This post contains affiliate links.
Traditionally, running shorts have always been these short and loose bottoms that allow you to move freely. However, more and more runners from beginners to elites are starting to wear compression shorts for their “performance benefits”. This led to a question many runners ask: Is compression shorts really better than traditional running shorts?
In general, the main advantage of compression shorts is protection from chafing. Compression shorts are more effective at preventing chafing when running than any other type of shorts. The main advantage of traditional running shorts is more range of motion and better breathability.
Ahead, we will look at the difference between the two types of shorts as well as their pros and cons in more detail. We will also look into the science of compression shorts and the pieces of evidence that supports and contradicts it. In the end of the article, I will conclude what type of running shorts you should wear as well as recommend some of my favorite running shorts.
Compression Shorts Vs Traditional Running Shorts: The Differences
Both types of shorts do pretty much the same thing, keep you fresh and comfortable throughout your runs. To do that, these shorts are made with a blend of special kinds of fabrics that wick away moisture, predominantly polyester and nylon added with some kind of elastic component into it like spandex and elastane.
Although the differences in how they look seem pretty obvious — it’s pretty much impossible to mistake them from each other—it’s worth taking a deeper look at what really differentiates them besides the design to better understand the slight functional differences between the two.
Traditional running shorts are made to be loose and short. They offer a wider range of motion and increased breathability, both important features for long-distance runners.
Traditional running shorts usually measure 3-6 inches and are either split shorts or v-notch shorts. Split shorts are made up of two panels where the front panel overlaps the back. V-notch shorts are just a regular pair of shorts with a V cutout at the side.
Compression shorts, on the other hand, are made to compress and support. The compression aspect of it is said to aid performance by decreasing muscle oscillation and improving blood flow.
They are usually blended with some kind of elastic components like spandex or elastane, giving it its elasticity and providing compression.
By the way, if you want to know more about the differences between different types of running shorts, feel free to check out my article that talks entirely about that.
The Pros And Cons
You might be wondering what features make one better than the other. Well, both shorts have their own pros and cons which I summarized here in a bulleted list.
Pros and cons of compression shorts:
- Better at preventing chafing
- Provides warmth better in cold weather
- Don’t get soaked as much when it’s raining
- A slight boost in endurance
- Less breathable
- Decreases range of motion
- No pockets for essentials (although some do, it’s not a common feature)
Pros and cons of traditional running shorts:
- More breathable
- Offers a wider range of motion
- Most have zippered pockets for some running essentials
- More modest (some male runners aren’t comfortable with wearing compression shorts in public)
- Prone to chafing
- It’s not so good at keeping you warm in cold weather
- It will feel baggy and soaked when it rains
Is There Any Evidence That Compression Garments Helps Performance?
You may have seen something like “helps boost performance and recovery” in the sales description of most compression shorts. Your friends or coach may have sold you to the idea that compression shorts really help with your performance. But you might also be wondering: Is there any evidence that supports those claims?
Yes! Several pieces of evidence support the boost in performance and recovery that compression garments support athletic performance. However, there are also several pieces of evidence that compression garments DO NOT help you run faster or farther.
A 2006 study concluded that wearing compression tights during running may promote lower energy expenditure at a prolonged submaximal pace by enhancing blood circulation and decreasing muscle vibration.
A separate study published in 2016 also concluded that runners wearing compression garments may benefit from an improvement in variables related to endurance. They added that this might be due to the improvements in running economy, muscle temperature, perception, and biomechanical variables.
However, some studies don’t support the use of compression shorts for performance. A study published in 2009 found no performance benefits in well-trained athletes when they wear compression garments.
Another study conducted by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that although theoretically, a decrease in muscle vibration results in less energy expenditure, they don’t result in a reduction in muscle fatigue.
If there are pieces of evidence that support and debunk the use of compression garments for performance benefits, what should you believe then? The answer is quite simple, and it’s probably one you’re already expecting… It depends on your personal experience.
Some runners I know swear by the effectiveness of compression shorts while others see no differences between compression shorts and loose running shorts in terms of performance.
Until someone makes a study on large scale putting runners wearing compression shorts against runners wearing loose running shorts and found a way to eliminate all the external factors that could affect performance, there’s no clear way of knowing aside from personal experience.
I made another article about the facts about compression garments, in general. If you’re interested in learning more about them, feel free to click the link highlighted above.
What Running Shorts Should You Wear?
To make it clear, I refer to “running shorts” in this subheading as both compression shorts and traditional running shorts.
Now that we’ve seen the pros and cons of both types of shorts, what should you wear, then? Well, it really depends on what you are looking for in a pair of running shorts.
In my personal experience, compression shorts are the best in preventing chafing in your thighs. I’ve worn all kinds of shorts and applied vaseline and anti-chafing balm, but I always find myself getting chafed in the 7 to 8-mile mark in regular loose shorts. I have thick thighs and have no thigh gap. The only way I found that works are in compression shorts and 2-in-1 shorts (link to where you can buy them).
On the other hand, I feel so much freedom when I’m wearing a regular pair of running shorts. There’s so much available range of motion and there’s so much air going in and out of your body which makes it desirable (up to the point where I start to feel my thighs burn). Plus, I can stuff some cash or gels in a secured back pocket which makes it convenient.
On the performance side, I really couldn’t feel the performance benefits of compression shorts. I pretty much run the same speed whatever I wear. I do like the feeling of the compression, though. But it hasn’t reflected in a performance boost from the endurance and speed standpoint.
Personally, I prefer wearing compression shorts or 2-in-1 shorts (the type of shorts with a built-in long liner inside regular shorts) in all my runs. Not because I find them to be “better”, in general, but because they are better FOR ME. They prevent chafing in my thigh which is the only thing I’m worried about when I run.
If you’re someone who doesn’t usually get chafed and prefers to feel more range of motion and breathability, you may be a split shorts or v-notch shorts kind of guy. Don’t take my personal preference for compression shorts as a judgment as to what is the better option. Find what works for you.
Recommended Running Shorts
I’ve worn lots and lots of running shorts and I generally like most of them. However, I have a few picks that stand out from the rest. So in case you’re buying running shorts today, and you’re looking for running shorts that prevent chafing, you should consider these options.
2XU MCS Run compression shorts – Unlike my previous favorite, the Under Armour HeatGear, these compression shorts look like outerwear so I feel more comfortable running with them in public. Plus, it has a zippered back pocket which gives me some of the features usually found in traditional running shorts. You can check the price on Amazon.
Lixada 2-in-1 Running Shorts – These running shorts have been serving me well for quite a while. It has a built-in long lining (similar to a compression short but with less compression) that wicks away sweat and prevents my thighs from chafing. Plus, I like the look and the zippered back pocket. The best part? They’re so affordable! You can check their current price on Amazon.