Two Types of Compression Shorts – Underwear or Outerwear

Do you wear compression shorts as underwear?  Yes, but know that while some compression shorts are specifically designed as underwear, others have different intended uses.  Either way, compression shorts are meant to be worn with nothing else underneath.  It is perhaps the most common question we receive about compression gear.

Compression shorts come in a couple different varieties, both of which serve an important purpose and merit a place in the wardrobe of any athlete, or weekend athlete.  While most compression shorts have several things in common – a tight fit, sturdy construction, and good gripping around the edges, the two different types of compression shorts are very different when it comes to looks and pricing.  Understanding the distinction can help you determine the best for your specific needs.

Let’s Get Right to It:  Our Favorite Compression Shorts

Getting a good pair of compression shorts should not be rocket science.  Figure out what you plan to use the shorts for, and why you are getting them.  Do you want to run in the shorts, and have something that looks good?  Or are you going for the firmness and support, and nobody will likely ever see you in them outside of your dog?  If we could only boil it down to a few, here are our favorites

  • Nike Pro  Underwear.  A great undergarment for a variety of uses, built well and versatile.  They stay exceptionally dry regardless of the activity. Nike knows athletics.
  • UA Heat Shorts.  Best used as underwear, but can also double as an outer garment if needed.  UA is popular for a reason, and the Heat Gear lineup has become their standard.
  • 2XU Core Compression.  Meant to be an outer garment. Great for runs, athletics, etc. If you are willing to spend a few bucks, these are the real deal.  The look and feel great.

Compression Shorts as an Outer Workout Garment

zoot compressrx shorts
High-end compression shorts offer advanced engineering for both workout out and recovery. Pictured: Zoot compression shorts.

The high-end compression shorts on the market today are intended to be worn as a workout garment.  While they share some of the same engineering as an advanced pair of running tights or cycling shorts, they have unique construction that makes them ideal for many active sports, running, and training recovery.  Much like their close relative, compression tights, compression shorts combine form and function in a way that can help you do a long run or any number of different types of exercise.  These form-fitting garments are made by the same manufacturers as some of the best compression tights or cycling shorts on the market, such as Pearl Izumi, 2XU, or CW-X.   Because of their high-end construction, they can often cost significantly more than a basic pair of shorts, often $80 or more.  Outrageous for a pair of shorts, you say?  A good pair of of compression shorts share the same engineered technology that expensive bike shorts or triathlon gear is made of.  Before you jump to conclusions, let’s take a closer look at the materials and construction of a good pair of compression shorts.

A good pair of compression shorts will be made of high-grade fabric that provides the benefits of compression to the user – namely increased blood flow, better bone alignment, and support for key muscle areas such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.  This fabric is known to both improve performance during workouts, but, perhaps more importantly, improve recovery if worn after or between workouts.  While different brands offer different features, we like the models with flatlock stitching to reduce friction on the user’s skin.  This is important during those long runs or on humid days when chafing could create major issues.  There is actually an entire industry built around these high-end compression shorts and other compression garments, with its own terminology.  Check out our compression wear glossary to help keep it all straight.

Two things to examine closely on models of outer-compression shorts are the seams and the elastic.  The seams are what will be the first thing to fail on most pairs of shorts, and buying shorts with good stitching and lengthen the lifespan of your investment.  The elastic along the waist and the thighs should strike a balance – comfortable, yet firm.  There is nothing worse than having a pairs of shorts whose elastic band along the thigh gives out early in its lifespan – by buying from one of the higher end makers, you are more likely to not experience this.

Among our favorite models of outer-worn compression shorts are the outstanding 2XU Core Compression and the CW-X Stabilyx, assuming you are buying the shorts for multi-use activities or team and individual sports.  When it comes to yoga, you will want to go with yoga-specific shorts. For that, there is an entirely different lineup of shorts that we examine here.

Compression Shorts Underwear
UA’s Heatgear Shorts are versatile but best used as an undergarment.

Compression Shorts as Undergarments

A second use for compression shorts is as undergarments, and the models that fall in this category are made by a different line of manufacturers and carry a vastly different price point.  These shorts are popular as undergarments during athletic training and often worn as a layer under looser-fitting shorts or bottoms.  Part of the reason for their popularity is their ability to create firmness and stability in the upper thigh.  Said a different way, they can alleviate athletes from wearing other supportive gear such as a jockstrap or athletic supporter.  In fact, many top athletes today prefer compression shorts as underwear because of the great blend of function and comfort.

Most compression shorts that are designed to be worn as undergarments are made by many of the manufacturers who make mainstream athletic gear or underwear.  Like the outer compression shorts described above, these garments are intended to be worn next to your skin, with no other underwear.  In fact, if you do wear another layer of underwear with them, they are likely to double up and create discomfort.

While these shorts don’t have the engineering of an outer compression short described above, they also carry a much lower price point.  It isn’t uncommon to find these shorts on the market for $15 to $25 per pair, much more in line with underwear pricing than athletic gear.  These are more typical of the spandex shorts that many people associate with lighter activities.  As such, they are also usually less durable and don’t provide all of the compression benefits such as increased blood flow or recovery assistance.  What they do provide, in an inexpensive garment, is great support and comfort for anyone who is an athlete or lives an active lifestyle.  They are also quick-drying, which is important for those who are working out on hot days or involved in activities where they may be around water.

Nike Pro shorts are an example of compression shorts that also work as an undergarment.

Our favorite models of undergarment compression shorts are the Nike Pro Combat line, made with both a 6 or 9 inch inseam, or the Champion Powerflex, which receives high marks for its ability to wick away moisture and stay comfortable for hours.  We also think that Under Armour makes a very good compression undergarment in both the UA heat shorts and the UA ventilated compression short.  Both are good, all-purpose, and won’t break the bank.

An interesting trend we are seeing is the blurring of the boxer brief and compression shorts market.  While compression shorts should have measurable mmHg pressure to provide the benefits of compression, we see some boxer briefs such as the excellent Ex-Officio Give-n-Go as bordering on the compression territory.  They provide excellent support and just a touch of compression in the upper leg and glute.

More Compression

If you are intrigued by compression shorts, you may not be aware of the other compression gear on the market today.  We have tested much of the compression wear available.  Don’t miss our piece on compression socks, where we provide a buyers guide as well as our picks at every price point.  We did a similar piece on compression shirts, as well as a roundup on the best compression tights for runners.

Compression gear has been shown to improve recovery time in athletes based on “perceived fatigue”, but ultimately it comes down to each individual. Does the gear make you feel better, be less sore, and perform better the next day. For us, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

As you can tell, we are believers in compression wear for athletes of all levels.  Give it a try, and let us know which brands you have the best luck with.