• Compression Athlete

Comprehensive Guide to Compression Shorts

Everything you need to know about compression shorts: fit, fabric, use, design, and more.

4 runners wearing compression shorts.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a new pair or just made your very first purchase, there are a few things you’ll want to know when it comes to wearing compression shorts.

Of course, the basics are straightforward and simple. They are, after all, a pair of shorts. However, as compression wear grows in popularity in both the sport world and everyday life, many of its benefits are lost on the average user.

A little compression shorts knowledge can go a long way. By understanding the intended design of compression shorts and how to derive their benefits, you can elevate your athletic performance, nurture your hard-working muscles, and enjoy a much more comfortable activewear experience.

In this guide, we’ll cover those topics while also going over the basics: how to wear compression shorts, how they should fit, and what to look for in a good pair.

What Are Compression Shorts?

To start things off, let’s take a look at what we’re referring to when we say “compression shorts.” What sets compression shorts in their own category are their unique design and choice of fabric.

Both polyester and nylon are common fabrics used in compression shorts, which are then mixed with spandex, lycra, or elastane. The blend of these fabrics provides the signature tight and stretchy feel and look of compression shorts.

This blend also maximizes the intended design of the compression shorts to compress the muscles underneath the fabric without restricting your range of motion.

Female athlete wearing compression shorts.

This unique design and fit makes compression shorts very popular among athletes. Whether they are worn as underwear (under a uniform or training gear) or as outwear (part of a uniform or outfit), compression shorts are uniquely suited to provide more comfort and better athletic performance in a way that other garments are unable to achieve.

How Should Compression Shorts Fit?

Even as the variety and design of compression shorts grow and evolve, there are a few classic characteristics that you’ll always want to have in your compression shorts.

For starters, compression shorts are designed to fit snuggly against your skin. When wearing compression shorts you should feel their compressive pressure throughout the entire garment, from the waistband all the way through to the hemline of the legs.

This pressure should be firm but not too firm. Pressure would be considered too firm if you found the compression shorts uncomfortable to wear or restrictive of your movement.

Male athlete wearing compression shorts.

Another characteristic of compression shorts is that they’re often worn underneath a pair of athletic shorts or pants. These shorts or pants may be part of an athlete’s uniform or training gear.

For example, it’s a common sight to see basketball players wearing compression shorts under their uniforms. If you’re wearing compression shorts in this way, you can see how it’s important that the shorts fit tightly against your legs, feeling almost like a second skin.

This will allow for the uniform to fit comfortably over the top of your compression shorts without causing any friction, bunching, or other distractions.

How Should Compression Shorts Be Worn: Underwear or Outerwear?

Technically, this isn’t so much of an “either/or” question. Compression shorts can be worn as both underwear and outerwear. Your answer could depend on any number of factors: personal preference, style of compression short, the sport or activity you’re wearing them for and so on.

In certain sports, it’s common to wear compression shorts as underwear, i.e. under the uniform. These sports include basketball, baseball, football, tennis, soccer, and more. While in other sports, such as volleyball, track and field, and others, we see compression shorts worn as outerwear, i.e. as part of the uniform.

Female track and field athlete wearing compression shorts.

If you’re wearing your compression shorts outside the context of a sporting event, such as to the gym or exercising outdoors, the brand and garment details of your compression shorts can clue you in on whether they’re meant to be worn as underwear or outerwear. There tend to be subtle differences in design, fabric, and fit between such compression shorts. However, often times, it’s just a matter of personal preference for the person wearing them.

Should I Wear Underwear with My Compression Shorts?

This is a common question among people new to compression shorts. If we look at the intended design of compression shorts, we know that they’re designed as a base layer (i.e. meant to be worn right against your skin).

When worn this way, there is no interference between the compression fabric (and its applied pressure) and that of your skin and muscles, which allows for maximum compression benefits to be achieved.

Of course, this question ultimately comes down to your personal preference. If you feel more comfortable wearing underwear beneath your compression shorts, do what feels more comfortable. Just be mindful that you may interfere some with the intended design of the shorts and, as a result, exclude some of their benefits.

Can I Wear Compression Shorts as Underwear?

