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Athletes running in activewear.
  • Writer's pictureCompression Athlete

Comprehensive Guide to Compression Tights

Answers for all of your compression tight questions.

Comprehensive Guide to Compression Tights.

Whether you’re looking 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 tights.

Overall, of course, the basics of compression tights are straightforward and much like wearing any other pair of pants.

But as compression garments grow in popularity, in both the sport world and everyday life, many of their benefits are lost on the average user.

A little compression tight knowledge can go a long way.

By understanding the intended design of compression tights and how to best derive their benefits, you can elevate your athletic performance, nurture your hard-working muscles, and enjoy a much more comfortable compression wear experience.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the basics: how to wear compression tights, how your tights should fit, what to look for when purchasing compression tights, and provide answers to common compression tight questions.

What Are Compression Tights?

To start things off, let’s establish what exactly we’re referring to when we use the term “compression tights.”

In general, the factors that put compression tights in their own category are their fabric type and unique garment design.

Both polyester and nylon are common fabrics used in compression tights, which are then mixed with spandex, lycra, or elastane.

The blend of these fabrics provides the signature snug look of compression tights, as well as their signature stretchy feel.

This fabric blend also maximizes the garment design of compression tights, which compresses the muscles underneath the fabric without restricting their range of motion.

Athlete wearing compression tights and foam rolling for muscle recovery.

This unique design assists athletic performance, warm-up, and muscle recovery making compression tights a very popular choice among athletes.

Whether the tights are worn as underwear (under a uniform or training gear) or as outwear (top layer of a uniform or outfit), compression tights are uniquely suited to provide more comfort and better athletic performance in a way that other garments are unable to achieve.

Additionally, note that compression tights typically come in 3 popular lengths: full-length, 7/8 length, and 3/4 length.

Full length compression tights extend all the way to the ankle, while 7/8 length stop roughly an inch or two above the ankle and 3/4 length rest at mid-calf.

What’s the Difference Between Compression Tights, Leggings, and Yoga Pants?

As activewear continues to enjoy a rise in popularity and incorporation into everyday wear, it’s not uncommon to hear people use interchangeable terminology when referring to these garments.

For example, people often use the terms leggings, yoga pants, and compression tights interchangeably when referring to any form-fitting activewear bottom.

So, you may be wondering if there’s actually a difference between these three.

Generally speaking, compression tights and compression leggings are interchangeable terms.

There is not any characteristic unique to either that makes them unique from one another.

They are both constructed of the same fabrics and worn for the same athletic activities.

3 athletes walking in activewear.

Note, however, that both leggings and tights have compressive and non-compressive versions.

For example, everyday wear tights typically differ from compression tights in both design and fabric but fall under the same name due to their snug skin-tight fit.

The same holds true with leggings.

When it comes to yoga pants, on the other hand, we do have some notable differences.

Unlike with tights and leggings there is not a compressive and non-compressive version of yoga pants. There is simply the one kind, though it does enjoy a wide product variety.

Additionally, while they have very similar fits, yoga pants are not designed to offer graduated compression in the way that compression tights and leggings do.

Graduated compression is the special design that applies pressure to your muscles for stability and improved circulation.

The Correct Way to Put On Compression Tights

Compared to a regular pair of pants, compression tights require a bit more care and attention when putting on due to their unique construction.

Of course, the basics are the same as any pair of pants (two legs through and pull up to the waist) but noting the additional steps laid out here will help to ensure you receive full compression benefits, reduce potential injury, and extend the lifespan of the garment.

Step 1: Bunch the tights together so that the waistband and the ankle hem meet, allowing you to gather the garment from top to bottom in your hands.

Step 2: Pass your feet through the leg openings of the tights. Try to do so without pulling one of the legs up much further than the other, so as not to stress the garment.

Step 3: With both legs through, pull the tights up to the top of your knees while still in bunched form.

Step 4: Fit the calf portion of the tights over your calves, smoothing and positioning the fabric so that it lay just as it will when the tights are fully on.

Step 5: Once over the knee, again gather the remainder of the garment and begin to lengthen the tights over the pelvic region and up toward your waist. There are two points here where you’ll want to be careful about placing undue stress on your compression tights: the thighs and the glutes.

Step 6: Work the tights up slowly over both thighs, moving only a little at a time if necessary so as not to awkwardly stretch the garment.

Step 7: Similarly, guide the fabric over your glutes rather than yanking at the waistband. The seam that joins the waistband is a common spot of garment breakdown when handled too aggressively.

Step 8: Rest the waistband at your normal or ideal waist placement. Make sure it is laid flat without any folding over or under. While it’s natural for some bunching, rolling, or shifting to occur in the legs of compression tights as you move, the waistband should stay securely in place and require little to no adjustment.

Step 9: Smooth out the fabric and adjust any areas that feel restrictive to your natural range of motion.

Step 10: While not a necessary component, some people choose to wear underwear beneath their compression tights. In this case, the underwear may require some adjustment after you have pulled up the compression tights and fitted at your waist.

