What Are Compression Shorts And Do They Actually Work?


If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard about compression shorts. You may be wondering whether if they’re worth trying or just overhyped, expensive shorts.

So, what are compression shorts and do they actually work? Some runners swear by them, while others wonder about all the fuss.

If you’ve been on the fence about getting yourself a pair, here’s everything you need to know about compression shorts. By the end of this article, you should have enough information to decide if they are right for you.

What Are Compression Shorts?

Compression shorts are skin-tight, form-fitting shorts made of stretchy elastic material. Usually, this is a combination Lycra, spandex, and elastane weaved together in a high-tech blend.

They’re designed to fit right next to the skin, and offer light compression to your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

Technically, compression shorts are different from “skin-tight shorts.” Because not all skin-tight shorts count as compression shorts. Shorts need to actually offer compression to be considered compression tights.

Do Compression Shorts Really Work?

There is research that suggests that compression shorts do offer tangible benefits. This study suggests that wearing compression shorts can improve running performance by reducing inflammation and muscle pain.

Another study indicates that compression gear can reduce muscle vibration, which reduces the risk of injury and helps athletes to keep going for longer before becoming fatigued.

Although there is evidence to show positive effects, it’s important to note that the effects can be subtle rather than extreme. Not everyone will feel the benefit, but if you’re in it for the long game, then they may be a handy addition to your gear.

Benefits of Wearing Compression Shorts

As the research suggests, there are numerous benefits to wearing compression shorts. Here are a few benefits you can expect if you choose to wear them.

Can Improve Running Performance

Compression gear can help to improve circulation wherever it’s worn. It helps to stimulate blood flow in the area, bringing blood to the area faster, so the muscles get fed oxygen and nutrients faster. This means they can perform better for longer, and they fatigue more slowly, leading to better endurance.

Interestingly, their skin-tight nature can also make you slightly more aerodynamic as you run. Studies show that this can help improve performance!

May Reduce Muscle Soreness

As well as improving circulation, compression can help to flush out lactic acid in your muscles more quickly by increasing the flow of lymphatic fluid. This helps to prevent your muscles from cramping during your workout.

May Speed Up Recovery

The improved circulation also helps to bring oxygen and nutrients to the muscles during recovery, which helps them to recover faster and reduces the chance of suffering from DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness.

May Support the Muscles & Prevent Injury

Skin-tight shorts help to provide support to the glutes and upper leg muscles. The compression can help to reduce impact vibrations that could jar the muscles and lead to injury.

Compression shorts can provide good support and protection against vibrations if your muscles are already injured. If your muscles are not injured, wearing compression shorts can protect them from injury while you work out.

May Help to Regulate Body Temperature

Compression shorts are made of material that’s designed to wick away moisture and allow heat to escape.

This helps to regulate your temperature, but it can also improve performance. As your temperature increases, your body needs to work harder to cool down.

Less Chance of Chafing

The tightness of compression shorts means that there’s no loose material to chafe. Being directly against your skin means there’s much less friction than regular shorts, which could make for a more comfortable running experience.

Better Mind-Muscle Connection

Research suggests that wearing compression shorts can increase proprioception, which is how you feel your limbs. This can help your mind-muscle connection, which is well-documented to increase muscle growth and improve performance.

Wearing compression gear increases circulation in the area, enabling the muscles to work harder. This all makes it easier to “feel” your muscles as you use them, increasing that mind-muscle connection.

High Level of Comfort

They may be skin-tight, but compression shorts can be extremely comfortable. Their tight nature means there’s little to no friction and chafing, they reduce drag, and they don’t ride up.

And if you do feel uncomfortable wearing such tight shorts, you can wear a pair of regular shorts over them and still reap the muscular benefits.

Are There Risks to Wearing Compression Shorts?

Compression shorts are generally safe for use, but there may be some risks associated with them.

Some runners may experience discomfort from the tight fit, which may not be very risky but could be annoying enough to make for an uncomfortable run.

The biggest danger exists to people who have circulatory conditions. The compression shorts could potentially make it worse, so it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before choosing to wear compression shorts.

Wearing them over broken skin can also present a problem, as there’s no room for the wound to breathe. Although, if you dress the wound properly and go for a short run, it should be no problem.

If you’re unsure if wearing compression shorts would be good or bad for you, it’s worth knowing that the performance benefits, while proven, are minimal.

There are other ways of improving performance, so if you’re worried about wearing compression shorts, you might want to discard the idea.

Tips for Wearing Compression Shorts

Have you got a pair of compression shorts and wondered how to wear them? Here are some tips.

Don’t Wear Underwear

Compression shorts can be won over underwear, but considering how skin-tight they’re meant to be, it’s more comfortable to wear them without underwear. This works better for promoting thermoregulation and applying pressure to the muscles.

If you feel uncomfortable going camo, you can wear underwear. Alternatively, you can wear your compression shorts as underwear and wear a pair of regular shorts over top of them.

Find the Right Size

These shorts are meant to be tight. Loose shorts won’t provide compression benefits. But too-tight shorts can be painful and restrictive.

Choose your regular size. Note that they WILL feel tight when you put them on, but once you get over the initial discomfort, they should feel like a second skin.

Put Them On Carefully

Take your time to put your compression shorts on, especially the first few times. Putting them on too quickly can cause them to bunch up, which is not only uncomfortable, but might cause some chafing around the hems and creases that can cause friction.

Compression shorts can improve circulation when worn right, but when they bunch up, they can hamper circulation. Put them on slowly and carefully, making sure that there’s no creases that could cause chafing.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.