Shorts are an important part of the wardrobe in combat sports. They need to have ideal movement for whatever it is you’re doing, they need to be durable enough that they can put up with the punishment of even the most brutal training session and most importantly, seeing as they’re one of the few items you’ll wear when fighting, they need to make you look good.
The requirements of combat sports are completely different from other sports like football or running, so you won’t have much luck with any old shorts. That said, even within the world of combat sports there is a big amount of variety in the different types of shorts you get.
This is because while sports may be similar, there are a number of differences which require the shorts to be designed slightly differently – for example flexibility, grappling, or simply cultural heritage. These aren’t strict boundaries though, and you’ll often find that as long as your coach doesn’t mind, you can wear whichever style you prefer when training.
Types of Shorts
We’re going to start off by running through some of the main types of shorts you’ll see fighters wearing, so you can work out what to pick up for yourself.
If you’ve ever watched a boxing match you’ll know what boxing shorts are. Surprisingly, your standard pair of boxing shorts is probably more of a specific cut than most other types of short. The reason for this is the style of abdominal protecting groin guard worn in boxing, which has lead to a very high-waisted style.
The lack of any kicks in boxing means that a longer works well, leading to most boxing shorts coming down to the knee. Because boxing shorts don’t usually get hit much, there are a lot of fancy custom designs.
MMA / Grappling Shorts
While boxing is the perfection of one discipline, Mixed Martial Arts focuses on a combination of everything, which means both grappling and kicks are on the table. Obviously this means your typical boxing short doesn’t cut it. MMA shorts (sometimes referred to as Grappling shorts) refer to the longer style of shorts used by MMA athletes, which have a long, often slim fit around the legs, but using a material which balances flexibility and durability. Modern techniques allow MMA shorts to become increasingly more lightweight. A good fit around the waist is vital in MMA where grappling is a frequent occurrence.
Muay Thai shorts
Unlike the previous two, Muay Thai shorts are a much shorter fit. They’re often made with a satin material. Thai shorts range from pretty basic designs, to some unbelievably flashy designs, with some modern brands going for a much more contemporary styles too. As well as the traditional style of Muay Thai shorts, there’s been a surge in popularity of ‘Retro’ style Muay Thai shorts in recent years.
Standard Muay Thai shorts vary a little in length, but are typically a fairly short cut. They get maximum flexibility by having very wide short legs, and as such Thai fighters have developed a habit of rolling the waistband to increase this even more.
The retro style of muay thai short is getting much more popular. They’re a much squarer cut with slimmer legs, but with an arched leg slit on either side to get the same level of flexibility. Retro shorts are typically a little more stylish.
Kickboxing shorts / Hybrid shorts
These days, the merged K1 style of kickboxing is almost closer to Muay Thai and MMA than traditional kickboxing. As such, many fighters choose to wear Kickboxing shorts. These days some brands are designing these shorts to be equally usable across multiple sports, hence the name Hybrid shorts. These are often designed similarly to MMA shorts, but with a much shorter cut and sometimes a lighter weight material and feel.
Vale Tudo Shorts / Compression shorts
If you’ve ever watched a UFC fight, you might notice some of the fighters don’t wear the style of MMA short we mentioned earlier, instead wearing a set of skin-tight shorts instead. These are often referred to as Vale Tudo shorts, which are a grappling-based item of clothing similar to compression shorts. These are designed to minimise excess material and to make sure there isn’t any unnecessary friction when grappling, however can also make good form-fitting training shorts.
Now, I know this isn’t the focus of this article, but we couldn’t finish up without including a little on the other options available.
Full Contact Kickboxing Trousers
If you’ve seen fighters from a more traditional kickboxing background, there’s a strong chance you’ll have seen a pair of kickboxing trousers. These are loose fitting, so allow for lots of flexibility with foot protection worn underneath. Due to the length and fit, these generally aren’t suggested for other sports.
Like the compression trousers we mentioned earlier, compression trousers have become a slightly more popular choice for training, but aren’t actually designed for combat sports. While they could be worn, they tend to work best when used as a base layer underneath other shorts.
‘Spats’ / Rashguard leggings
Spats are the grappling equivalent of compression trousers, but as such are made to be much more durable and optimised for fighting. They aren’t designed for stand-up fighting, however they still make a great option for anybody training MMA, who might need to mix things up.
Choosing your pair of shorts
Once you’ve checked over the information above, you can start to work out what style you need. Usually it’s easy enough to work out, but sometimes there’s a bit of flexibility when it comes to training. Now it’s time to narrow down the other aspects so you can find the right pair.
It should go without saying that getting the size right is important. As with all clothing, the sizes from different brands can vary, and not all styles aim for the same fit. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to get shorts in physical stores, because the selections are often slim or non-existent. You want to check how the company you are buying from sizes their shorts – most companies have size guides online.
The shorts might be the right type and size, but if the pair you go for is built with poor quality materials or badly made then they’re not going to last you long at all. There’s a chance that even if they do last a while, they might simply be uncomfortable, either rubbing in the wrong place, or not giving you the flexibility you need. We always stress the importance of checking out reviews – whether from a dedicated review website like ourselves, from customer reviews online, or simply from friends you train with. There’s no point wasting money on a product that isn’t perfect for you.
So you might not think about this one too much, but there are plenty of features to keep an eye out for these days. Some common features might be reinforced seams or flatlock stitching, silicon lined waist bands or breathable panels.
None of these features are necessary, and some are dependant on the types of short, however depending on what you’re using the shorts for, buying a pair with certain features can really benefit your training.
I’m not really sure we have to explain this one, but naturally when you buy something, you’re going to want to make sure it looks nice. The colours, pattern and fit can all factor into making a great pair of shorts, so you need to make sure you’ll be happy with what you’re buying. The key is finding something that speaks to you personally, and not picking something just for the specs. After all, there’s no point buying something if you’re just going to leave it in a drawer because you decide you don’t like it after all.
At the end of the day though, the reality is that most of us aren’t made of money, and we can’t go out and spend a ridiculous amount on a single pair of shorts. Obviously if you start looking for the cheapest pairs out there, then the aspects we mentioned before (quality, features, etc.) aren’t going to be up to scratch. It’s often a good idea to compare the pair you’re looking at to the equivalent product from other similar brands, which will give you a much better idea whether you’re getting a good deal or not.
Hopefully this guide has given you a much better idea of what to look for when buying your next pair of training shorts, without overloading you with information.
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