To do so, with one hand pull the tights outward from your body at the waistband and adjust your underwear with your free hand.

Make sure that it lays flat without any bunching or uncomfortable spots of friction along seams, as this will only amplify and worsen as you begin activity.

Note: Bunching your compression tights (not simply pulling hard from the top) will not only help to avoid undo stress on the garment, but will also help to avoid any unfortunate injuries putting on the tights.

If the garment is stretched out across your limbs where movement is necessary, it can produce loss of balance, muscle strain, and other injury.

How Should Compression Tights Fit?

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

For starters, compression tights are designed to fit snuggly against your skin.

When wearing compression tights you should feel their compressive pressure throughout the entire garment, from the waistband all the way through to the hemline near the ankle.

This pressure should be firm but not too firm.

Pressure would be considered too firm if you found the compression tights uncomfortable to wear or restrictive of your movement.

Male and female running together wearing compression tights.

Another characteristic of compression tights is that they’re sometimes worn underneath a pair of athletic shorts or pants, such as an athlete’s uniform or training gear.

Compression tights have become the standard choice of athletes thanks to their smooth layering fit that greatly reduces any bunching, shifting, or riding up (among other great athletic benefits).

For example, it’s a common sight to see basketball players wearing compression tights under their uniforms.

During play, you can see how important it is that the tights fit snugly against the athlete’s legs, almost like a second skin.

This allows the uniform to fit comfortably over the top of the compression tights without causing any friction, bunching, or other distraction.

For more on how your compression tights are supposed to fit, check out our Choosing the Right Fit Guide.

How Should Compression Tights Be Worn: Base Layer or Outerwear?

For starters, if you’re wondering whether compression tights should be worn as either a base layer or outerwear, it may be helpful to know that this technically is not an “either/or” question.

Compression tights are unique in that they can be worn as both a base layer and outerwear, and athletes commonly utilize both styles.

Choosing to wear your compression tights as a base layer or outerwear could depend on any number of factors: personal preference, style of compression tight, the sport or activity you’re wearing them for and so on.

In certain sports, it’s common to wear compression tights as a base layer, i.e. under the uniform.

Basketball is the best example of this, as many professional and college players utilize this style with their uniforms.

Basketball player wearing compression tights under his shorts.

This style (shorts worn over compression tights) is also a common choice among male athletes when training, running, lifting weights, and so on.

Note, however, that it’s also very common to see compression tights worn as an outerwear choice.

It’s common to see both male and female athletes wearing compression tights as an outerwear option in a variety of training and work out scenarios.

Female athletes, in particular, most commonly wear compression tights without a layer over the top.

If you’re wearing compression tights outside the context of a sporting event, such as to the gym or exercising outdoors, the brand and garment details of your compression tights can clue you in on whether they’re intended to be worn as a base layer or outerwear.

For example, compression tights that utilize thicker fabric or have features like a pocket to hold your phone are typically worn as outerwear.

Whereas compression tights that utilize a thinner fabric and may even be semi-transparent in nature are typically worn as a base layer.

Are Compression Tights Acceptable Outerwear?

Whether you’re new to compression tights or you’ve solely been wearing them as a layering option, you may be wondering about wearing compression tights as outerwear.

In particular, you may be wondering if tights are acceptable to wear as outerwear due to their form-fitting design.

The short answer is, yes, it’s acceptable to wear compression tights as outerwear and it’s common for athletes of all levels to wear them as such, especially when training.

Runner wearing compression tights as outerwear.

For example, this style is popular among runners when the temperatures drop, as compression tights help to keep your muscles warm without restricting your movement or overheating your body.

While there is some debate around men wearing only compression shorts or compression tights when working out at the gym, generally this choice is up to the athlete, as the tights are designed to be worn either way.

And of course, when it comes to activities like running or training outdoors, there’s really no debate at all, as you can pretty much wear whatever you prefer.

Do You Wear Compression Tights Alone?

Not only will you find a large variety in style when shopping compression tights nowadays, the tights themselves offer great versatility in terms of how they’re worn.

In general, compression tights can be worn on their own as both a base layer (layered) and outerwear.

In other words, you can wear compression tights on their own as a layering piece, and you can wear compression tights on their own as outerwear (as the tights do not require an additional garment beneath them).

Athlete wearing compression tights on their own.

Note, however, that certain compression tight styles may be geared more directly toward being worn as a layering piece or being worn as outerwear.

Thankfully, there are notable features that can help you make this determination.

Compression tights that have a sleek, smooth fit that forgo extra features or add-ons will work best if you’re looking for a layering option.

Whereas compression tights that have thicker fabric and feature pockets and other adornments are likely better suited as an outerwear option.

Should I Wear Underwear with My Compression Tights?

For those that are new to compression tights, the most common first question associated with the tights is whether or not you’re supposed to wear underwear with them.

Because they’re technically a form of pants, you might be thinking that of course I should wear underwear beneath them.

