Why are Running Shorts so Short? A Guide to Running Short Lengths

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Have you ever wondered why running shorts are so short? I have, a couple of times even. 

At first, I thought it was just the way runners dress, but as I’ve run a couple of miles in different short lengths, I came to realize that I also prefer shorter shorts myself. 

Running shorts are so short to allow more range of motion and breathability for the runner. The length of 4-5 inches is highly recommended so you can enjoy the benefits of a short running short while still being modest.

Ahead, we will discuss the different running short lengths, how it is measured, and the different types of running shorts. I will also give a few recommendations on what to wear for certain activities. So, if you need that information, stick along. 

How Long Should My Running Shorts Be?

The length of your running shorts depends on your preference. However, If you are new to running and are looking to play it safe when it comes to choosing the length of your running shorts, I recommend going for 4 inches for the women and 5 inches for the men. 

That is the most versatile length because it’s short enough to offer a great range of motion while still being modest enough that you are confident to run anywhere (especially when you’re not used to short-length shorts).

You may have noticed professional runners opt for 3 inches split shorts when running a marathon. That’s because shorter shorts are lighter, cooler on the body, and offer the most range of motion. However, running in 3-inch shorts when you’re running outdoors outside of a race may look a little too revealing for others. 

Different running short lengths

Short length – Short-length shorts measure 3-inches and below in length. It offers the greatest range of motion as well as the best breathability. 3-inch shorts are popular for professional runners on both men and women. 

How to Keep Shorts from Riding up While Running - runnersgetup.com
Short-length V-notch shorts

Medium Length – Medium-length shorts measure around 4-6 inches. This is the most popular length for recreational runners because it offers a bigger range of motion, breathability, and modesty all at the same time. 

medium-length running shorts
Medium length V-notch shorts

Long Length – Long-length running shorts measure 7 inches or more. It offers the least amount of range but the most protection against cold and shrubs when you’re trail running. For women, I recommend getting compression shorts if you want long-length shorts for aesthetics purposes. 

Long-length running shorts
Long-length V-notch shorts

To help you choose the length of your running shorts better, I compiled the advantages of the different running short lengths and their recommended use.

LengthAdvantageRecommended for:
Short (3 inches and below)Offers the most range of motion and breathabilityRace day, hot weather, marathon, professional runners
Medium (4-6 inches)Most versatile. Offers a decent range of motion and breathability while still modest to run in public.Recreational running, training, race day
Long (7-inches and above)Offers the least range of motion but the most protection.Cold weather, bushy trail
Table of the advantages of different running short length and what they are recommended for.

How Running Short Length is Measured

When I first bought my running shorts online, I always wondered how they get that 3” measurement. I mean, surely it doesn’t mean that the whole length of the short measures 3 inches, that would be absurd. 

So I asked a friend who works at a running specialty store what that 3 inches mean and found out that the length you see in the description of running shorts is the inseam length. 

That is, the measurement from the base of the crotch of the running shorts to the end of the fabric in the inner thigh area. 

How to measure running shorts
It measures 4 inches

To get the inseam length of your running shorts, you’ll only need a tape measure (or any measuring device). 

Lay your running shorts on the table and position it where the inner thigh part is exposed. 

Then, hold one end of the measuring tape at the bottom of the crotch area and measure up to the end of the fabric. 

By the way, if you’re looking for a high-quality running short that is affordable, I highly recommend Lixada 2-in-1 running shorts. I use it most of the time and I have no complaints about it. You can get this on Amazon.

3 Factors That Affect How a Certain Running Short Length Looks on You

Have you ever bought a running short online that looks perfect for a friend of yours but not to you? That’s because running shorts with the same inseam length doesn’t necessarily mean they end in the same area on your thigh. 

How long it is on you will depend on a variety of factors such as:

  • The type of shorts
  • Your height
  • Length of the rise

The Type of Shorts

There are 3 common types of running shorts. Compression shorts, V-notch shorts and split shorts. 

V-notch shorts and split shorts will generally look shorter because of the cut that is visible on the outside part of the shorts. How revealing it also depends on the length of the cut. 

Compression shorts, on the other hand, do not have a cut. Therefore, exposing less skin. 

Your Height

If you’re short, a 4-inch running short might not look too short for you. In contrast, if you’re a 6-foot large dude, then a 5 inch short would probably look shorter

Take this, for example. I’m wearing 4-inch running shorts, and because I am only 5’7’’, these 3-inch running shorts ended up almost in my middle thigh, exactly where I want them. 

Why are Running Shorts so Short

The Length of the Rise

The rise is measured from the waistband to the bottom of the crotch. The longer the rise, the longer your running shoes are gonna look despite having a 3’’ inseam. In contrast, running shorts with a shorter rise will look short. 

How to choose a running short

While the type and length of running shorts largely depend on your preference, we recommend you try a couple of running shorts for different running conditions before finding out what works best for you. 

The best advice I could give is that you get a running short that is light, breathable, and has a moisture-wicking fabric. It will help a lot in providing comfort and preventing chafing in the long run.

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

To help you choose the type of running short you’re going to get, here’s a quick summary on the different types of running shorts

Type of shortsDescriptionPros and cons
Compression shortsA stretchy, tight-fitting pair of shorts that provide muscle compression to the body.It’s the best in preventing chafing and is warmer on the body. However, it offers the least range of motion. 
V-NotchThe most popular type of running shorts. It has a V-cutout on the outer side of the shorts. Loose-fitting. Offers more range of motion and breathability. Typically shorter in women than in men.
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 shorts.Offers the most range of motion. A very performance-based style of running shorts that are used in professional races. 
2-in-1 shorts (lined shorts)A type of running shorts that features a lining (usually a compression short or net-type) inside and loose shorts on the outside. Provides modesty for those who want to enjoy the benefits of compression shorts but are not confident to go out in public with them. 
Different type of running shorts.

By the way, If you’re still looking for a running short here are a few that I have used and found great success with. 

RunHit Compression Shorts

Whenever I go trail running on the mountains where it’s a little cold and I could probably use a little muscle compression for the uphill, I use compression shorts. I have one from Nike and Under Armour but I highly recommend this one because you can get 3 pairs for the price of 1. You can buy them on Amazon.

For the women, I haven’t found something from the RunHit brand but this one also sells 3-pack. 

Lixada 2-in-1 Running Shorts

Whenever I run on public roads for long distances, I like to use a 2-in-1 short like the Lixada running shorts. I find the inner lining just right so that it doesn’t limit my motion while I’m still able to enjoy the chafing prevention of a compression short. In addition, the lining is also really thin and breathable, so it doesn’t feel hot in summer. 

IMG 20210607 123326 1 2 1 1
Take a look at the breathable lining on this shorts.

You can also get the women’s version of this running shorts on Amazon.  

Baleaf Running Shorts

Sometimes I go for a run, not for performance but simply to explore the city (I do this when I travel). I’d like to wear something that looks really nice but is still comfortable to run on. You can get this on Amazon.

For the women’s , there’s also a really nice Baleaf shorts that is perfect for a city run. Check it out.

The Wrap Up

Now we know why running shorts are so short. They provide a freer range of motion and they are more breathable. 

There are 3 types of running shorts to choose from — compression, V-notch, and split shorts. All with its corresponding pros and cons. 

Choosing a running short largely depends on your preference. However, I recommend you get a length of 4 inches for the women and 5 inches for the men if you want to play it safe.

This will offer the range of motion and breathability desired without being too exposed when running in public. 

I hope this article was able to help you understand running short length. 

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