phantom 10”. What I like best is that the thigh fits perfectly, not too baggy and not too tight. Also, for me, the length is just right for doing squats and deadlifts.

Neither pair of shorts has a built-in liner, which may deter some guys from ordering.

Barbell Apparel Casual Shirts

Next, I tried the Havoc Short Sleeve Tee in Black and Ultralight Phantom Tank in Slate. Both shirts wash easily and fit very well. Usually, for me, shirts are too long and too big through the body. That was not the case here.

What I liked about each of these items was the ability to be comfortable but also the sweat-wicking while I was on the Stairmaster.

Moving out of the gym and onto the street, one piece that I was excited to get was the Scout Henley in Slate. You can always find me in a Henley on the weekends when I’m not at work, especially during the cooler months.

Traditionally, I wear J. Crew, but the cotton is of inferior quality. This shirt is 88% polyester and 12% spandex. It has a neck opening that is larger than most, but the baseball-style cut of the shoulders is what makes the fit better than others.

The stretch also doesn’t feel like compression, which is important to me in this new athleisure space.

Barbell Apparel Jeans

The jeans are where the rubber meets the road with this brand. While my waist is 32” and I normally wear 30s, Karl sent me Straight Athletic Fit in Dark Distressed and the Slim Athletic Fit in Medium Distressed, both in size 28.

Barbell Apparel jeans
Straight Athletic Fit in Dark Distressed

All pairs come in a 34” length inseam, which is common for luxury brands.

A standard hem will run about $20; however, you will lose the stone washing at the bottom. The original hem can be relocated, but it will be costly. Being 5’7”, I had both pairs shortened 6”, resulting in a 28” inseam.

Barbell Apparel denim medium wash

Both have a rise of 10” which is just perfect to keep your legs looking long without binding in the crotch.

The straight cut has a 14” opening and the slim cut 13.5”. Both pairs are 95% cotton, 4% polyester, and 1% spandex, but they have so much stretch you would have thought otherwise.

Barbell Apparel denim dark wash

Although I’m a fan of the Levi’s 541 Athletic Cut, Barbell jeans put them to shame. They are comfortable and wash easily.

Barbell Apparel Polo and Dress Shirt

Lastly, I was able to move into the business world with the Ultralight Polo in Steel Blue and the Motive Dress Shirt in White. Like other items, the length was great and the shoulders near perfect.

Barbell Apparel Ultralight Polo in Steel Blue
Ultralight Polo in Steel Blue

I really liked the unique alignment of the shoulder stitch and how it was offset from the yoke on the back. Both garments felt great, but I wasn’t a fan of the 17” neck of each shirt.

It was far too big for my 15” neck and was emphasized by the short 1.75” collar.

The shirt originally came with one button on the cuff, but they have since modified it with two so that the shirt doesn’t “eat” the wearer’s hand. The sleeves are also long, which is often expected with dress shirts that come in basic sizes.

Robert’s Recommendation

As the possessor of 23”+ thighs (on a skinny day), I’ve always struggled to find shorts and pants that fit.

In addition, even size small shirts are too baggy in the waist area, leaving me looking like a box.

Barbell Apparel polo shirt

All in all, Barbell Apparel is a great brand for me. All of their products fit correctly where it matters most.

From the length of shirts and shorts to the perfect rise, this is a brand a man of modest height can wear with few if any concerns. Barbell Apparel offers free shipping and returns so what do you have to lose?

If you’re going for the perfect fit, this brand is worth a try.

Final Thoughts on Barbell Apparel

Two opinions leave you with more to think about than just one! Consider trying out Barbell Apparel for yourself to see how you like the brand. Like Robert said, shipping and return shipping are free (if your order is over $50, that is), so you don’t have much to lose.

Want to add your experience with Barbell Apparel to the conversation? Leave a comment below!

Robert Ordway

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