But then as you try them on and feel the snug and stretchy fit, wearing underwear might seem bulky or redundant. In this way, compression tights are like a hybrid of underwear and outerwear.

So, really there is no strict “yes” or “no” when it comes to wearing underwear with your compression tights.

Ultimately, this question will come down to personal preference and how you feel most comfortable when competing, training, or wearing for extended periods.

If we look at the intended design of compression tights, we know that they’re constructed as a base layer (i.e. meant to be worn right against your skin).

When worn without any interference between the compression fabric and that of your skin and muscles, you’re able to achieve the maximum compression benefits of the garment.

That being said, choosing to wear underwear beneath your compression tights will not greatly impact your benefits or hinder your athletic ability.

This option is just as common amongst athletes and may help to improve an athlete’s overall levels of comfort or security.

In other words, if you want to wear your compression tights without underwear, you absolutely can.

In fact, they’re designed to be worn this way.

While on the other hand, if you prefer to wear underwear beneath your compression tights, you can absolutely do this too.

Many athletes prefer the extra layer of comfort and security while competing.

How Long Can You Wear Compression Tights?

Compression tights have grown in popularity thanks in part to how comfortable they are to wear during activity.

However, because of the slight compressive pressure that the garment applies to your body, it’s not unusual to wonder if there are limits to how long you should wear compression tights.

If you’re an individual in general good health, there’s no problem with wearing compression tights for extended periods of time, including all day.

In fact, compression wear is intended to be worn as a base layer, just like underwear, and can be worn for long durations.

However, if you have any health issues that may be impacted by compressive pressure being applied to your body, be sure to double check with a healthcare professional.

Athlete lounging in compression tights checking her phone.

In general, it doesn’t make a difference whether you’re wearing compression tights for a shorter period of athletic competition or for a longer stretch of casual wear, you can enjoy their benefits either way.

However, if you’re someone that wears compression garments for longer periods of time, be sure to give your muscles and body a break from time to time.

For the average individual, there’s really no need or benefit to wearing compression garments 24/7.

To learn more about the varying levels of pressure in compression garments, along with how various compression garments should fit and feel, check out our guide on choosing the right fit.

What to Look for When Purchasing Compression Tights

Finding the right pair of compression tights comes 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’ve found that some compression tight styles aren’t your ideal length or that they apply a little too much pressure (or vice versa).

There’s also taking the price of the tights into account. What’s your budget look like and how long do you expect to keep these tights active and viable?

All of these factors can influence your choice.

Generally speaking, however, when purchasing a pair of compression tights you’re looking for a blend of comfort, function, and quality.

These three factors make for a great pair of compression tights.

1. Comfort

First and foremost, your compression tights should be comfortable.

When you’re competing or training, there’s nothing more distracting than a nagging discomfort from the garments you’re wearing.

If you’re thinking about your clothing while you’re active (and especially if it’s demanding your attention), then you’ve got the wrong pair of compression tights.

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

In other words, your compression tights 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.

2. Function

Next, a good pair of compression tights 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, hamstrings, and calves.

These benefits work together to keep you performing at a higher level for a longer period of time.

If you’re not noticing any benefits from wearing compression tights during activity then it may be time to look for an upgrade.

3. Quality

Here, we’re looking at everything from choice of fabric to stitching to waistbands and more.

A high-quality pair of compression tights 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 a stitching technique in which the seam is butted together, rather than overlock stitching in which there are layers on the underside.

This distinction can be especially important if you’re wearing your compression tights for an extended period 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 tights.

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 tights will have waistbands that wear out quickly, becoming stretched out and loose fitting.

If the waistband on your compression tights goes, the entire garment goes with it.

Discover the telltale signs that indicate when to replace your compression tights.

Also, check the fabrics that are used in your compression tights.

Common fabric choices for compression wear often include blends of nylon, polyester, spandex, lycra, and elastane.

Compression wear design is constantly evolving, however, these are the fabrics most commonly often found in high-quality compression tights.

Compression tights utilize durable fabric blends that withstand high-grade activity and difficult conditions.

That being said, the tights do gradually breakdown and lose their effectiveness over time.

Learn how long your compression tights typically last before they’ll need a replacement.

When Should I Wear Compression Tights?

In general, you can wear compression tights whenever you want. The benefits of compression wear can be derived each time that you choose to wear it.

For example, if you’re wearing compression tights during activity, the tights will wick sweat from your body, stabilize and support your muscles, and reduce the onset of muscle fatigue.

Similarly, wearing the tights for an hour or two before and after a workout can assist you, as well.

The compressive pressure of the tights improves blood circulation which can warm-up muscles quicker pre-workout and reduce muscle soreness and inflammation in the applied area post-workout.

Though initially designed to be worn during activity, compression tights have continued to evolve in use and design over the years.

Varying the fabric blend and the compressive pressure of the tights has opened them up to being enjoyed as everyday wear.

If you’re interested in learning more about compression wear, including the best care practices for extending your garment’s lifespan, check out our Best Care Guide.


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