Whether you plan to wear them for training, competing, or lunchtime decompression, running shorts are built to be practical. The right fit prevents chafing, bouncing, and other distractions that could keep you from fully enjoying the sport. This guide will help you learn how to choose the best running shorts for your needs.
Styles: There are three primary styles of running shorts: compression, v-notch, and split shorts. The style determines fit, length and leg seam.
Compression Shorts: Tight-fitting and snug to the body, compression shorts are a lot like cycling chamois, minus the padding. Because of the snug fit, they’re warmer, provide the most muscle support, and are the strongest when it comes to chafing-prevention. The stretch allows for exceptional flexibility.
The length of compression shorts varies between Men’s and Women’s styles (Women’s often being on the shorter side with as little as 1” inseams to mid-thigh length). Men’s styles typically fall between mid-thigh to knee-length and are often worn under a looser short. Leg seam can vary, but since the flexibility of the short comes from its tight, stretchy fit, the leg seam on compression shorts is primarily a fashion choice.
V-Notch Shorts: The most popular style of running shorts, v-notch shorts get their name from the upside down v-shaped cutout on the outer leg seams starting about a half-inch from the hem. The v cutout enables the runner to have a greater range of movement than if the seams were sewn together all the way down. The shorts feature an eased, loose fit, as opposed to the snug fit of compression shorts. But like compression shorts, Women’s v-notch shorts tend to be a little shorter, though the range of inseams for Men’s styles starts on the shorter side as well to provide the most flexibility.
Split Shorts: Split shorts and v-notch shorts are often confused, but there is a difference. While split shorts also feature a loose fit and the leg seams have an upside down v cutout at the bottom, rather than being part of the leg seam, the shape is created by the front panel overlapping the back—so the actual leg seam can be as short as the waistband. The split leg-style is definitely a more performance style, as it offers the greatest range of motion to the runner, and inseams are typically shorter, starting at about 1” for men and women.
Gender Differences: Running shorts are sold in men’s, women’s and unisex styles and each have different gender-specific features.
Men’s Running Shorts: Men’s running shorts are cut specifically for the male body. The inseam is often a little longer and the built-in liner has more support in the groin (jock straps are unnecessary) to help prevent discomfort and chafing.
Women’s Running Shorts: The cut of Women’s shorts fits the female waist, hips and thighs more accurately to get the best and most comfortable fit, with less room in the groin and shorter inseams made for shorter legs.
Unisex Running Shorts: Combine the cuts of Men’s and Women’s running shorts and you get unisex shorts. They lack the Men’s and Women’s specific-support features, so they don’t offer as much comfort and chafing-prevention for long runs.
Underwear/Liner: Running shorts have a built-in liner and the rule of thumb is that you don’t wear underwear with them because the extra layer of fabric can cause uncomfortable chafing. Liners provide moisture-management to wick sweat away, which helps keeps things cool, comfortable and dry, and prevents infection and chafing. Additionally, liners are built to provide enough support and compression for men so they don’t need a jock strap.
Fabric: Running shorts (and their liners) are typically made from either synthetic or natural fibers.
Synthetic Fibers: Most synthetic fiber-based running shorts are made of polyester, a polyester-spandex blend or a nylon blend. Polyester blends provide good fit, stretch and, most importantly, moisture-management to prevent chafing and discomfort. Shorts composed of synthetic fibers offer durability and hold up to frequent use.
Natural Fibers: Shorts made from natural fibers, like cotton, can offer good stretch and movement, but don’t hold up to moisture well, which can lead to chafing. Additionally, frequent use in high-heat (thus sweatier) conditions can cause them to break down faster than those made with synthetic fibers.
Pockets: Many running shorts feature a small pocket sewn to the waistband on the inside front for key storage. Some also feature a larger back zip-up pocket to store snacks for long training runs.
Visibility: Lighter colored shorts or those with reflective strips provide more visibility and safety for running along roads at night.