Buying Guide

A Runner's Guide to Wearing Compression Shorts

Many runners love the feeling of comfort and stability provided by compression shorts. What are the benefits, how do they work, and what's the right way to wear them?

Last updated: September 29, 2021
Runner's Guide to Wearing Compression Shorts

Compression shorts offer unique benefits for runners. Adding a pair to your running gear repertoire can improve comfort and cut down on chafing, contributing to better performance. Some athletes even feel that compression shorts help reduce injury risk, stabilize joints, and boost their post-workout recovery.

But a number of questions spring to the minds of runners: How do compression shorts work? How do you wear them? Is there a right and wrong way for running? What exactly are compression shorts? Let us help you cut to the heart of the matter.

What Are Compression Shorts?

Compression shorts are stretchy, elasticated shorts that contain a compression gradient to fit your body's form and apply pressure to your glutes, quads and hamstrings. Despite looking like regular athletic shorts, compression shorts have been engineered to apply mechanical pressure on the body to stabilize, support and compress. For this reason, they are popular with runners.

The best compression shorts are made from a combination of polyester and spandex. These materials are durable, lightweight, sweat-wicking, and supportive. When you first put on compression shorts, they should feel tight. This is necessary. Loose-fitting shorts will not apply sufficient compression or offer you the intended benefits.

What Are the Benefits of Compression for Runners?

By putting pressure on your muscles, compression increases blood flow and sends more nutrients to your muscles, giving them more of what they need to perform at their best during strenuous activity. But compression may offer additional running benefits.

Running in compression shorts makes you more aerodynamic. A streamlined silhouette created by smooth, tight-fitting shorts reduces drag. According to a landmark study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise journal, “a small aerodynamic drag reduction" can result in a performance increase. This is particularly beneficial in high speed sports like running.

The elasticity of compression shorts may also provide support for joint movements. A clinical trial published in the Journal of Sports Science concluded that the elasticity of compression gear could increase flexion and extension torque and "assist the hamstrings in controlling the leg at the end of the swing phase in sprinting." The researchers also found that the compression shorts reduced impact force.

This study highlights potential advantages offered by compression shorts. Joints are supported throughout movements to perform better, while impact force is reduced to limit the risk of injury.

Finally, compression shorts help to regulate body temperature. For example, Nike Dri-FIT technology transfers moisture and sweat away from the skin toward the garment where it evaporates. Improved thermoregulation offers can boost athletic performance. When your temperature increases, your body has to work harder to cool down, requiring energy that would be better used in your sport.

How Do Compression Shorts Work?

Compression shorts exert gentle pressure on the underlying tissues. This pressure accelerates venous blood flow, which is the delivery of deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Blood going from the heart to the muscles is oxygenated and nutrient-packed, providing exactly what your muscles need during exercise. By improving circulation and blood flow, these shorts can result in better endurance, increased strength, and faster recovery.

But what are the key mechanisms driving these benefits? Wearing shorts with compression may help:

  • Filter out lactic acid buildup in the muscles
  • Increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy used by the muscles for movement
  • Increase lymph flow to remove waste products to reduce swelling
  • Minimize muscle oscillation, the vibrations that ripple through your body on impact that cause muscle damage and microtrauma
  • Provide comfort, by alleviating the symptoms associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Is Running in Compression Shorts Right for You?

Trying to decide if you should wear compression shorts while running is a matter of personal preference. But some of the purported benefits are hard to ignore.

Pros

  • Improved circulation and reduced swelling
  • Improved aerodynamics
  • Support for joints and reduced impact
  • Increased thermoregulation

Many athletes feel that wearing compression pants after a run helps to reduce inflammation and swelling, by increasing lymph flow. Swelling after a run is common and slows down recovery time.

If you're a runner looking to shave fractions of a second off your time, you want any advantage you can get. Being more aerodynamic with less resistance from your clothing can increase your speed, even if only ever so slightly.

Running is a high-impact sport. Your feet hit the ground with each stride, creating great strain on your muscles and joints. This force has an oscillating effect, causing soft tissue vibrations, damage, and muscle fatigue. Muscle oscillation can lead to injury. Compression shorts can reduce muscle oscillation and offer added support to your joints.

Cons

  • Discomfort from the tight fit
  • Performance benefits are marginal
  • Not all compression shorts are the same

On the other hand, not everyone is a champion of running in compression shorts. While most athletes can adapt to the snug fit over time, some runners simply don’t feel at their best when clothing is too tight. If you’re one of these types, you might feel more comfortable in a looser fitting short.

While the benefits listed above are attractive, wearing compression shorts is probably not going to be the difference between winning and losing the race.

Finally, quality of shorts matters. Make sure you find a pair that gives you the comfort and support you need, while also being breathable and moisture wicking.

How to Wear Compression Shorts

Due to the nature of compression shorts, many buyers have questions about how to wear them. Here is some guidance to help you wear them comfortably and confidently.

1. Get the Right Size

Compression shorts that are loose will not provide pressure for your tissues. As a result, you won’t enjoy the benefits associated with compression wear. With that said, tighter shorts doesn’t always mean better. Compression shorts that are too small may feel restrictive and painful.

Choose your regular size and expect them to feel tight when you first put them on. This initial feeling will subside as your shorts adapt to your body shape. Nike Pro Compression Shorts are designed to feel like a "second skin." The combination of polyester and spandex offers gentle compression while maintaining a flexible, breathable feel. This allows you to move naturally while your body is comfortably supported.

2. Go Without Underwear

Compression garments need to be on skin. That means "going commando" and not wearing underwear. This way pressure is applied directly to the skin’s underlying tissues and not disrupted by other material. Plus, Nike Dri-FIT Compression Shorts are made with Dri-FIT technology that wicks moisture from your skin to be evaporated. This promotes better thermoregulation to help you stay dry.

If the shorts fit properly, you should feel snug and secure without underwear. If you’d prefer to be more covered up, wear loose-fitting Nike Shorts or Pants over your compression shorts. This is a popular option for individuals in colder climates who want an extra layer to stay warm throughout the workout.

3. Smooth Out Your Shorts

When you squeeze into compression shorts too quickly, it can cause bunching. Make sure you smooth them out first, and put them on slowly to avoid creases. When they are bunched up it can cause too much compression on the muscles and restrict blood circulation. This is particularly important if you intend to add layers, as you won’t be able to see the shorts underneath.

What to Wear with Your Compression Shorts

You can choose to wear compression shorts alone or with a looser layer over the top. Wearing your compression shorts during and after your workout is a simple adjustment with significant advantages. Don’t miss out. If you are looking for other compression clothing, there are a lot of options at Nike.

Nike Pro Compression Tights come in a variety of lengths and colors. Much like Nike Pro Compression Shorts, the tights offer a base layer of support to help you feel locked in and cool when the action heats up. The breathable, light material makes them comfortable for training sessions or for layering.

For extra support, consider Nike Compression Sleeves. These sleeves contain the same elasticized technology to compress your muscles. Sleeves are specifically created for joints including the knee, elbow, ankle, and your upper and lower extremities.

Related Stories

How to Use a Compression Sleeve

Buying Guide

7 Common Questions About Using a Compression Sleeve

What Is a Base Layer Shirt?

Buying Guide

What Is a Base Layer Shirt and Why Should You Wear One?

How to Buy Workout Clothing

Buying Guide

How to Choose Activewear for Peak Performance

Everything You Need to Get Started Trail Running

Buying Guide

Everything You Need to Get Started Trail Running

3 Keys to Buying the Right Gym Shorts for Your Next Workout

Buying Guide

3 Keys to Buying the Right Gym Shorts