man squatting with barbell and red shorts
Lifestyle

The Best Lifting Shorts You Can Buy, Tested

How to squat deeper and deadlift heavier without tearing through the back of your shorts.
By Will Price
May 14, 2024

There is an epidemic of lifters new and old that either take it easy on legs, or skip lower-body weight training altogether. Don’t be that guy. If you’re looking to make leg day a bigger part of your fitness regimen, you’re in the right place. For this story, I tried more than a dozen pairs of shorts popular with weightlifters and squat enthusiasts to find the best lifting shorts you can buy. Here are five of the best I tried, and what you should know before buying. 

What to Look for in Lifting Shorts

Lifting shorts are there solely to ensure you are not naked at the gym. They are not meant to provide any special support while squatting, or do anything; they need to stay the hell out of the way. When lifting heavy, your body is exposed; you have massive weight on your back or in your hands, and any unwanted movements or missteps can cause a failed rep, or a serious injury. With that in mind, these are the features (or lack thereof) you want in lifting shorts. 

1. Stretch

In short, your lifting shorts should stretch. Preferably a lot. Stretch serves a number of purposes, but the fact that it allows you to move up or down or sideways without pulling, pinching, or resisting is why it’s important. If you do a free squat right now, you’ll feel your pants or shorts tighten around your crotch and slide up your butt a bit. Stretchiness means that movement is never restrictive, which keeps you going up and down without issue. 

2. Shorter Inseam Length

If you see guys at your gym wearing slightly shorter than normal shorts, they’re not just showing off their quads. Shorter shorts don’t get in the way during a squat. Shorts that reach toward or below the knee cap.

You lift in long shorts. They make some with ultra-stretchy materials and side slits that allow you to get low without the end of the short catching your knee or restricting your movement. But if you’re uncomfortable wearing 7-, 5-, or even 2.5-inch inseam shorts to the gym, you’re likely better off wearing baggy sweats than long shorts. You really don’t want any clothing that will get in the way of your movement during a squat.

3. Fit

If the shorts are stretchy enough, fit becomes something of an afterthought. But it’s paramount you buy shorts that aren’t too tight around your waist or too baggy around the leg. Again, flowing fabric and anything that can cause a problem is a risk. Don’t size up or down from your usual, and use brands’ sizing guides before buying. 

Some of the shorts tested for this guide, from brands like Nike, SOAR, Adidas, Ten Thousand, Lululemon, and more.

Testing Methodology

I personally tested more than a dozen shorts for this guide, including all the products recommended below. I wore each for at least two sets of squats, and most across a series of HIIT workouts. After cross-referencing price and performance, I identified the five shorts I’d be most inclined to recommend to a friend. Here they are. 

Best Overall: Lululemon Pace Breaker Short

I don’t think many guys really know why they reflexively dislike Lululemon, but after squatting in more than a dozen workout shorts I can say the Lululemon Pace Breaker Short is the only one I bought more pairs of.

Though they were designed with running and general aerobics in mind, they’re absolutely perfect for leg day. The poly-elastane material is uber-stretchy, so even if you have mammoth quads and glutes you won’t feel any fabric or seam straining at the bottom of your squats and deads. Thanks to the full-sized pockets, nice fit around the butt, matte colors, and the false zipper flap the shorts just look damn good. Speaking of pockets, these are big enough to fit a smart phone without fearing for the phone’s life. I’ve been washing and re-wearing these shorts since I bought them. They’re that good.

Available in 5-, 7-, and 9-inch inseams and 13 different color options, the Pace Breaker short comes in a variety of forms. You can buy it with or without a liner, even. I prefer without for lower-body weight training, personally.

Pros
  • Stretch well in every direction
  • Available in different inseam lengths in case you're afraid of short shorts
  • Pockets are structured, but don't pinch
  • Shorts don't bunch around the crotch mid-squat
  • Variety of colors available
Cons
  • Shorts ride up legs somewhat during squat motion

Best Budget Option: Soffe Original Ranger Panty Short

Whether you know them as Ranger Panties or Silkies, one thing is certain: these 2.5-inch inseam beauties are an integral part of American gym workout culture.

Popularized through their ubiquity in military training a few decades back, these are the leg day shorts to buy if you’re on a budget. Made of 100 percent nylon, an elastic waistband, and not much else, Soffe’s Ranger Panty is the most comfortable short there is. No, really; it is the most comfortable pair of shorts ever made. These shorts are famous for being stolen by their owner’s better halves, never to be seen again.

Squatting in them is a joy. There’s plenty of butt room, and the partial slit in the side allows the shorts to slide up your leg—rather than squeeze it—when moving through reps. If you’re a lifter that’s bothered when too much of your leg is showing, throw on some compression shorts under them and you’ll be good. Otherwise, embrace the 2.5-inch inseam lifestyle and show off the legs you’re struggling through leg day for.

