October 20, 2020

When you find a great pair of workout shorts it’s a real win. Your ideal activewear workout shorts will be a perfect match for your sports and your other activities and will often fill multiple roles in your life, accompanying you from the gym to the market to your favorite watering hole and beyond.

You’ll need something to wear under these shorts, though. Your choice of the right garment to wear underneath your athletic shorts will make these great shorts even better. By adapting the style of underwear you wear to your activity, you’ll make those versatile shorts even better. They’ll be the true Swiss Army knife of your athleisure wardrobe. Here’s a primer on what to wear under your workout shorts, and when to wear it.  

Liner or No Liner?

Depending on the workout shorts you buy, you may not even have to decide what to wear underneath, since many workout shorts have built-in liners. A built-in liner can be convenient — no decision to make on what to wear underneath and less laundry to do afterward!

Liners can vary from light mesh briefs that are great for keeping you cool, to full-on compression liners. 

  • Lightweight brief liners are popular with many under bike shorts, basketball shorts, training shorts, running shorts or gym shorts where you prize your freedom of motion.  
  • Compression liners provide more muscle support and also guard against chafing. If you like the feeling of something more substantial for underwear and want to prevent skin friction they’re a good choice.  

One disadvantage of a built-in liner is that you’re locked into your underwear choice. If you want the freedom to mix and match, choose shorts without liners. A second disadvantage is that when the liner wears out, you can’t use the shorts anymore.  

What to Look For in Workout Underwear

The fabrics that underwear are made from have a big effect on how they perform. One key feature you should always look for is the ability of the garment to move moisture away from your skin. This “moisture-wicking” keeps you drier and more comfortable and helps prevent chafing and rashes. Keep your eye out for these fabrics. 


This staple of athletic wear is stretchy and smooth, and it’s comfortable against the skin. Polyester moves moisture away from the skin very effectively. You’ll find proprietary blends of polyester with improved moisture-wicking ability made by many gear makers. 


One of the original synthetic fabrics, nylon still holds its own. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and effective at keeping you cool and dry. 


This special blend of rayon is prized for its smooth and comfortable feel. It’s also effective at wicking moisture. If you want to treat yourself to something special, keep your eye out for micromodal. 


You’ll find spandex, and its cousin, elastane, in most performance underwear. It provides comfort in the waistband and adds a needed element of give that lets you move easily no matter the activity. And the extra stretch gives your undies a little extra support for your muscles and your important parts. 

Choose Your Style

The best sellers of workout shorts are shorts that work well for your sport or chosen activity. Picking the right type of underwear to go under your workout shorts will complement and improve your shorts. Consider these options when you’re deciding. 

Compression shorts

When you think of compression shorts think biker shorts with four way stretch. One of the top choices for men’s workout underwear is, without a doubt, dri fit compression shorts. Compression shorts provide excellent support for your muscles and genitals, and the long inseams prevent chafing caused by the skin of your inner legs rubbing together. At first glance, it can be hard to see the difference between compression shorts and boxer briefs, but there are some features to look for that will let you know the difference.  

  • Compression shorts are constructed from moisture-wicking fabrics that have stretch material, like spandex, woven into the blend.
  • Look for multi-panel designs that allow free movement and specific muscular support. 
  • Choose an inseam length based on the activity and your preference. A longer inseam prevents chafing and provides more muscle support. A shorter inseam may allow you to move a bit more freely. 
  • Consider compression shorts that have anti-microbial properties. These will help keep the funk at bay during your sweatiest sessions, plus extend the working life of the shorts. 

The jockstrap 

Once a ubiquitous resident of gym bags, the humble jockstrap has lost much of its popularity. The reasons are fashion and function. Jockstraps were once the go-to choice when men were looking for more support for the important parts than boxers and cotton briefs provided. Now, compression shorts and trunks provide just as much or more support. And fashion? Well, when’s the last time you saw someone wearing a jock in the locker room?

  • If you participate in contact sports or ball sports, you may want to consider a jockstrap, since they make it easy to wear a protective cup.

Boxer briefs

Many guys find that boxer briefs work great for both normal uses and for wearing in the gym. Most boxer briefs have a long enough inseam to prevent chafing and also provide enough support for moderate aerobic and strength workouts. Boxer briefs like the Willy California 602 The Boxer Briefs are a great example.

  • Eschew cotton and cotton blends. They’ll soak up your sweat during the workout. 

    Briefs or bikini briefs

    If you like freedom of movement and want less coverage than what’s provided by boxer briefs or compression shorts, consider a set of bikini briefs. Do a little shopping and you’ll find a pair that meet the essentials for a workout — a supportive design and a moisture-wicking material. 

    • Looking for less coverage but not quite ready for bikini briefs? Look for square-cut briefs with a short inseam.

    Nothing at all

    The origins of the term “going commando” for not wearing underwear are murky, but many posit that soldiers would go without underwear in hot and humid climates to allow better ventilation of their nether regions. Some men enjoy the freedom and prefer going without to wearing underwear

    • If you’re ready to go without, be sure you shorts provide enough coverage to prevent unplanned exposure.


    Boxers will also provide plenty of room for ventilation. If your sport or activity is not too strenuous, it may be a good choice. Make sure you select boxers made from moisture-wicking materials to keep cool and dry.

    • Since they’re loose-fitting, boxers can bunch up under your workout shorts if the workout shorts are tight. Opt for a relaxed-fitting pair of shorts if you go with this option. 

    What’s Your Sport?

    The final piece to our puzzle is matching your underwear options with your sport. There are a lot of different schools of thought on what to wear for different sports, and you’ve got to consider your individual preferences as well. Use these guides as a starting point. 

    • For aerobic sports like running, or working out in the gym on an elliptical trainer a minimalist approach might serve you well. Go for light-weight underwear that allows plenty of freedom of movement. One caveat is that some prefer compression shorts or boxer briefs with a longer inseam for these activities to prevent chafing.  
    • For strength sports like weight lifting or CrossFit, or for sports requiring explosive movement, like basketball or soccer, compression shorts give muscles extra support that can help beat fatigue.
    • In the mood for a mellow activity, like a relaxed yoga class? You may find that comfort is the key element. Wear undergarments that allow plenty of freedom of movement, but won’t bunch up. A pair of well-fitting boxer briefs or bikini briefs may be just the right call.

    It's Your Call!

    The final decision on what to wear under workout shorts is yours. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try some different combinations of shorts and underwear to find the right match. And don’t be bound by convention either. If it feels right, just go with your instincts and enjoy yourself.