Compression Pants vs. Running Shorts

Running woman in park
Your running shorts shouldn't inhibit movement during your run. (Image: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images)

Runners usually have no equipment other than their shoes and clothing, which makes choosing the right pair of running shorts especially important. These shorts come in two varieties; traditional running shorts are loose fitting and often have a moisture-wicking liner, while compression running shorts fit tightly across your skin, increasing blood flow to your muscles. Different runners usually find the benefits of one short to outweigh the benefits of the other.

All About the Fabric

Running shorts of either variety make use of the same basic materials. Polyester and nylon usually make up the bulk of the fabric in running shorts since these synthetic fibers dry quickly to prevent the buildup of perspiration. Spandex is a resilient fabric that stretches easily, and it finds use in the waistband of traditional shorts and the entire construction of compression shorts. These materials are all precisely engineered for athletic clothing and are ubiquitous among running gear manufacturers.

Keeping It Simple

The traditional running short is a simple synthetic garment that allows a full range of movement for a runner's stride. These shorts are loose fitting, so they stay cool and comfortable as you heat up during your workout. Some running shorts feature a split at the side, which further prevents any restriction. Many running shorts designed for men also have a supportive liner for a secure and comfortable fit. Other features include a drawstring at the waist and small security pockets for items like an I.D. or a key.

Peak Performance

Compression shorts make use of the elasticity of spandex to reduce muscle oscillation and increase blood circulation. The benefits are relatively minute, but any increase in performance or efficiency can be important for a runner looking to shave seconds off a personal best. In a study of compression clothing conducted by the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, athletes had a 2.1 to 6.2 percent increase in their aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, which is a measure of the efficiency of their muscles. Some runners also reported less soreness, which may indicate a benefit to recovery. Amy Norton of Medicine Online reports that a reduced oscillation of muscles due to compressive clothing aided the natural function of the body as it keeps muscles in place during motion, which increased efficiency slightly.

The Long and the Short of It

Ultimately, the benefits of each short are much less important than your concentration and pacing. The most comfortable short is going to aid your running performance substantially, since you'll be able to focus on your stride without the distraction of your clothing. Give both varieties of running shorts a try and see which is the most comfortable for your routine, then check your running time averages for any decrease so you can dress for success on race day.

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