Muscle Shirt Vs. Tank Top: What’s the Difference?

muscle tank top

Gone are the days when muscle shirts were referred to tight-fit t-shirts or tank tops that men wore to show off their muscles at the gym or swimming pool. Today, muscle shirts are more associated with the trendy tank top that’s taken women's activewear by storm. You may have seen these sleeveless tops at your favorite basic clothing stores or online. If you’re looking to buy tank tops that are breathable and lightweight, muscle shirts will be your favorite casual wear item in your closet.

For now, here is one thing you must know about the difference between tank tops and muscle shirts: Muscle shirts are tank tops, but tank tops are not always muscle shirts. There are various types of tank tops which include muscle shirts, camisoles, cropped tank tops, racerback tank tops, and many more. The average tank top is typically like an undershirt which has a cotton ribbed material, scoop neck, thin straps, and falls at your hips. There are many variations of the average tank: some are thicker than others and can be worn as an exercise top or night out top. When you’re working out, you can wear a tank top over a sports bra during warm weather or at any time you’re looking to break a sweat. Unlike evening tank tops, which are reserved for the warm seasons, workout tank tops are worn all year long.

Tank tops seem like such a simple piece of clothing but when you factor in materials, necklines, strap thickness, wide armholes, and more, they become entirely different beasts. Why did the muscle tank become so popular out of the many tanks to choose from? And what makes muscle shirts different than tank tops and vice versa? Learn everything you need to know up ahead!

What is the point of a muscle shirt?

Muscle shirts first became popular in the ‘80s when male surfers and bodybuilders wore these sleeveless tops with gym logos on them to show off their — you guessed it! — muscles. Today, muscle shirts are for both men and women and don’t typically include any logos. The point of the muscle shirt today is more of a trendy fashion statement than it is to show off one’s muscles. Women don’t always wear them to work out either.

Some muscle shirts are thick and are worn as loungewear with sweatpants or even jeans. They’re typically breathable, loose, and lightweight, which makes them a great option when you don’t want clothes sticking to your skin during a workout or casual night out.

What is the difference between a tank top and muscle shirt?

Muscle shirts are tank tops but tank tops aren’t always muscle shirts. There are many different types of tank tops — muscle shirts are just one of them. Muscle shirts are typically loose with thick straps that may form into a mini cap sleeve and sometimes have wide armholes. A classic tank top on the other hand is a tight fit on the body and worn as an undershirt. Muscle shirts are worn as your main shirt and a sports bra or a regular bra, depending on your activity.

What are some advantages of wearing a tank top?

Tank tops, in general, are great as a foundation for layering. You can put a long sleeve shirt on top and a hoodie. Tank tops can be worn under see-through tops or low-cut v-neck tops that may need extra cleavage coverage. In the early 2000s, you may remember teenage girls wore tank tops under a long-sleeve tops. Women wear tank tops because they are sleeveless tops that are perfect for warmer weather or a workout session. They’re also collarless, which makes this type of top casual and comfortable.

Is it true that tank tops are better for your muscles than a muscle shirt?

vuori muscle tank top

Average tank tops are typically tighter than muscle shirts, which can help you get a better workout. Some experts and studies suggest that compression clothing, like exercise tops, can help increase blood flow and oxygen uptake. The oxygen is then used to break down glucose, creating fuel for your muscles. This theory hasn’t been completely scientifically proven.

Why is a muscle shirt called a wife beater?

Muscle shirts aren’t typically called wife beaters. White tank top undershirts are typically called wife beaters. Why? In 1947, a man named James Hartford Jr beat his wife to death and famously wore a stained white undershirt. Since the 1880s, “wife beater” has been a term used for a man who beats his wife.

What is the point of a muscle shirt?

Muscle shirts used to be a way for men to mainly show off their muscles. Today, trendy muscle tee are a shirt worn by women at the gym or worn as casual clothing/loungewear. Some of them these days even have shoulder pads, which make them more structured and less casual. 

Sleeveless t-shirts, especially muscle tank tops, can be a great way to show off your arms, work up a sweat, or lounge with friends. They’re versatile and durable for many different occasions.

Here is a list of some of our favorite muscle tank tops from BacktoBasics:


Shop the Vuori Energy Top here.

Shop the P.E Nation Evolve Tank here.