Do Running Shorts Make a Difference In Running?

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I was running on a track nearby when I noticed most experienced runners prefer to run in running shorts. That made me wonder if running shorts makes a huge difference versus running in regular gym shorts. 

Back then, I never owned a pair of running shorts. I always thought any pair of athletic shorts are as good as running shorts. But I bought one just to test it out. And boy I was surprised by how good running shorts felt versus regular gym shorts. 

While I was running with running shorts, I noticed quite a few differences, but here is the difference that running shorts offer versus any other type of shorts. 

Wearing running shorts while running makes a huge difference in both comfort and performance. They are lighter and more breathable than any athletic shorts. More importantly, they prevent chafing and wicks away sweat. 

But let’s not stop there. Ahead, we will continue to compare the difference between running in running shorts versus other types of athletic shorts as well as look at the different types of running shorts and how they measure up against one another. 

Running shorts vs. Workout shorts

Running shorts vs gym shorts
Take a look at the material used in a typical gym shorts vs a running shorts.

Running shorts are noticeably lighter and shorter than most workout shorts. They also have special cuts that give runners more range of motion.

They are made of moisture-wicking fabric that helps keep the running shorts light even when it gets drenched in sweat. In addition, some of them have special pockets situated at the back where you can store valuables without them interfering with your run. 

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Back pocket of Lixada 2-in-1 running shorts for storing valuables without interfering with the run

Most importantly, running shorts are designed to reduce the amount of friction to your body which helps prevent chafing (runner’s worst nightmare). They do this by including a built-in liner or improving the design to decrease friction. 

(Related: How to Prevent Chafing When Running: 9 Simple Ways)

Most workout shorts, on the other hand, are thicker, heavier, and longer than most running shorts. In addition, not all workout shorts are moisture-wicking, making them prone to chafing when you use them for running. 

Can I use regular workout shorts for running?

You can use regular workout shorts for running as long as the workout shorts are made out of moisture-wicking fabric such as polyester, wool, or nylon. 

Under no circumstances will you use shorts made out of cotton for running. It absorbs sweat and will make the running shorts heavy and chafe-prone. Plus, it traps bacteria and odor which can be a huge hygiene problem, especially when you’re sweating a lot. 

Can I use running shorts at the gym?

You can use running shorts to do anything at the gym from lifting to doing high-intensity workouts. 

Running shorts are light, moisture-wicking, and allows free range of motion which makes them perfect for any type of athletic activity. 

Just be careful with the length of your running shorts though. Some running shorts are very short that may expose your undies when you do certain movements. 

Running Shorts vs. Swimming Trunks

running shorts vs swimming trunks

Light, moisture-wicking, and quick-drying. Aside from running shorts, swimming trunks also come to mind when you think about those features. 

But what makes one unique from the other? I tried running in swimming trunks for 16 km and here’s what I noticed. 

Swimming trunks have a limited range of motion and are way less breathable in comparison to running shorts. However, both have great moisture-wicking and quick-drying properties and lightness. 

I also didn’t have any signs of chafing when running in swimming trunks. This leads us to another question.

Can you run in swimming trunks?

Yes, you can run in swimming trunks. The kind that is used for competitive swimming. They are light, and moisture-wicking which is what we like in running shorts. However, they feel warm after a while, so make sure that the weather is cold when you decide to use them for running. 

They feel very much like compression shorts that are sometimes used in running but are way less breathable and a little tighter.

On the other hand, swimming shorts (like board shorts), shouldn’t be used for running. 

Even though they are light and moisture-wicking, they tend to have a straight cut and are way less stretchable which will limit your range of motion. It will also cause chafing. 

Can you swim in a running short?

Because running shorts are made of quick-drying materials, you can swim in a running short. However, don’t expect to win a swimming race when you wear them. 

Swimming trunks are tight-fitted to reduce drag in the water. Running shorts on the other hand is loose, which adds drag on the water. 

Running shorts vs. Basketball shorts

Like running shorts, basketball shorts are also moisture-wicking, offer a wide range of motion, and are breathable. In addition, basketball involves a lot of running. 

The main difference between running shorts and basketball shorts is the length and the thickness of the fabric.

Running shorts tend to be shorter and thinner, reducing weight and increasing breathability as much as possible. 

On the other hand, basketball shorts tend to have a longer cut and are thicker than running shorts, therefore, adding a little bit more weight to your clothing. 

Can you run in basketball shorts?

Yes, you can definitely run in basketball shorts even for long distances. After all, basketball shorts are designed to perform for athletes who run a lot. 

Back when I was a varsity basketball player in high school, we usually did all our drills (including running) in full basketball attire. I never had any problem with it.

However, when I got serious about running, I noticed quite a few advantages of wearing running shorts for running versus wearing basketball shorts.

Running shorts are generally lighter and shorter which offers more range of motion and breathability on your body. It makes me more free and comfortable which is noticeable somewhere around 5 km. 

That said if you’re serious about running consistently outside of your basketball game, getting a pair of running shorts will work to your advantage. 

Choosing your running shorts

Now that we’ve talked about how running shorts make a difference in your running performance, let’s move on to choosing a running short. 

There are a few things we should consider when choosing a running short. The most important is the type and length of your running shorts

There are 4 popular types of running shorts, namely:

  • Split shorts
  • V-notch shorts
  • Compression shorts
  • Lined shorts (2-in-1 shorts)

Each unique in its own way (summarized in the table below).

Type of shortsDescriptionPros and cons
Split shortsHas a panel in the front that overlaps the panel at the back. Also has a V-cutout on the outer side of the shortsA performance-based running shorts. Allows the most range of motion. Used by most professional runners.
V-notch shortsRunning shorts with a v-cutout on the side.This is the most popular type of running shorts. The cutout improves range of motion and breathability. It’s the cheapest one too. 
Compression shortsTight-fitting elastic fabric. Offers added muscle compression to the runner. The best type in preventing chafing. 
Lined shorts (2-in-1 shorts)A running shorts with a liner, usually in the form of built-in compression shorts or net-type lining. For those who like wearing compression shorts but are not confident about flaunting the lines of your private area, lined shorts are the answer. It also allows you to go commando when running. 
Differences between each type of running shorts

(Related: What To Wear Under Running Shorts?)

Another thing you’d want to look at is the length of your running shorts. Running shorts come in various lengths from 3 inches up to 10 inches. 

Let’s break them down into three lengths (short, medium, and long) and explain the benefits and recommendations of each length. 

  • Short length (3 in and below) offers the most breathability and range of motion making them perfect for race days and hot weather
  • Medium length (4-6 in) is short enough to offer a good range of motion and breathability but long enough to be modest in public places. It is also the most popular length for recreational runners. 
  • Long length (7 in and above) offers the least breathability and range but provides the most protection making them perfect for bushy trails. 

If you want to dive into running short lengths, I’ve made an entire article all about it. Check it out after reading this article. 

Lastly, when choosing a running short, make sure you try on different lengths and types for different situations for you to find the one suited for you. 

Just keep in mind that running shorts have to be light and moisture-wicking. Under no circumstances will you use running short made out of cotton. 

By the way, if you’re looking for some affordable suggestions, try the Lixada 2-in-1 running shorts. I own a pair and I love using it for all my runs. You can buy it on Amazon

The Wrap Up

Though technically you can run on any kind of athletic shorts, nothing can beat the comfort that you get from running in real running shorts. 

Therefore, if you’ve decided that you’re going to include running in your exercise routine, or if you have been running quite a lot these days, investing in a good pair of running shorts will do wonders. 

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