How To Buy Running Shorts

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.