Information Click Groin
Hamstring Quadriceps Pull and Pain
Men's Marathon Running
Shorts a good fit for athletes
� Some say compression garments can
enhance performance by improving the body's awareness of motion.
Cromley, Times Staff Writer
THEIR satin-soft feel. The comforting
protection they offer from breezes whistling chilly surprises up your baggies. Those are
two good reasons why so many people seem to be wearing compression shorts these days, from
basketball, hockey and tennis icons to the guy next door mowing his lawn.
Many athletes believe the shorts have other, tangible benefits enhancing
performance, speeding recovery from injury and possibly even preventing it.
fact, whether these shorts confer any meaningful advantages on the court or field is still
an open question.
One veteran researcher sports kinesiologist William J. Kraemer of the University of
Connecticut believes that these form-hugging "compression garments"
enhance some types of performance.
Another, Greg Anderson of University College of the Fraser Valley, in Canada, concludes
that the pants at the least don't impede performance.
Both believe that the shorts probably improve what is known as "proprioceptive
feedback." In plain English: The compression of the shorts on receptors in the skin
and muscles gives the brain added information on the body's motion. This, in turn, enables
improved mechanics of motion.
The concept of compression shorts was born in the late 1970s when a few maverick athletes,
noticing the healing effect of compression garments on injuries, began using women's
girdles and pantyhose for support. The notion of Lycra underpants for males wasn't hurt
when the manliest of men, Super Bowl III Most Valuable Player and all-around sports hero
Joe Namath, posed in a television commercial for Hanes Beautymist pantyhose in 1974.
By the 1980s, the shorts were gracing the loins of celebrity athletes such as NBA star
Michael Jordan and tennis great Andre Agassi. With that, the shorts were off and running.
Kraemer notes that wearing the shorts had a bonus: Comfort-wise, they provided more
support than a jockstrap.
The slippery shorts have created some friction over the years in some of the more staid
sports. Wimbledon officials got their knickers in a twist when Zina Garrison wanted to
wear hers on the court in 1992, forcing the athlete to get a doctor's note before the
garments were permitted.
The shorts have even sparked debate among physicists, who five years ago engaged in
earnest discussion on the ethics of Lycra (might it confer an unfair athletic advantage?)
at the Institute of Physics Congress in Brighton, England.
For some folks, the shorts aren't a cerebral matter. Hunky college football player USC
fullback Brandon Hancock started using them following a muscle pull, and then kept wearing
"I feel a little more secure in them," he says. "After working out all week
in practice shorts, switching to fresh pants on Saturday gives you a lift."
Hancock notes that some players switch to the shorts by the fourth or fifth week of the
season, when injuries tend to stack up. "Players who try them tend to stick with
them," he says, "particularly those who've had hamstring problems."
Physicists aren't the only ones applying science to pants. Kraemer, for instance, has been
studying the biology of compression garments, including shorts, for 17 years. (His early
research was performed in partnership with DuPont, the company that introduced Lycra to
American consumers in the late 1950s.)
In one study of 10 male and 10 female varsity track athletes, Kraemer and his colleagues
found that participants jumped measurably higher when wearing compression shorts. They
also registered higher skin temperatures, a potential benefit for preventing injury. In
another study of 12 women, the scientists found that compression leg wear reduced fatigue.
Based on the sum of his research, Kraemer believes compression shorts not only help with
proprioception but improve performance of short, explosive types of athletic activity,
such as jumping.
Kraemer has yet to determine if the shorts reduce injury, but fellow pantologist Anderson
plans to find out.
Working with Coretection Products, a sports garment manufacturer, Anderson's research team
has lined up 24 National Hockey League teams and four Major League Baseball teams to test
some specially designed compression shorts in the upcoming NHL and MLB seasons.
At the end of the seasons, Anderson will compare the incidence of groin-related injuries
and days on injury reserve in teams using three versions of the shorts with different
levels of compression, versus teams that are not.
Even if the shorts aren't found to reduce injury, Anderson believes they are still
beneficial if only for the faith they foster.
"If the athletes believe in them and think they're going to perform better or not get
hurt, the shorts have already done their job," he says.
Tempted to take a pair for a spin? Keep these things in mind when purchasing compression
shorts. Most are made with a Lycra blend fabric: the more Lycra, the more support. (Shorts
with 20% Lycra will provide good support for most people.)
Standard compression shorts, which sell for about $25, come in a variety of styles for
different ages and sports. Ideally, the shorts should have flat seams to avoid irritation.
Joe Dorsey, president of American Wave International, says that the amateur, not the
professional athlete, is now their best customer.
That's probably a good thing, he says: "The shorts are more beneficial to the weekend
warrior than the pro athletes, because weekend warriors are in worse shape and tend to
Even as sports retailers count their bucks, the shorts that revolutionized athletic wear
and street fashion have veered in an unexpected direction.
In what may be an evolutionary dead end, ankle-length versions of the shorts have been
appearing on several NBA players, such as Milwaukee Bucks forward Joe Smith. In short,
some NBA players are now wearing tights.
Thank you, Joe Namath.