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Compression Pants vs. Running Shorts

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 to wear? You might think that this question is more appropriate for a first date than a morning run, but what you wear can really make or break your running workout. Certain clothes chafe, overheat you and affect performance.

Compression pants hug you with varying degrees of pressure, while running shorts offer freedom and a lightweight, cooling sensation. The one you choose is largely up to personal preference, but some consider a few points when making the final decision on your outfit.

Performance

A lot of runners run for the sake of feeling fit, but a good number would love to improve their performance. Compression pants might just do that — slightly, at least. A research review published in Sports Medicine in 2016 found that any type of compression garment — tights, socks and the like — did not offer a statistically significant effect on times for half marathons, 5Ks or 10Ks or even the 400-meter sprint. However, those wearing compression garments did report small, positive impacts on time to exhaustion, running economy, perceived exertion and markers of muscle damage and inflammation.

For sprinters and even middle-distance runners, compression pants also offer an aerodynamic advantage, as baggy shorts can catch the wind and slow you down. In events in which every tenth of a second counts, this is a very real performance consideration.

Read More: Importance of Clothing in Exercise

Recovery

That same Sports Medicine research review did find that compression pants and other compression clothing had significant impacts on mitigating post-exercise leg soreness and post exercise muscle fatigue.

If running pants help you feel less sore and recover faster, that means you can get out and run more often. The more you train on healthy, springy legs, the more your potential for improvement.

Wearing compression pants after your run may also offer a benefit. Research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2015 demonstrated that running in compression garments didn't offer notable performance benefits, but wearing them after a run, during recovery, decreased delayed-onset muscle soreness and enhanced recovery.

Chafing

Every runner is built differently. Some have stick-thin legs with thighs that don't touch, while others have a little more thickness in the thighs. Each time you take a step, muscularly dense legs can rub, causing irritating friction. Shorts can ride up and contribute to this friction. You might add a little petroleum jelly or lubricating balm between your legs to discourage the resulting chafe, or you might choose a pair of compression pants instead to keep your legs from rubbing.

Comfort and Temperature

Running shorts are often the choice of longer distance runners, such as those completing half- and full marathons. In these longer races, comfort is the No. 1 priority. Lightweight shorts feel comfortable, non binding and cool. Ultimately, it's up to you, the runner, to decide what's going to make you most comfortable when you're going to be running for 90 minutes or longer.

Read More: Why Compression Clothing for Running?

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