9 Gym Shorts Materials for Specific Workouts

9 Gym Shorts Materials for Specific Workouts

April 25, 2022

When you commit to a daily fitness routine, your priority is to challenge yourself physically and mentally. You’re focused on proving you can reach and exceed each goal on the road to your full potential. 

Don’t forget — what you wear to your workouts matters even more than you might think. 

In one study of 2,000 people, almost nine out of ten participants agreed that putting on gym clothes motivates them to show up on days they didn’t feel like it. Additionally, 85% of gym-goers said looking good in gym clothes provides a workout confidence boost.

Workout clothes’ effect on how you feel has a real basis in psychology. Enclothed cognition is when the psychological and physical experience of wearing certain clothes influences mood.  

Dressing the part can activate problem-solving, focus, motivation, and feelings of power and competence. 

No matter your individual exercise style, it pays off to track down workout clothes that flow with your body, personality, and preferences while meeting practical lifestyle needs. 

Are you a runner who favors clothes that incorporate mesh? Do you need spandex for weightlifting or yoga? Or are you the type of person who dabbles in every kind of exercise and needs clothes that do it all, too?

Nine Types of Gym Shorts Materials

When comparing pairs of athletic shorts, take a peek at the description or that label sewn into the seam to answer the question, “What kind of material is used for gym shorts?” Here’s everything you need to know:

1. Cotton

Cotton is soft and breathable, making it one of the most versatile textiles. It’s a natural fiber that resists certain bacteria while trapping less odor than some synthetics. However, cotton can be moisture-absorbent and slower to dry compared to other fabrics.

2. Moisture-Wicking Cotton

A blend of cotton and moisture-wicking synthetics is a common way to ensure workout clothes are sweat-wicking and breathable, yet warm in cold weather.

3. Polyester

Polyester is a lightweight and elastic synthetic material that moves with you for a wide range of motion. It’s excellent at drying faster and staying dry longer for a comfortable workout, but polyester can facilitate more bacteria growth and hold odor if not washed regularly enough.

4. Poly-dri

There are popular proprietary forms of poly-dri fabric, a quick-drying, thin, lightweight microfiber polyester. It often incorporates strategically-placed mesh panels for dry breathability.

5. Spandex

Spandex is highly flexible, stretchy, and effortlessly enables a wide range of motion. Many women’s sports shorts come in spandex-polyester blends for an ideal balance of lightweight dryness and unrestricting flexibility. 

6. Nylon

Nylon is another plastic-based synthetic textile that’s versatile and durable. It keeps you warm or cool as needed and dries off quickly with low absorbency. 

7. Bamboo

Natural bamboo fiber is hypoallergenic and gentle on sensitive skin. Its breathability and moisture-wicking helps it stay cool and fresh-smelling, but bamboo workout clothes are not always budget-friendly.

8. Merino Wool

This is a must-have for staying warm during cold weather outdoor activities. Wool provides incredible warmth but the disadvantage of easily getting waterlogged. Since merino blends wool and moisture-wicking fabric, it balances body heat insulation and dryness.

9. Polypropylene

Polypropylene is a plastic-based synthetic that’s extremely waterproof, thin, and flexible. These properties make it ideal for staying dry in the elements.

Which Gym Short Material Is Best for Different Workouts?

Now that you know about the basic properties of some prevalent athletic shorts materials, you may be wondering how these fabrics’ characteristics translate to your favorite workouts. 

It all depends on how you exercise, including intensity level, range of motion, and environmental conditions like temperature and precipitation. These determine whether you need a gym shorts material that embodies breathability, moisture-wicking, stretch/compression, and/or protection from the elements.

1. Cotton for Casual Exercise

As a comfortable and breathable fabric that keeps you cool, cotton is fine for a casual walk, hike, or bike ride. Even if you break a slight sweat walking your dog on a sunny day, you probably won’t have to worry about excess sweat or bacteria buildup during your coffee run or weekend lunch.

2. Moisture-Wicking Cotton for Moderate Workouts and Cool Weather

Moisture-wicking cotton is slightly better at resisting moisture. Try this material for workouts that don’t leave you sweating heavily. While moisture-wicking cotton will help keep you warm in cool weather, it’s not ideal for precipitation or very cold conditions.

3. Polyester for Daily Cardio and Strength Training

Polyester shorts are an approachable choice for an everyday fitness routine. Those who work out several days per week may have a rotation of versatile polyester or polyester blend garments due to the stretchy, fast-drying, moisture-limiting comfort. 

Unlike cotton, which can soak up sweat and become bunchy and heavy, breathable fabrics like polyester workout clothes for women can improve performance instead of weighing you down.

When you wear moisture-wicking polyester to exercise, it draws sweat away from your body and helps control your body temperature, letting you stay in your zone longer.

4. Poly-dri for High Intensity Workouts

This specialized lightweight variation of polyester may be ideal for ultra-strenuous or HIIT workouts. Its unique texture and mesh paneling keeps you remarkably dry even when pushing your limits.

5. Spandex for Running, Biking, Yoga, and Weightlifting

Spandex has that extra level of stretch for a wide range of motion in yoga or weightlifting. Spandex shorts like the Slide Force are a second skin that eliminates distractions, moving with you yet staying in place no matter how you move, stretch, or bend.

