Compression Shorts: Are They Worth the Hype?

By now, we all know about compression socks, right?  They look a little goofy, but damn, do they deliver when it comes to keeping your lower legs comfortable.  I mean, it’s borderline miraculous.

I find long runs to be far more enjoyable when I wear them, and for that reason I wore my CEP compression socks during my 50-miler last weekend.

But what about compression shorts?

running tight 05 200x300

Trust me, you’d rather see this than me in them.

I must admit that when CEP asked me if I’d like to try a pair of their compression shorts, I’d never even heard of compression shorts for running.  For wearing under your gym shorts in middle school to look freaking awesome, sure.  But never for running.

Since then, though, I’ve seen them everywhere.  The compression craze is on.  But what are compression shorts actually supposed to do, and do they work?

A quick Wikipedia scan reveals that compression shorts “keep the muscles warm to prevent muscle strain and fatigue, and wick sweat away from the body to prevent chafing and rashes.”

Wiki continues, “They are also used as a way to keep the male genitalia in place.”  Very nice.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I shimmied my way into these shorts for the first time, there was a lot of compression around the thighs, but that the tightness didn’t extend so far north as to lessen the chances of producing another baby NMA.

But inarguably, male genitalia were held in place.  Check.

Road-testing Compression Shorts

As for the purported performance benefits of compression shorts, I was a little skeptical, and here’s why—when I run really long and start to hurt, it’s never my quads.  My feet get sore first and the pain moves slowly to my shins and knees.

Compression socks prevent blood from pooling down there, and the problem is solved.  So why do I need compression around my quads?

This carried through to my actual experience with CEP compression shorts.  The compression felt great, very snug but comfortable and somehow energizing.   And the shorts made me feel kind of like a badass, like I could give Usain Bolt a run for some tiny portion of his money.

But when I wore them on a few seven- or eight-mile runs of moderate-to-high intensity, I really didn’t notice anything different about how I ran or how I recovered.  After an hour or so of running in them, I found myself wishing my shorts would just chill out a little.

So much of distance running is about comfort and being able to relax, and I found that having my thighs squeezed like vegan sausages made that tough.

But realize that this is more a knock on compression shorts for this type of run and is probably not specific to CEP’s product.  It’s clear that the CEP shorts are really well-made: As I said, CEP’s “Medi”-brand graduated compression felt really good, almost as if I could feel it working.

And the shorts are more comfortable than I had imagined anything with a name as sadistic as “compression shorts” could be.  Besides not strangling the old frank and beans, they wicked moisture well and stayed cool even when I ran in the heat.

My one complaint about CEP’s shorts is the placement of a thick seam that runs from front to back at the bottom of the crotch (if there’s a technical term for crotch, I apologize; I don’t know it).  That seam forced me to abandon one run early and carry some lube with me on the next.  CEP compression shorts are designed to be worn without anything underneath, but this seam might make another layer necessary.  [Update: CEP told me that this seam was NOT part of the final model that went to market, so it shouldn't a problem if you buy CEP shorts.]

Better for Short Speed Workouts?

Having decided that compression shorts aren’t for longer runs (for me, at least), I think they’d be great for a short speed workout.  I missed my track workout this week because I got sick after the 50-miler, so I didn’t get the chance to wear compression shorts for speedwork yet.  But since it’s this type of run where I find that my quads work hardest, and because most speed workouts don’t last longer than about 45 minutes, I’m looking forward to wearing compression shorts for one of them.  (And I’ll update this post with those results.)

Thanks to CEP for supplying me with a pair of these shorts to try out.

Interview with the “Mayor of Running”

I’m thrilled to announce that NMA-contributor Susan Lacke interviewed Bart Yasso, running’s most famous ambassador, inventor of those damn Yasso 800’s that we all hate to love, and sort-of-secret vegetarian.  I’ll post it tomorrow, so be sure to check back for that one.

See you then!

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Comments

  1. If this was meant to be serious, it had me laughing. I’m not sure if there’s a technical term for crotch, either, but I feel your pain

  2. I really think you should have put a picture up of you wearing them.

  3. Nice review. And I am not sure about technical terms for crotch, but I know Frank and Beans is definitely the correct term for those…parts haha. That seam sounds totally distracting.

  4. Those sound like they’d be kinda uncomfortable on long runs… tight wastebands make me feel like I have to pee if I wear them too long!

