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Workout Shorts: Styles and How to Pick the Right Ones

July 31, 2020

Form and function are fundamental when you’re shopping for workout shorts. You want shorts that will fit you well, and also work well for the type of workout you’re participating in. Because many activities can be thought of as workouts, there are also many different types and styles of workout shorts. It’s helpful to have an idea of the different kinds of workout shorts that are on the market when you begin your search for the perfect pair.

Knowing what kinds of shorts are available is just the first step. You’ll want to have an appreciation of the inner details that make some shorts better than others; details like the kinds of fabrics that your workout shorts are made from and features of the design that lend themselves to the workout you’re doing. 

Pick a Workout, Any Workout...

What’s a workout, exactly? Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. For one guy, it may be a multi-hour training run over mountain trails. For another, it might be a brisk walk around the block with their faithful pooch. Your taste may run towards high-intensity, sweat-soaked intervals at your local CrossFit box, or you may enjoy a gentle pool-side yoga class. Or maybe all of these fit into your workout spectrum. 

Let’s break down a few common workout types and examine the style of shorts for each.

  • Running. Running shorts are some of the most specialized in athletic shorts. The ideal pair of running shorts will be lightweight and won’t restrict the movement of your legs as you pound out the miles. Most specialized running shorts will have a built-in brief for support and will feature a relatively short inseam. You may want to keep your eyes open for features like small zippered key pockets that let you stash away a few essentials during your run.  
  • Aerobics, strength training, and CrossFit. Workout shorts designed for high-intensity sessions in the gym share a few important design features. They’ll typically have a more generous high-rise cut and longer inseam than running shorts, providing you with a bit more coverage and freedom to move when performing exercises like squats. It’s also common to find some stretch material incorporated into the fabric blend of these training shorts like we see in compression shorts. 
  • Yoga. There are many styles of yoga, from vigorous Vinyasa and hot yoga with lots of movement to gentle classes that emphasize static poses. You may want to opt for yoga shorts that are high waist, tight, form-fitting short made from lycra or spandex similar to bike shorts for more vigorous classes while choosing shorts with a relaxed fit for the more gentle offerings. In either case, be sure your shorts are long enough to provide coverage when you’re doing poses like a down dog or practicing inversions.  
  • Basketball. Basketball shorts transcend the hardwood. They’re as much a fashion statement as they are a piece of functional sports gear. Evaluate how you’re going to be using your basketball shorts. If your emphasis is on the sport and nothing else, go for minimalist, breathable lightweight shorts made from a technical nylon and spandex blend with a comfortable fit. If your shorts are going to be an integral part of your down-time and weekend wardrobe, look for extras like side pockets and comfortable polyester blends. In each case look for a longer inseam that ends right above the knee. 
  • Hiking. Whether your idea of hiking is exploring a backcountry hiking trail or heading to the dog park, hiking sweat shorts can be a very useful addition to your wardrobe. Choose hiking shorts with a long enough inseam to provide some protection to your legs, and opt for moisture-controlling synthetic fabric blends. Look for extras like zippered pockets so you don’t lose your keys or phone when you’re scrambling over rocks and rough terrain.  
  • All around the town. Not every pair of workout shorts needs to match a specific activity. You may find that having a few general pairs of shorts that are as equally at home walking the dog as they are doing down dogs matches your style. When you’re looking for these shorts, make sure they’ve got some extra features like a few pockets, and make sure they’re made from performance fabrics that can handle the technical demands of your activities. A great example is the 301 The Workout Shorts, made by Willy California. 

There’s a degree of crossover with workout shorts — just because a pair of shorts is labeled for one activity doesn’t mean you can’t use them for another. For example, you can find running shorts that are made with pockets and boast longer inseams, making them just as suitable for a trip to the grocery store as they are for marathon training. You can also buy a pair of biker shorts and wear them while biking, lifting, or doing yoga. Be flexible and open in your approach and you may find some workout shorts that are great for many different activities.

Consider Your Body Type

Not all guys are built the same, so it’s important to consider your body type as well as your type of workout when you’re shopping for workout shorts. Consider these three examples and think about how they may apply to you.

  • The average Joe. You’re no gym rat, but you take pride in how you look. Your weight is pretty much right where you want it, and you’ve got some pretty decent muscle tone going on. Pick shorts with a relatively slim cut and avoid anything baggy. And keep the inseam just a bit above the knee. Shorts with this cut will accentuate your build and even make you look just a bit taller. 
  • Skinny or chubby. You wouldn’t think that these two builds have much in common, but there is a common denominator to avoid, and that’s shorts with a short inseam. If you’re skinny, short shorts will accentuate your skinny legs, while if you’re carrying around a few extra pounds, the short length of your apparel will tend to bring attention to the size of your legs and backside. Choose workout shorts with a longer inseam in both cases, but keep the fit slimmer if you’re skinny, and opt for a more relaxed fit if you need to drop a few pounds. In any case, opt for an elastic or drawstring waistband to keep your shorts where you want them.  
  • Mr. Universe. If your legs are ripped, you probably don’t mind if people notice that fact! The best way to draw attention to your muscular assets is to go with a shorter inseam. A 7-inch or shorter inseam will really show off your quads, and the hard work you’ve put into building that physique.

No matter your build, though, be sure that you keep in mind the activity that you’ll be using your workout shorts for. A pair of short running shorts might not be a smart choice if you’re taking a yoga class or doing some other type of activity which requires a little more coverage.

Pick Your Fabrics Carefully

The fabrics that your workout shorts are made from will have a big effect on their performance. One of the key features you should look for when picking workout shorts are the ability of the shorts to move moisture away from your skin. This process of moisture-wicking will keep you more comfortable and also keep the shorts drier and lighter while you’re doing your thing. Here are some of the fabrics that you’ll often find employed in workout shorts. 

  • Natural fabrics. We all appreciate the genius of Mother Nature, but be careful about buying workout shorts employing natural fabrics. Cotton, in particular, is not a good choice — it soaks up sweat and gets very heavy. Steer clear!
  • Polyester. Polyester is a go-to staple for athletic wear and workout shorts. Polyester is stretchy, smooth, and comfortable against the skin, and it wicks moisture away from your skin very effectively. Some brands produce special versions of polyester with extra moisture-wicking ability, like Nike’s Dri-Fit.
  • Spandex. Need a little more freedom of movement? Just call on spandex! This stretchy material is often blended with other fabrics to provide a little extra “give.” Close-fitting and slim-cut workout shorts will often use spandex to provide a fitted look that still lets you move with ease.  Elastane and lycra are similar fabrics, used to add extra stretch.
  • Nylon. Strong, durable, and available in a variety of weights and thicknesses, nylon is a fundamental building block for many workout shorts. Nylon is often treated through a variety of processes to make it water-resistant, or to improve its moisture-wicking capabilities. 

Your Workout Shorts Should Match Your Lifestyle

When you get right down to it, the best workout short style is the one that matches your life and your activities. Choose workout shorts for your sport, sure, but also choose them for how well they’ll fit into your daily life along with your other activewear like tank tops, t-shirts, and leggings for when it gets cold. You never know when that trip to the gym will become a trip to the coffee shop or brewpub as well. 

If you choose well-cut best seller workout shorts made from high-quality materials, you’ll be ready to tackle just about anything life throws at you. And you’ll look good doing it, too!