Compression shorts have become a staple in many athletes’ wardrobes. The tight-fitting shorts are popular among runners, cyclists, football players and others looking for support during training and competition. But do compression shorts make a difference in performance and recovery? Let’s take a closer look at the science behind these snug shorts.
How Compression Shorts Work
Compression shorts are made from spandex and elastane fabrics that have stretching capabilities. This allows the shorts to hug close to the body from the waist to just above the knees. The snug fit applies gentle pressure to the muscles, which is believed to offer several potential benefits:
Improved Blood Flow
The compression provided by the shorts helps push blood through the veins back to the heart. This may enhance circulation and oxygen delivery to working muscles. Some studies have found improved vascular function and blood lactate removal in athletes wearing compression garments during and after exercise.
Reduced Muscle Vibration
The compressive force helps stabilize muscles, so they vibrate less during repetitive motions like running. This may protect muscles from damage and reduce soreness. Research indicates compression shorts worn during eccentric exercise (muscle lengthening contractions) limit muscle oscillation and resulting muscle damage.
Compression shorts provide sensory feedback about joint positioning and movement. This enhanced proprioception (awareness of body position) may improve balance and coordination. However, study results are mixed on whether compression gear improves proprioceptive feedback during activity.
Improved circulation can help flush out metabolic waste products like lactic acid after strenuous training sessions. Some studies indicate compression worn after exercise may reduce muscle soreness and speed recovery. However, more research is still needed on the direct effects on muscle recovery.
Benefits for Different Activities
While the overall effects of compression shorts are still under investigation, they do appear to provide some advantages in particular sports and activities:
The compression support around major leg muscles can keep muscles stabilized on long runs. This may enhance the running economy. Elite runners report lower perceived exertion ratings when wearing compression shorts during marathons.
The shorts allow freedom of movement while supporting muscles during quick sprints and cuts. Compression shorts are commonly worn under shorts or alone by soccer players during games and practices.
Lifters may opt for compression shorts to keep muscles warm and supported during heavy squats, deadlifts and other lifts. Maintaining compact muscles can also assist with proprioception for better lifting technique.
In a bent forward position, the shorts support leg muscles and may improve circulation over long rides. Compression shorts are popular in sports like mountain biking, where abrasion resistance is also a factor.
Considerations for Men’s Compression Shorts
Compression gear comes in many styles, lengths and compression levels for both men and women. Men’s shorts typically extend to just above the knee and provide gentle, firm compression. Here are some factors to consider when selecting men’s compression shorts:
- Fit – Compression shorts should fit snugly but not restrict movement for best results. Measure your upper thigh circumference to help you choose the correct size.
- Length – Standard lengths end mid-thigh to just above the knee. More extended options are available, as well as shorter boxer-brief styles.
- Compression level – Light compression shorts provide 15-20 mmHg of pressure. Moderate compression delivers 20-30 mmHg, while firm levels exert 30+ mmHg. Choose based on activity and personal preference.
- Fabric – Compression shorts may contain spandex, nylon, polyester or elastane. Seek fabrics with moisture-wicking properties and breathability for active wear.
- Seams – Seam placement varies by brand. Flatlock stitching helps avoid chafing from seams.
- Ventilation – Look for mesh panelling in moisture-prone areas for cooling airflow during sweaty workouts.
- Crotch style – Compression shorts come in both brief and boxer brief styles. Boxer briefs allow more airflow for breathability.
The Bottom Line
While the jury is still out on whether compression shorts improve athletic performance, they provide comfort, support and other benefits like reduced muscle vibration. Compression shorts likely won’t transform an average Joe into a superstar athlete overnight. However, their compression support may provide that extra edge to enhance training and accelerate recovery. Ultimately, compression shorts men come down to personal preference. The science works if it gives you a mental edge or makes you feel good during your chosen activity!