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Men’s Workout Shorts: How Long They Should Be Based on Activity

July 31, 2020

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember gym shorts. Most guys had a pair or two of these nostalgic training shorts in their drawer, leftovers from high school or college, or maybe their team sport shorts from their days with their recreational soccer team. But like many things, specialization has entered the world of workout shorts. There are men’s workout shorts for just about every activity now, each sporting unique features to help optimize them for the task at hand, such as moisture wicking capabilities or reinforced drawstrings. 

There's a myriad of ways to stay active and stay in shape. Running and cycling can build your aerobic engine, while strength training, yoga, and high-intensity interval training can develop and tone your muscles and core, contributing to better posture and mechanics, plus helping your body with the effects of aging. Sports like basketball, soccer, or golf also offer great opportunities for friendly competition and socialization.  

Whatever sports you participate in, you want to be sure that you’ve got the right sportswear to make the most out of your efforts. Proper activewear will make it easier for you to move, and they’ll keep you comfortable and cool while you do so. 


When you’re putting together your sportswear ensemble, the training shorts you choose are an important part of the equation. 

Important Factors to Consider in Athletic Shorts

As the old saying goes, “form follows function.” The cut of your men’s workout shorts, specifically how long your workout short inseam is, will depend a lot upon the requirements of the activity you’re pursuing and the specific sport. Let’s consider a few factors that go into determining how long your shorts should be, and why. 

  • Workouts that require a consistent aerobic effort, like running or soccer, should be as light as possible, so longer inseam lengths can add weight and be a hindrance, which is why best sellers in this category are lightweight and moisture-wicking, also known as "dri fit." 
  • If your activity involves a lot of movement like yoga and crossfit, you’ll want shorts that provide coverage when you’re doing activities like squats and yoga poses. Compression shorts are best sellers here, both in men's training shorts and women's shorts and leggings, particularly because of the flexibility that most compression shorts and activewear has to offer.  
  • If your idea of cross-training involves heading out with the boys after hitting the gym, choose shorts with conservative inseams that will look good when you pair them up with a casual polo or other pieces of outerwear. Even hoodies can look good with a pair of men's gym shorts with the right quality and style. 

Let’s Get Sport-Specific

Functionality is only part of the story when determining the right length for workout shorts. Different sports have different traditions and looks, so while there’s nothing to stop you from wearing basketball shorts to the golf links, you’ll find that actual golf shorts will function much more effectively in that environment. Let’s examine some common sports and see what lengths fit which activities best. 

Running Shorts

Whether you’re a serious runner or a Sunday morning jogger, a good pair of men's running shorts can make a big difference. Running shorts are made from lightweight synthetic materials and often have specific design features, like hidden key pockets in the waistband and built-in liners that optimize their functionality and breathability. 

You’ll find a lot of variation in running short inseams, but if you’re serious about performance, shorter is better. 4 or 6-inch inseams offer plenty of freedom of movement and reduce the weight of your shorts so you can get the most out of your daily run. You can also go with longer inseams if you desire a little more modesty. An 8 or 10-inch inseam will give you extra coverage, which can be nice when the weather turns a bit colder, too. 

Cross-Training & Cross-fit

For the ultimate high-intensity workout, you don’t want shorts that will bog you down. But, if your shorts are too short, they might not provide the coverage you (and your fellow members) want. 

Slim-cut shorts made from high-performance fabrics are just the ticket for tackling your workout of the day. Our recommendation: go for a 10-inch inseam for cross-training shorts. That’s short enough that they won’t slow you down, but long enough for excellent coverage during your burpees, planks, and crunches. 

Yoga

While women's yoga gear, particularly leggings, have a seemingly unlimited market, it’s tough to find well-cut yoga clothes if you’re a guy. So, the default is often to throw on whatever pair of jersey shorts and t-shirt you have handy. 

This is of course, not always ideal. Short running shorts may leave you a bit more exposed than you like when doing downward dog, while longer basketball shorts don’t offer all the freedom of movement you’d like. Your best bet is somewhere between the two extremes. Look for shorts with an 8 to 10-inch inseam, and be sure that they incorporate some spandex or other stretchy material so you can concentrate on moving smoothly into your pose, not how your shorts are clinging to you. Again, as mentioned, compression shorts are a pretty popular choice, especially for the big & tall yogis who may need a little extra cling. 

