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  • Writer's pictureCompression Athlete

Comprehensive Guide to Compression Shorts

Answers for all of your compression short questions.

Male and female athletes 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 your compression shorts.

Of course, the basics of compression shorts are straightforward and simple. They are, after all, a pair of shorts.

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 short knowledge can go a long way.

By understanding the intended design of compression shorts 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 shorts, how they should fit, what to look for when purchasing, and provide answers to common compression short questions.

What Are Compression Shorts?

To start things off, let’s establish a base of what we’re referring to when we use the term “compression shorts.”

What puts compression shorts in their own category is their fabric type and unique design.

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.

Female athlete wearing compression shorts.

It also maximizes the unique design of compression shorts, which compresses the muscles underneath the fabric without restricting their range of motion.

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

Whether the shorts 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.

The Correct Way to Put On Compression Shorts

Compared to a regular pair of shorts, compression shorts 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 shorts (two legs through and pull up to the waist) but following 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 shorts together so that the waistband and the leg 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 shorts. 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 shorts up to the top of your knees while still in bunched form.

Step 4: Once over the knee, you can begin to un-bunch and lengthen the shorts 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 shorts: the thighs and the glutes.

Step 5: Work the shorts up slowly over both thighs, moving only a little at a time if necessary so as not to stretch the garment in awkward spots.

Step 6: 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 7: 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 shorts as you move, the waistband should stay securely in place and require little to no adjustment.

Step 8: Smooth out the fabric and adjust any areas that feel restrictive to your natural range of motion.

Step 9: While not a necessary component, some people choose to wear underwear beneath their compression shorts. In this case, the underwear may require some adjustment after you have pulled up the compression shorts and fitted at your waist.

To do so, with one hand pull the shorts 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 shorts (rather than pulling hard from the top) will not only help to avoid undo stress on the garment, but also help to avoid any unfortunate injuries when putting on the shorts.

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 pair of 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, such as an athlete’s uniform or training gear.

Compression shorts 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 shorts under their uniforms.

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

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

If you’re interested in learning more about best practices for choosing the right fit, check out our Compression Wear Fit Guide.

How Should Compression Shorts Be Worn: Underwear or Outerwear?

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

Compression shorts are unique in that they can be worn as both underwear and outerwear, and athletes commonly utilize both styles.

Choosing to wear your compression shorts as underwear or outerwear 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.

Male and female track athletes wearing compression shorts.

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).

So, it’s often best to look at the common practice of your given sport when making this decision.

If you’re wearing 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 intended to be worn as underwear or outerwear.

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

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

Are Compression Shorts Acceptable Outerwear?

Whether you’re new to compression shorts or you’ve solely been wearing them as an underwear option, you may be wondering about wearing compression shorts as outerwear.

In particular, you may be wondering if it’s acceptable to wear as outerwear due to their tight and form-fitting design.

Yes, it’s acceptable to wear compression shorts as outerwear. In fact, you’ve likely seen athletes wearing them as such in some form or another.

For example, this style is popular among runners (enthusiasts and professionals alike), and sports like volleyball feature them as part of their uniform.

Athlete wearing compression shorts as outerwear.

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 shorts 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 Shorts Alone?

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

In general, compression shorts can be worn on their own as both underwear and outerwear.

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

Track athlete wearing compression shorts alone.

Note, however, that certain compression short 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 shorts that have a sleek, smooth fit and that forgo any extra features or add-ons will work best if you’re looking for an underwear layering option.

Whereas compression shorts 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 Shorts?

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

Because they’re technically shorts, 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 feel bulky or redundant. In this way, compression shorts are like a hybrid of underwear and outerwear.

So, the simple answer here is that there is no strict “yes” or “no” when it comes to wearing underwear with your compression shorts.

Ultimately, this question will come down to personal preference and how you feel most comfortable when competing.

Athlete wearing compression shorts while running.

If we look at the intended design of compression shorts, 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 shorts 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 shorts 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 shorts, you can absolutely do this too.

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

Can I Wear Compression Shorts as Underwear?

Compression shorts have become the go-to choice among athletes when it comes to choosing a base layer during athletic training and competition.

For example, look at sports like basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer (among several others), all of these sports prominently feature athletes that wear compression shorts beneath their uniforms.

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.

Compression shorts are meant to be worn as a base layer, so wearing the shorts as underwear is no problem.

Additionally, if you’re wearing compression shorts as outerwear, the shorts can typically be worn as an underwear/outerwear hybrid.

Generally, there is no need for an additional layer beneath your compression shorts (unless if there are uniform rules to take into consideration).

Some people like the fit and feel of compression shorts so much that they’d like to extend their use beyond the athletic realm and incorporate them into everyday wear.

There are a few things to keep in mind, however, if you’d like to wear compression shorts as everyday underwear.

The vast majority of compression shorts that you purchase from established activewear brands are fine for everyday wear.

These shorts feature a normal (or standard) level of compression that is safe for extended wear.

Keep in mind, however, that moderation is always your friend and providing your muscles a break from compression will help maintain the overall benefits of the shorts in the long term.

If you’re looking for compression shorts for everyday wear, it’s best to look at a hybrid compression boxer brief option.

This option provides a slightly more relaxed fit while still offering many of the benefits of compression shorts, such as the stretchy fit, breathability, and sweat-wicking capabilities.

How Long Can You Wear Compression Shorts?

Compression shorts 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 on how long you should wear compression shorts.

If you’re an individual in good health, there’s no problem with wearing compression shorts for extended periods of time.

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 wearing compression shorts while exercising.

In general, it doesn’t make a difference whether you’re wearing compression shorts 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 Shorts

Finding the right pair of compression shorts 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 short 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 shorts 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 a pair of compression shorts you’re looking for a blend of comfort, function, and quality.

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

1. Comfort

First and foremost, your compression shorts 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 shorts.

Look for compression shorts 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 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.

2. Function

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 a longer period 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.

3. Quality

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 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 shorts 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 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 goes with it.

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

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 are the fabrics most commonly often found in high-quality compression shorts.

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

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

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

When Should I Wear Compression Shorts?

In general, you can wear compression shorts whenever you want. The benefits of compression can be derived really anytime that you choose to wear it.

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.

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 by improving blood circulation.

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 known as compression boxer briefs, which is billed as an active underwear version of boxer briefs.

One of the most popular versions of compression boxer briefs is the Under Armour Boxerjock pictured here.

Athlete wearing Under Armour Boxerjock Compression Boxer Briefs.

Check out all of our picks for the Best Compression Boxer Briefs.

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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