Yes, it’s perfectly fine to wear compression shorts as underwear. Compression shorts are meant to be worn as a base layer, so wearing them as underwear is no problem.

In fact, if you’re already wearing the compression shorts under another pair of shorts or pants, whether a uniform, training gear, or everyday wear, adding additional underwear beneath your compression shorts would end up being redundant, potentially cause discomfort, and also work against the benefits of the shorts.

What to Look for When Purchasing Compression Shorts

Finding the right pair of compression shorts can come down to a number of different variables. Maybe you’re looking for a sport-specific pair. Or maybe you’re leaning toward a style that is more outerwear than underwear (or vice versa).

Maybe you find that some compression short styles aren’t your ideal length. Or you find that they apply a little too much pressure (or vice versa). There’s also taking price into account. What’s your budget look like and how long do you expect to keep these shorts active and viable? All of these factors can influence your choice.

Generally speaking, however, when purchasing compression shorts you’re looking for a blend of comfort, functionally, and quality. These three factors make for a great pair of compression shorts.


First and foremost, your compression shorts should be comfortable. There’s nothing more distracting when you’re competing (or just out getting a little exercise) than nagging discomfort from the clothes you’re wearing. If you’re thinking about your clothing while you’re active, especially when it’s demanding your attention, you’ve got the wrong pair of compression shorts.

Look for compression shorts that fit tightly and apply pressure while remaining comfortable in terms of both feel against your skin and your overall range of motion.

In other words, your compression shorts should offer support to your muscles but not go so far as to constrict them. If you are experiencing discomfort or constriction, consider sizing up or trying a different brand.


Next, a good pair of compression shorts should be providing you with several functional benefits that alternative choices cannot. These benefits include sweat-wicking capability, improved circulation, and muscle stabilization for your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings.

These benefits work together to keep you performing at a higher level for longer periods of time. If you’re not noticing any benefits from wearing compression shorts during activity then it may be time to look for an upgrade.


Here, we’re looking at everything from choice of fabric to stitching to waistbands and more. A high-quality pair of compression shorts will have a number of characteristics working in its favor.

One thing you’ll want to keep an eye out for is flatlock stitching. This is stitching where the seem is butted together, rather than overlock stitching where there are layers on the underside.

This distinction can be especially important if you’re wearing your compression shorts for extended periods of time. For example, a long-distance runner would benefit from flatlock stitching, as it’s great at reducing the potential for chaffing.

Additionally, you’ll want to pay attention to the waistband of your compression shorts. This is one of the ways you can tell a cheap pair from a high-quality pair. The waistband should provide plenty of support and firm elasticity.

Cheaper pairs of compression shorts will have waistbands that wear out quickly, becoming stretched out and loose fitting. If the waistband on your compression shorts goes, the entire garment becomes useless.

Also, check the fabrics that are used in your compression shorts. Common fabric choices for compression wear often include blends of nylon, polyester, spandex, lycra, and elastane. Compression wear design is constantly evolving, however, these fabrics are often found in high-quality compression shorts.

Note: While not a common occurrence, some compression wear brands use latex in their products. If you have sensitive skin or a latex allergy, be on the look out for its use in the fabric blend of your compression shorts, which would be listed on the tag.

When Should I Wear Compression Shorts?

In general, you can wear compression shorts whenever you want. Benefits can be derived from wearing them really anytime that you choose to do so. For example, if you’re wearing compression shorts during an activity, the shorts will wick sweat away from your body, stabilize and support your muscles, and reduce the onset of muscle fatigue.

Male track and field athlete wearing compression shorts.

Similarly, wearing the shorts for an hour or two after a workout can assist you, as well. The compressive pressure of the shorts can reduce muscle soreness and inflammation in the applied area.

Though initially designed to be worn during activity, compression shorts have continued to evolve in use and design over the years. Varying the fabric blend and the compressive pressure of the shorts has opened them up to being enjoyed as everyday wear. For example, a new compression short trend for men is the compression boxer brief, which is billed as an active underwear version of boxer briefs.

Check out our Top 5 List of the Best Compression Boxer Briefs.

And if you’re interested in learning more about compression wear, including best practices for choosing the right fit, check out our Compression Wear Fit Guide here.

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