Believe it or not, compression shorts—indeed, all compression gear—isn’t worn while working out (and after) for the joys of wearing skintight clothing. It’s worn because it’s proven to enhance recovery (1), and more anecdotally, provides wearers that extra oomph to push through the last half-mile of a run, or squeeze out just one more rep. I wore a dozen sets of compression shorts through heavy lifting sessions, tennis matches, soccer games, CrossFit, and plenty of runs. Here are the best I tested, and everything you need to know to pick the right ones for you.
- Best Overall Compression Short: Ten Thousand Compression Short, $54
- Best for Running: Lululemon Rapid Vent Tech Boxer, $38
- Best Budget Option: Under Armour HeatGear Compression Short, $30
- Best for CrossFit and Lifting: Wolaco North Moore Short, $58
- Best Light Compression Short: Rhone Essentials Active Brief, $38
What Do Compression Shorts Do?
Encourage blood flow
If you’re familiar with compression therapy, you likely know that compressing the body improves circulation, which is both therapeutic and the primary reason compression shorts are worn at all (that, and to prevent chafing). Compressing the muscles encourages blood flow, which means more oxygen (2) is getting to your muscles, which means better and longer workouts. All of the benefits that follow increased circulation are because of increased circulation.
Speed up recovery
No matter what your workout regimen is like, the ultimate limiter—more so than even hours in the day—is recovery. The rate and quality of your recovery will determine your ability to maintain or progress your fitness routine. Wearing compression shorts and compression gear in general is proven to help in this regard.
A 2017 study (1) found wearing compression shorts boosted strength recovery for competitive cyclists. Another study (4) found wearing compression gear while running “indicated large positive effects” for post-run soreness and muscle fatigue. Overall, there is more science supporting blood flow improvements and recovery advantages than any other benefit.
Compression shorts and compression clothing in general squeezes your body. That squeeze reduces vibrations and shaking—both noticeable and subliminal—that occurs during exercise. Vibrations in your soft tissue requires muscle to compensate and maintain balance, which fatigues you faster. So in mitigating vibrations from running, jumping, lifting, and so on compression shorts are effectively prolonging your up time.
A 2019 study (4) on the effect of thigh compression shorts on cyclists found compression gear effective in reducing vibration during rides.
Similarly, a 2021 study (5) observed a dozen male athletes performing drop jumps, with an eye on muscle activation and soft tissue vibration. The study concluded that compression is an effective tool to limit excessive vibration in fairly straightforward terms.
“Applying external compression can reduce soft tissue vibrations without compromising neuromuscular performance during strenuous physical activities that involve exposure to impact-induced vibrations,” the study read.
Reduce perceived effort
There is a lot of mumbo-jumbo-bro-science on the internet regarding exertion, which largely boils down to a singular question: Are you pushing yourself enough to realize your fitness goals?
A 2016 study (3) on benefits runners may reap by wearing compression clothing during exercise found its participants netted gains in endurance performance due to slight increases in time to exhaustion, perceived exertion, and a handful of other variables.
Logically, if you feel like you’re exerting yourself less, you feel like you have more in the tank—whether that’s on a run, under a squat bar, or pushing a weighted sled.
The Best Compression Shorts for the Money
1. Brown, Freddy et al. “Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-Analysis.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 47,11 (2017): 2245-2267. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0728-9.
2. O’Riordan SF, McGregor R, Halson SL, Bishop DJ, Broatch JR. “Sports compression garments improve resting markers of venous return and muscle blood flow in male basketball players.” J Sport Health Sci. 2021 Jul 24:S2095-2546(21)00092-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2021.07.010. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34314879.
3. Hintzy F, Gregoire N, Samozino P, Chiementin X, Bertucci W, Rossi J. “Effect of Thigh-Compression Shorts on Muscle Activity and Soft-Tissue Vibration During Cycling.” J Strength Cond Res. 2019 Aug;33(8):2145-2152. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002402. PMID: 31344011.
4. Engel FA, Holmberg HC, Sperlich B. “Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing?” Sports Med. 2016 Dec;46(12):1939-1952. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0546-5. PMID: 27106555.
5. Deng L, Yang Y, Yang C, Fang Y, Zhang X, Liu L, Fu W. “Compression Garments Reduce Soft Tissue Vibrations and Muscle Activations during Drop Jumps: An Accelerometry Evaluation.” Sensors (Basel). 2021 Aug 21;21(16):5644. doi: 10.3390/s21165644. PMID: 34451085; PMCID: PMC8402353.