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What Is the Best Use of Compression Shorts for Exercise?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
What Is the Best Use of Compression Shorts for Exercise?
A group of cyclists wearing tight spandex shorts stop in the woods for a break. Photo Credit FlairImages/iStock/Getty Images

Compression shorts fall into the category of functional athletic wear. In addition to slimming you out and preventing any loose bits from jiggling as you jog, jump or cycle, this apparel may enhance performance in specific types of exercise. The most valuable use of compression shorts seems to be during recovery from a tough workout.

Compression Shorts Features

The perfect pair of compression shorts for you may appear a size or two too small at first glance. Berkeley Wellness reports that compression shorts are usually about 15 percent smaller than your regular size. They're made from body-skimming, spandex-mixed fabric that hugs tightly to your skin and often wicks sweat. Donning them makes you feel like you're wearing a girdle that hugs your thigh, buttock and hip muscles.

Research Reports Recovery

Recovery is probably the best use for compression shorts. The "International Journal of Sports Performance and Physiology" published a review of studies looking at all the positive effects of compression clothing in 2013. The review concluded that compression clothing worn after exercise had a small to moderate effect on recovery. This recovery includes the ability to bounce back in terms of strength and power -- especially in jumping, such as the vertical leap. Recovery assistance also means that people who wore compression garments after exercise experienced reduced muscle swelling and pain, increased body temperature and a more expedient removal of waste materials from muscles. A study by New Zealand researchers published in the 2012 issue of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" showed that rugby players who wore compression garments for 24 hours after a simulated match recovered more quickly in terms of sprinting and running ability when compared to athletes who did not wear the garments.

Specific Aspects of Exercise Performance

Although manufacturers, such as Skins and CW-X, contend their compression shorts improve your performance, research isn't conclusive. Compression shorts have shown potential exercise improvement in sprinting and jumping activities. A study published in a 2003 issue of the "Journal of Sports Sciences" had track athletes wear compression shorts during sprinting and jumping events. The research showed wearing the shorts didn't significantly affect sprinters' times, but it may offer assistance to the hamstrings during the end of each stride. The athletes also experienced 27 percent less impact force than those who wore typical football pants during the study. Endurance runners who wore compression shorts during a run performed for a study published in a 2011 issue of the "Journal of International Sports Performance and Physiology" experienced a trivial improvement in blood flow, but this had no effect on their overall performance. The results of these studies suggest that you may experience less fatigue during your workout, so you can go harder for longer, and that you will be less prone to injury.

Limited Coverage

Compression shorts' recovery benefits are limited to the muscles of the thighs, hips and buttocks. They leave out the calf and feet -- areas that could be targeted with compression socks or full-leg compression garments. They do reduce chafing in the sensitive groin and inner thigh region for runners and cyclists when worn during exercise. The shorts aren't for everyone. Some people may experience clogged hair follicles after wearing them during a sweaty workout session or find them too tight for personal comfort. Ultimately, if you feel they offer you benefit -- wear them; but don't expect miraculous changes in your athletic performance.

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