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  • Writer's pictureCompression Athlete

Compression Wear: Choosing the Right Fit

The right fit from your compression wear makes all the difference. Learn what to look for when shopping compression shorts, tights, shirts, and sleeves.

Female athlete wearing compression wear.

If you’re new to the world of compression wear, you might find certain aspects a little strange or overwhelming at first.

For one thing, compression wear doesn’t fit like your everyday clothing options. It is designed to fit very close to your body like a second skin.

This can take some getting used to and may require a bit of trial and error when it comes to sizing.

Another reason is that the fabric differs from that of your everyday wear.

Varying in blends of nylon or polyester with spandex, lyrca, or elastane, compression wear provides a signature sleek appearance and stretchy feel.

Compression wear brands are always coming up with new styles and designs.

It may take a little research and shopping around to determine what compression wear you like and what you’re comfortable in.

Understanding what to look for in the fit of your compression wear can come in handy when you’re browsing activewear.

Additionally, a good fit is essential to deriving and enjoying the full spectrum of benefits that compression has to offer.

Here, we’ll take a look at what makes for a great compression wear fit, so that you have confidence in finding the right pair of compression shorts, tights, shirts, sleeves, and more.

Correct Fit Leads to Compression Benefits

To understand how your compression wear should fit to your limbs and body, it can be helpful to understand the benefits derived from wearing compression.

When you wear compression during activity, its applied pressure both supports your muscles and improves your circulation.

This works to reduce muscle fatigue and damage so that you can perform at a higher level for a longer period of time.

Female athlete exercising in compression wear.

Additionally, wearing compression after activity can help to reduce soreness and improve your muscle recovery process.

This is only achievable thanks to the skin-tight nature of the compression wear, in which the fabric fits snuggly to your skin and is able to apply pressure to your muscles.

Another popular benefit of compression wear is its moisture wicking capabilities.

Designed to be worn as a base layer, compression fabric draws sweat away from your skin and pushes it to the top of the fabric.

This helps with controlling body temperature and reducing uncomfortable friction and chafing from occurring.

How Should Compression Wear Fit?

Compression wear has its own signature fit that’s unique from your everyday clothing options and even unique from other activewear options.

If you’re trying compression on for the first time, you might be a little thrown off by the pressure it applies to your muscles.

You may also be unsure whether or not you have the right size, wondering if it’s too tight or if you should go larger in size.

Rest assured, however, that compression wear should have a snug fit that applies compressive pressure to your muscles.

Compression wear should fit like a second skin against your body, tight and form-fitting without restricting any of your movement.

Varying Pressure Levels in Compression Wear

Not all compression wear has the same level of compression.

While most athletic brands do not specifically list the level of compression that their garments have, typical levels for popular compression wear ranges between 15 to 30 mmHg (millimeter of Mercury).

Note, that the larger the number of mmHg, the more compression the garment has and the more pressure that is applied.

Various pressure levels for compression garments.

You can see from this graph how compression wear ranges in pressure level from mild to extra firm.

Compression wear that falls in the extra firm category (30 mmHg and above) is typically reserved for medical compression and worn only at the advice of a medical professional.

Choosing the Right Size for Your Compression Wear

Just like with your everyday clothing, compression wear is labeled using standard apparel sizing: small, medium, large, etc.

If you want to ensure a great fit with your compression wear, be sure to take the extra step of getting your exact measurements prior to purchasing.

Then, instead of simply relying on the size you are accustomed to, you can match your measurements to the brand’s sizing chart.

Athlete with jump rope wearing compression wear.

Take the following measurements to accurately size your compression wear:

Measuring Compression Tops

  • Chest (or Bust): Measure around the fullest part of your chest or bust.

  • Waist: Measure around your natural waistline, which is right above your hips.

  • Hips: Measure around the fullest part of your hips.

Measuring Compression Bottoms

  • Waist: Measure around your natural waistline, which is right above your hips.

  • Hips: Measure around the fullest part of your hips.

  • Inside Leg Length: On your inner leg, measure from top to bottom.

  • Inseam: On your garment, measure from the crotch seam to the bottom of the leg.

In the case of compression wear, if your measurements fall in between two sizes it’s often best to size down.

The compressive pressure of the garments is crucial to their efficacy. So, if you wind up with compression wear that is too big or fits loosely, you will miss out on many of its benefits.

Runner wearing compression wear.

Once you’ve tried your compression wear on, give it a test run to ensure you have the right size.

Check for any areas where fabric might be bunching or feels too loose.

The fabric should fit snug and smooth across your body and limbs like a second skin.

Also, note that you should be able to feel pressure from the garment as you wear it, but it should never constrict your moment or cause you any discomfort.

If this occurs, try the next size up.

How Should My Compression Shorts Fit?

Compression shorts won’t fit like your basic everyday shorts, or even like most other types of athletic shorts.

Instead, you’ll notice that compression shorts have a snug fit against your body and apply pressure throughout the entire garment.

Note that compression shorts come in a variety of lengths.

Common lengths (inseam length in inches) for men run between 6” and 10”. Common lengths for women run between 3” and 8”.

The inseam length that you choose will impact how much of your thighs are covered by the compression shorts and, as a result, how much compression is applied to them.

The length you choose might depend on which activity you are wearing the compression shorts for or it may simply be personal preference.

How Should My Compression Tights Fit?

Just like with compression shorts, your compression tights or leggings should have a snug fit through your thighs, hips, and waist.

The compression will extend down past your knee and cover your calves, as well.

You should be able to notice the compressive pressure throughout the entire garment from ankle to waist but it should in no way restrict your range of motion.

Note that compression tights and leggings come in a variety of lengths. Common lengths for both men and women are 3/4 length, 7/8 length, and full-length.

Because the fabric extends past your knee and encompasses a greater range of your body’s motion, making sure your tights stay up and in place is key.

Look for tights and leggings with a quality waistband that is both comfortable and supportive.

How Should My Compression Shirt Fit?

Compression shirts should have a tight fit throughout the entire garment in both the body and the sleeves.

While your compression shirt will apply pressure to your chest, torso, and arms, it should not cause any discomfort or restrict any of your movement.

Also, make sure that the fabric does not bunch in any areas. You should be able to easily layer another shirt over the top of the compression shirt.

Note that compression shirts come in a variety of sleeve lengths. Common sleeve length options for both men and women are long-sleeve, short-sleeve, and sleeve-less.

How Should My Compression Sleeve Fit?

Compression sleeves are made of the same fabric that compression garments use.

So, while a sleeve is not the same top or bottom garment fit that you are used to, you will recognize the same compression feel and pressure against your body where the sleeve is worn.

A key aspect to look for in your compression sleeve is if it stays comfortably in place during activity and requires little adjustment.

Note that compression sleeves come in many varieties and designs.

Some of the most popular compression sleeves are arm, elbow, knee, and calf. Additional varieties of compression sleeves include shoulder, wrist, finger, and ankle, among others.

Just like with any compression garment, your compression sleeve should apply pressure but remain comfortable as you wear it.

While compression sleeves are often worn to provide extra support and stability to a specific area of your body, the sleeve should never limit that area’s range of motion.

Now that you have a solid understanding of how your compression wear should fit, take a look at our Compression Wear Best Care Guide.

Putting a little extra effort into caring for your compression gear will make a big difference in extending its lifespan.


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