3 Keys to Buying the Right Gym Shorts

Buying Guide

Gym shorts aren't just a style choice. An effective workout depends on choosing the right fabric and features.

Last updated: 2 April 2024
6 min read
3 Keys to Buying the Right Gym Shorts for Your Next Workout

The right gym shorts can make the difference between chafing your thighs and chasing your goals. In fact, most gym-goers report that putting on their athletic apparel motivates them to hit the gym. Choosing lightweight shorts with the right features can help you exercise more effectively.

Whether you're training for a marathon or just looking to improve your strength, as an athlete you deserve the boost in confidence, comfort and performance that the proper pair of workout shorts can bring. But where to start?

With so many different choices in play, it's tough to know which gym shorts will best support your training and fitness needs. To narrow down your buying options, first consider which fabric and fit will provide the most comfort and functionality. Then choose a style that complements your fashion sense.

1. Choose the Right Materials

You'll find workout shorts in all types of fabrics, from natural materials like cotton and bamboo to synthetics such as nylon, elastane and polyester. Each fabric provides its own benefits and drawbacks. When choosing the right gym shorts for you, consider the following:

  • Thermoregulation: You'll want to choose a material that's right for your climate. Most synthetic fabrics have sweat-wicking capabilities that can help you maintain a lower body temperature and decrease sweat retention after exercise in the heat. For example, Nike Dri-FIT apparel is uniquely constructed to spread moisture and keep you dry. Cotton, on the other hand, will absorb sweat and stay wet longer. In general, mesh fabrics are breathable, lightweight and easy to clean.

  • Range of Motion: Some workout shorts have four-way stretch, such as those made for compression with elastane or nylon. If you're using your shorts for your yoga practice, or even for weightlifting, you'll need shorts that move with you.

  • Antimicrobial Properties: Some man-made materials are treated to resist the accumulation of bacteria, mildew or mould. Others, like cotton, merino wool and bamboo, do this naturally. Natural materials retain less odour than synthetics.

  • Sustainability: If you're concerned about environmental impact, choose products made with sustainability in mind. Currently, there is no industry standard or accepted certification for sustainability in apparel, but look for products that reduce waste and have a small carbon footprint. This includes products made from naturally biodegradable fabrics like organic cotton, hemp and bamboo, as well as semi-synthetics like lyocell. Consider a fabric blend that will be effective in multiple ways, such as sports shorts combining recycled polyester or elastane. Many Nike products use recycled polyester and nylon, or reuse existing plastics, yarns and textiles.
3 Keys to Buying the Right Gym Shorts for Your Next Workout

2. Find Your Fit

Long or short? Tight or loose? The answer depends on your activity and what makes you feel the most comfortable. Here are some tips based on common gym workouts:

  • Running: For serious cardio and activities with a lot of motion, opt for shorts that help you feel unencumbered. Shorter inseams are a popular choice for running, elliptical, stationary bike and aerobic activities where loose fabric is a distraction.

  • Training: For intense strength training exercises, you'll want something flexible and lightweight, while still offering support. Consider a thin, comfortable waistband that will keep the shorts in place during strenuous activity.

  • Yoga: Keeping cool on the mat is a top priority. Shorts with soft, stretchy fabric and moisture-wicking material will do just that. Many yogis also like a body-hugging fit with minimal seams for comfort.

Generally, a tighter fit is less prone to slippage when you're moving around a lot. But some athletes feel more comfortable and confident training in relaxed-fit shorts. Relaxed-fit shorts with liners can provide the best of both worlds and help prevent chafing. Some shorts come with compression liners, which can help keep you supported and comfortable with a tight, stretchy fit and sweat-wicking technology. Compression shorts layer well with other, looser-fitting styles.

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3. Embrace Your Personal Style

Gym shorts aren't just about performance. You want to look good too. When choosing your style, there are both functional and aesthetic elements to consider.

Prefer shorts with pockets? You'll want pockets that allow you to effortlessly go about your routine. Open pockets will do if you're just carrying your keys to the gym, but a zipped pocket will be more secure for keeping your phone nearby while you lift. If you listen to music while you're running on the treadmill, you might want a pocket in the liner that helps immobilise your phone.

The materials, fit and pockets will all determine how your shorts look on you as well. Are you a fan of muted colours, minimal embellishments and clean lines? Or are you looking for something bold, bright and fun? Putting on your gym shorts should make you feel like you're ready to conquer anything, so don't skimp on style.

Common Questions When Shopping for Shorts

How Much Should I Pay for Workout Shorts?

Your trousers will likely take the most punishment of all your sportswear. So prepare to spend accordingly. Price will depend greatly on brand and material, but you can expect to pay between $25 on the low end and around $80 for a high-quality pair of workout shorts. Specialised shorts and anything with built-in compression may go higher.

How Many Pairs of Gym Shorts Should I Buy?

With so many different styles available, you may be tempted to bring home the whole shop. But you only need enough pairs of gym shorts to last you in between laundry days. Avoid re-wearing workout shorts during that time. While it's not likely to cause a health problem, it can result in some infections and inflammatory responses, and will definitely result in more odour. Here's a simple formula: If you do laundry once a week and work out five times per week, you should buy five pairs.

What's the Difference Between Men's and Women's Workout Shorts?

There are fewer differences between men's and women's shorts these days, as many athletes prefer gender-neutral workout clothes. Generally speaking, men's shorts tend to have a longer inseam and more support in the groin area. Women's shorts typically have a higher waistband, shorter inseam and less space at the front.

What Are 2-in-1 Shorts?

2-in-1 shorts comprise tight-fitting inner shorts attached to looser outer shorts. They are often used for running and by athletes looking for breathable options with less chafing.

How Do You Wash Gym Shorts?

Follow the directions for your shorts specifically, but if you've cut off the tags, stick to cold water in the washer and the low-heat setting on your dryer. Using a drying rack instead will help extend the life of your gym shorts even further. Pre-soaking in vinegar will help remove odours and stains.

What Should You Wear Under Gym Shorts?

Men and women should consider compression shorts or a base layer under their gym shorts. Some men may choose to wear nothing if the workout shorts have mesh or a supportive liner. Everyone should opt for materials that are sweat-wicking rather than absorbent.

Originally published: 16 July 2021

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