Basketball

Basketball short lengths have seen more rises and falls than the stock market. Check out some old-school footage of Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlin and you may blush at their short sport shorts. Fast forward to the early 2000s, and baggy shorts hanging below the knee were the ideal of men's shorts, not only in men's sportswear, but even in cargo shorts and jeans! 

Today, the consensus seems to have settled on around 11 inches for basketball shorts. Shorts that end just above the knee combine good coverage and freedom of movement. You’ll usually pair basketball shorts with compression underwear, so go for shorts without built-in liners. It's also worth it to look for a good drawstring with a solid end, as drawstrings are notorious for disappearing in the wash for men's shorts of any style!

Soccer

Lightweight and breathable are the two key adjectives to look for when buying soccer shorts. You don’t want heavy fabrics and sweat holding you back when you’re sprinting for a through ball. 

When you’re going full-tilt on the pitch or sliding for a tackle, you want to be sure you stay covered down below. So, short inseams you’ll find with running shorts aren’t going to be ideal. Likewise, baggy basketball shorts are just going to slow you down. Over time, the ideal inseam length for soccer shorts has settled in at right around 7 inches, though you can find longer or shorter options if you do a little searching, especially among new arrivals as shorter shorts come back into style. 

Hiking

Hiking shorts should combine coverage to protect your legs from sun and the occasional briar patch with a high degree of freedom of movement, especially if you’re tackling rough trails and the possibility of a little rock scrambling. Look for extras like durable fabrics and pockets when shopping for hiking shorts. Although cargo shorts have been the long-standing go-to for hiking, men's training shorts have come a long way and can offer comparable performance to that old pair of trusty camo cargo shorts at the bottom of your drawer. 

Many hiking-specific shorts offer optional lengths. Go with a shorter 8” inseam if you desire the most freedom of movement. If you want a little more coverage and skin protection, check out shorts with 10 or 12-inch inseams

Strength Training

Whether your idea of strength training is HIIT or pumping iron, the athletic shorts you wear should be able to let you move with comfort while still providing the coverage you need when you’re repping a set of squats. Since you’ll probably want to wear compression underwear underneath, shy away from shorts with built-in liners. 

Shop for shorts that are lightweight and breathable, plus with a touch of spandex to make it easy to move. Willy California’s 301 Workout Shorts are a great example. And the length? Go for an 8 or 10-inch inseam to hit the sweet spot. That allows for plenty of freedom of movement when the going gets tough. 

Cycling

Not all cycling is done in skintight lycra. If you’re hitting the local bike path or double track, more conventional men's workout shorts are a good option. They’ll provide plenty of coverage and usually provide pockets to stash your keys and wallet. 

To get the right blend of function and utility, look for shorts with a 9-inch inseam, and shop for extras like a removable padded insert and zippered pockets, too. 

Golf

Golf shorts may not look much different than your standard casual shorts, but they’re designed to tackle some of the challenges a round of golf presents. Look for shorts that are cut with a 10-inch inseam, so they pair well with a polo.

How about some other specs and features? Good golf shorts should be made from synthetic blends that are moisture wicking and incorporate stretch into the fabric and waistband. Look for handy pockets for holding your scorecard, tees, and extra ball too. 

The Man Around Town

What about those days when you’ve got a busy schedule? Walk the dog, hit the gym, then stop at the local coffee shop — you probably don’t want to wear three different pairs of shorts. 

Your go-to should be a good pair of shorts with a 10-inch inseam, made from a synthetic blend, and incorporating some convenient pockets. Willy California’s best selling 303 Runaround Shorts are a great example. A good pair of gym shorts are often better for much more than just the gym!

The Right Length Athletic Shorts Can Make All the Difference in the World

As we’ve seen, there’s a lot to consider when shopping for the right style and right length of men's training shorts. 

High-quality men's athletic workout shorts are great for your time in the gym, but they’re also great for so many other activities. Cut to the right length, they’ll work great and look good, both in the gym and outside of it, and it'll be no wonder why they're a best seller. If paired with a sharp-looking top or even a nice t-shirt, you’ll find that what you thought were just another pair of men's training shorts can be an integral part of your wardrobe, both in the gym and beyond.