Types of Compression Shorts

francescocarniani/iStock/Getty Images

Compression garments are a hit among athletes and folks just trying to improve their fitness levels. Compression sleeves and socks began as a way to improve circulation to body parts in elderly people or those with circulation problems due to health issues like diabetes. But sport clothing manufacturers claim that increased blood flow to muscles created by compression clothing can also have benefits for athletic performance and recovery. Compression shorts, specifically, can help prevent chafing of the thighs and hold body parts in place. There are two primary types of compression shorts: outwear and underwear.


Compression underwear is meant to be worn underneath a pair of looser-fitting shorts. These are typically made of Lycra or Spandex and should fit snugly but not be uncomfortably tight. Compression underwear, which may provide support to the thighs, quads and glutes, can eliminate the necessity of wearing jockstraps. Undergarment compression shorts are also usually constructed of sweat-wicking materials to keep the body cool and dry.


Many compression shorts are designed to be worn alone, without anything on top. These garments tend to be thicker than underwear varieties and more stylish in appearance. The seams and elastic on outerwear compression shorts should be strong and firm. Seams that aren't heavy-duty are more likely to give out and shorten the life of the garment. Outerwear compression shorts tend to sit at the waist and can come in varying lengths -- women's designs tend to have shorter inseams than men's.

What The Research Shows

Most of the studies conducted on compression gear has investigated the performance benefits of wearing garments before training or during recovery. A 2010 study conducted at Indiana State University examined performance benefits during running. Researchers measured the effect of compression leg sleeves on running economy and mechanics of 16 highly-trained distance runners. Results indicated that the garments provided no significant performance benefits. A second study conducted at the same university investigated whether or not compression shorts helped improve vertical jump height. As with the first study, researchers could not find any significant improvement from use of compression shorts.

Who Should Use Compression Shorts?

If you experience thigh-chafing during physical activity or are looking to avoid wearing other gear like an athletic supporter, compression shorts could be a good option. Keep in mind that you're not guaranteed to get an athletic edge from a pair of shorts, even if manufacturers say compression shorts will do this. However, if you find them comfortable and like the feel of support, compression shorts might be helpful for you.