Spandex is a popular compression biking/running shorts material. While compression shorts often contain polyester, polypropylene, bamboo, merino wool, and more, spandex is usually the main ingredient.

Spandex compression shorts apply pressure to the upper leg for reduced muscle damage, inflammation and pain. Studies show compression clothes can somewhat improve runners’ time to exhaustion, perceived exertion, muscle fatigue, and body core temperature with significant effects on post-workout leg soreness and delayed-onset muscle fatigue.

6. Nylon for Rugged Outdoor Activities in Any Weather

Nylon has the amazing stretch of spandex, impressive moisture-resistance and durability. These features make nylon perfect for outdoor enthusiasts like marathoners, rain-or-shine trail runners, and backpackers. Nylon also works for intense weightlifting.

7. Bamboo for Indoor or Outdoor Exercise of Any Intensity

Bamboo is super versatile because of its moisture resistance, odor resistance, breathability, temperature control, durability, and comfort. You can wear bamboo fiber workout clothes to a hot yoga class, 5k, walk/hike, outdoor practice, or on strength training day to stay fresh, dry, and cool.

8. Merino Wool for Outdoor Activities in Cold Weather

Since it’s best for staying warm and dry outdoors, many merino wool athletic shorts you’ll find are compression shorts and base layers. Merino wool facilitates warmth and dryness under outer layers on a brisk winter jog or a day of skiing or snowboarding.

9. Polypropylene for Exercise in Extreme Weather Conditions

While it’s possible to find polypropylene shorts, it’s not a common material for gym shorts since most people prefer longer layers for exercising in the rain, sleet, and snow. Polypropylene is usually found in compression shorts and underlayers for getting active outside in extreme heat, cold, and precipitation.

Do You Need Gym Shorts with Liners or Without Liners?

Some gym shorts have liners for support and moisture reduction. They’re typically meant for running or other activities involving a lot of movement. Liners can provide coverage and comfort, and runners may prefer to forego compression shorts by wearing lined gym shorts instead. 

On the other hand, some workout shorts liners are simply built-in compression shorts that provide the same benefits as standard compression shorts.

You can use lined gym shorts for almost any workout. For runners looking for an alternative to gym shorts, or if you just want heightened comfort, support, dryness, or even coverage, lined shorts might be for you.

Athletic shorts’ liners should be a soft, breathable, moisture-wicking material like mesh. They should have texture and seaming that prevent chafing, and a snug fit that lays still against the body without squeezing or pinching.

What to Look For When Shopping for Gym Shorts Based on Material?

When buying gym shorts that last and jive with your exercise habits, look at the materials with these variables in mind. How much moisture, bacteria, and odor does the textile retain? How thick is the fabric? Does it stretch while maintaining its shape over time? Is it comfortably fitted and practical?

Moisture and Odor Control

If you find a gym shorts material that doesn’t retain moisture, it still may need frequent washing to stay fresh. Alternately, some fabrics like bamboo fiber control both moisture and odor, and can even be hypoallergenic/antimicrobial, excellent for sensitive skin or skin conditions.


Most fabrics come in a range of lightweight and breathable forms to heavier, insulating variants. No matter what, pay attention to descriptions indicating the garment’s weight.


If your preferences and activities require a stretchier short, look for spandex, nylon, and polyester blends.


The initial fit of a new pair of shorts is one thing, but shorts with weaker fabrics can start to lose their shape. After a while, you’ll want gym clothes for women that keep their shape and stretch despite frequent use, movement, and washing instead of becoming loose or baggy.


Extra strong materials like bamboo and nylon resist scratches, punctures, tears, and wear. They may hold up longer to outdoor adventures, repetitive movement, and stretching.


Find out whether the shorts have special features like inobtrusive pockets, smooth, anti-chafe seams, built-in mesh gym shorts liners, or strategically placed panels.

How to Measure Yourself for Spandex Shorts When Buying Online

Especially if you’re searching for close-fitting spandex gym shorts with a seamless, second-skin feel, fit is everything. Knowing how to get accurate measurements of your body can help you pick out the perfect pair of shorts.

Measure the right places

  • Waist: Locate the point just above the belly button and below the bottom rib
  • Hips: Measure around the widest part of your hips
  • Thighs: Get the circumference around your upper thigh

Have the right measuring tool

Use a small, soft measuring tape that’s specifically designed for taking body measurements.

Assume a natural body position

Stand in a regular, relaxed position without sucking in your stomach. Try to measure at the right time — not right after a big meal or when bloated, and not first thing in the morning when you're hungry and dehydrated.

Wear tight clothing when measuring yourself

If measuring yourself while clothed, wear skin-tight clothes that won’t get in the way but aren’t contouring to prevent inaccurate measurements. 

Know what rise and inseam length you like

The ‘rise’ of spandex shorts refers to how low or high the waistband sits. Inseam length determines how long or short the shorts will be. You can anticipate where shorts will land on the thigh by checking the inseam length and mapping it on your legs starting from the uppermost part of your inner thigh.

What’s your favorite gym shorts material?

Are you all about spandex compression shorts, polyester blend running shorts with liners, or loungewear-style cotton for a relaxing walk? What’s the best fit and material for you? 

Tell us on Instagram @goalfive, and check out some of our best workout shorts or women — you might find your new favorite pair!

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