Pros
  • Exceedingly comfortable
  • Have remained a gym and workout staple for decades
  • Just enough stretch
  • $15 a pair is unbeatable
Cons
  • If you don't like short shorts, you won't like them
  • Can look out of place when not at gym
  • Lack full-sized pockets

Best for Brand Loyalists: Nike Pro Dri-FIT Flex

Logical or not (the answer is definitely not), a healthy percentage of the gym-going public really hates brand clashing—mixing Adidas, Reebok, Nike, etc. As ever, Nike reigns supreme, and luckily for the Nike-only crew, it makes a number of shorts perfect for deep squats and powerful deadlifts. The best I tried was the Pro Dri-FIT Flex short, which are fairly typical in most ways, but has a couple tricks up its… leg?

The most obvious is the front or quad slit. Most shorts that opt for a slit in the leg do so to allow the short to move more freely around the leg when moving, but most opt for a side slit rather than a front slit. I’m guessing that for looks, because the front slit is just better. From the top of the movement to the deepest point in a squat, the short stays the hell out of the way. It doesn’t get caught on your knee like longer shorts, and it moves up the leg smoothly while you descend.

Plus, it’s made (mostly) with recycled water bottles, and that’s kind of rad. I do with the pockets were roomier and the price a bit lower. Luckily, they’re on sale often.

Pros
  • Front slits allow for freer range of motion
  • Healthy amount of stretch in the legs and butt
  • Six-inch inseam isn't too short or too long
Cons
  • Pockets aren't spacious enough to comfortably carry a smartphone

Best for Serious Lifters: Ten Thousand Interval Shorts

Ten Thousand is a smaller fitness label out of NYC. Their gear is more focused on performance than looks, which winds up looking (and working) pretty damn good. The Interval short—its most popular product—fit that description to a tee.

When I first tried them on, I didn’t think they’d make the cut. Not because they didn’t stretch in the right way—they’ve got a similar four-way stretch build to the Lululemon Pace Breakers—but because they were a little… crunchy. The short feels much more robust than the others I worked out in for this guide. Despite stretching where needed, they feel quite rigid. That said, after a couple workouts (and subsequent washes), this was no longer an issue. I also think these are probably the best long-term solution for powerlifters because of the aforementioned rigidity. After a few months of deadlifts, for example, lots of shorts will see the color or material fade as the bar knurls over them; not so with the Interval Short.

Once worn a couple times, they feel like an old pair of jeans, if jeans were workout-appropriate apparel. They’re so comfortable I mow the grass in them, and the muted look—free of side slits, big corporate logos, and most other aesthetic elements—works for a more serious gymgoer. I also appreciate the company’s commitment to XS to XXL sizing; many fitness companies lump the XS and XXL athletes into the nearest sizing category, which isn’t great. Ten Thousand keeps them separate.

Pros
  • Veru durable
  • Great for any combination of workouts (HIIT, CrossFit, etc.)
  • Poly-spandex blend makes them more structured than poly-elastane blend
  • Loads of size, inseam, color, and liner options
Cons
  • Need a wash or two to soften a little (slightly rigid initially)

Best for a Classic Look: Y,IWO Quad Slim-Fit Printed Jersey Shorts

Y,IWO means Yeah, I Work Out, and the company’s apparel design makes that pretty clear without saying it. Everything the company sells looks like vintage workout gear from the Muscle Beach days, and that is incredibly rad. It’s understandable if the bright colors, sky-high inseams, and general showiness isn’t for you—it’s intentionally aggressive.

Looking beyond aesthetic, the shorts are particularly great for leg day from a performance perspective. Their short short nature means they definitely won’t be catching on your knees on your way down a squat, and the simple side slit gives them a bit of freedom to slide up and down the leg. It sort of feels like working out in socially acceptable boxers, and I mean that in the best way. There’s also something special about having “IT DON’T COME EASY” stamped on your ass while pushing plates.

Pros
  • Absolutely zero issues squatting, lunging, or doing deadlifts
  • Classic weightlifting vibe
  • Wicked cozy
Cons
  • The Muscle Beach aesthetic isn't for everyone
  • $50 is a little steep for (well-designed) polyester shorts

Best High-End Lifting Short: ASRV Tetra-Lite Short

I probably wear these ASRV shorts during more workouts than any other in this guide, but let’s get beyond the obvious for a moment: they are very expensive. At $118, they’re a shade under double the price of most of our picks, and I won’t insult the intelligence of anyone by arguing they are absolutely, unequivocally worth the extra spend.

But they are obscenely comfortable while being obscenely durable, which is a slight—but important—upgrade on some of our other top picks. The liner is cozy enough to sleep in, and the construction of the short is light enough for a breezy jog yet did not show any signs of wear after having a knurled barbell drug over it a few dozen times. It’s worth mentioning they also just look pretty good.

Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Your call. Dope? Absolutely.

 

Pros
  • Rugged fabric doesn't fade or fray against barbell
  • Really comfortable liner
  • Technical aesthetic
Cons
  • High price