  5. Nice post. It’s healthy to keep a sense of humour & skepticism about all sports gear. I have worn a pair of Skins shorts – started wearing them while rehabbing a groin pull and felt they really helped prevent reinjury. And didn’t “strangle” either :-)
    A neighbour who is an MD dismisses compression wear as placebos but as she says, “Hey, placebos work too.”

  6. Love the post! Not sure if I’d want to provide visibility to all as those shorts would enable… even as a female!

  7. I tend to agree with you….though a woman, I find that when things get sore it’s rarely quads…when I say rare, I mean never. Not that I can remember at least. However, I’m not doing intense speed work outs or super long distances these days with the baby on the way but before I was pregnant I would have only looked into the socks.

    Great review though. I’m always sent into a fit of giggles from your descriptions.

  8. Great review, I’ve been thinking about compression tights or capris lately because my knees get a little sore after a run and I was wondering if some compression during activity might be worthwhile.

    I have a running skirt with an unseemly crotch seam as well – not sure what they were thinking when they made some of these things.

  9. Funny, it’s my quads that always get me not anythhing else! I wear compression shorts (or that kind of style) for all of my runs now… Regular shorts inevitably rub a hole in my leg and these leave me rub free! I haven’t noticed much difference in quad soreness but then again I buy get mine so tight that it takes a good vaseline job first to shimmy them on ;-)

  10. Thanks for the great and humorous review. I have been considering the shorts as my right hamstring gives me a problem. However, that seam sounds like a product killer. Maybe you can get some of the other manufacturers to send you their shorts to review.

  11. Fantastic review, Matt!

    I’ve worn compression shorts for my runs for the last two years or so. I think your observations are spot-on. I initially started to wear them because the material discouraged that obnoxious inner-thigh chafing on my long runs. Once I discovered BodyGlide, the habit was already formed. Now I just feel naked without them.

    I honestly haven’t had any issues with them on long runs. Of course, I only run just over half as far as you do – so you get twice as far to figure out what you don’t like about them. ;)

    Thanks for the good read.
    ~Tim

  12. That seam means I won’t even be trying these! Love the CEP socks though!

  13. I know you didn’t talk about it a lot, but how long were you sick for after your 50 miler? I’d love to do some longer distances, but do find that I always feel a bit “worn down” after my longer runs, and can only imagine the toll it takes on your body after 50 miles! I wonder what the best way to combat that feeling is? PS if you want to read my last blog entry it talks about why I didn’t run my first marathon last May, how my boyfriend proposed to me, my future plans for running, and a sweet picture of me in a No Meat Athlete T-Shirt before running the Bolder Boulder 10k!

  14. Loved the review.

    In all honesty, I can’t imagine wearing compression shorts for any run. I know, I know..never knock it until you try it. But, to me, I run to relax… and purposely wearing anything that would make it seemed like I just slipped into control top pantyhose or Spanx, just doesn’t seem to fit that bill initially.

    On the other hand, I would have never thought of compression sleeves until you wrote about them.

    Keep it up :)

  15. If you can think outside the box, you will realize that compression shorts have been around for quite a long time.
    They are called … cycling shorts.

    I just got my complimentary pair today.
    Really tight , just like CW-X tights , I received some years ago .

    Once you will think about muscle stimulator ( Compex or Globus) , compression will make a perfect sense, with emphasis on gradual compression ( many companies making compression garments actually cut off blood supply to the muscle).

    I am not sure what is a price tag, but what SONY is for electronics, CEP has been for compression garments for about 50 years.

    Too bad this reputable company started in US with a really bad rep ( finally fired).

  16. I really wish I read this review when it came out, but I’m really bad at keeping up with blogs right now…

    I just tried the Zoot Knickers today (really wanted shorts, but only knickers in my size) on a 10-miler, as my hip has been getting tight a bit lately…

    Two things…

    1) I’m surely convinced you can’t make something in the hips to be “unisex”. The contours didn’t fit a woman’s body and there was a bit of extra crotch room for our lack of “frank and beans”. Kept feeling like they were shifting on me…

    2) Compression around the knee just seems to hinder my movements and changes my stride. That’s not good, not good at all! Maybe this would be different with true shorts, but I still bet I wouldn’t run the same…

    Maybe they will serve a purpose in recovery, but starting to worry I just paid $100 for a really expensive placebo…

  17. I’m not clear, are these meant to be worn under a pair of running shorts – or on their own?

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