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The Best Women’s Athletic Shorts (A CPT’s Top Picks)

By Tami Smith

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For many years, leggings were all the rage, and they still are a staple in most women’s wardrobes. But over the past few years, I’ve noticed that more and more women are embracing wearing shorts. From Instagram influencers telling us to #wearthedamnshorts to body-positive brands showing women of all sizes wearing shorts (see our women's best workout shorts for thick thighs), it’s clear that what used to be borderline uncomfortable is now not only socially acceptable but encouraged.

For the ladies out there who have been fearful of wearing shorts because they “don’t like their legs” or think shorts don’t look good on them; stop the nonsense! Sometimes, it’s hot and sometimes we just want to wear shorts and let our legs breathe!

Athletic shorts for women have come a long way over the years, too. Today, you can choose from hundreds of different athletic shorts across varying lengths, styles, fits, and materials. There’s literally an entire world out there that many of us aren’t even sure how to navigate.

But that’s where this article comes in; as a self-proclaimed shorts die-hard, I have tried and tested hundreds of shorts myself. Living in Florida, shorts are the norm, and I’ll be darned if I’m going to sweat my buns off in leggings!

So whether you’re looking for athletic shorts to don during your next workout or you’re just looking for some comfy athletic shorts to wear around the house and to the playground with your kiddos, I’ve got you covered in this article.

Women's Athletic Shorts Buying Guide

Ladies, I live in athletic shorts. You can catch me sporting my gym shorts everywhere. From workouts in my home gym and walks around my neighborhood to running around town with my kids, I’m always rocking a comfortable and functional pair of athletic shorts.

And let me tell you, not every pair is created equal; there are certain things that you need to be on the lookout for when choosing athletic shorts. The buying guide below is some of the key aspects to consider when getting ready to pull the trigger on a fresh pair of shorts that you can rock confidently.

What to Look For

I've been buying athletic shorts for a long time now and have a consistent process that helps me find some good ones. Here's what to look for:

Fit

As a woman looking to confidently wear a pair of shorts, athletic or otherwise, it can be incredibly frustrating to deal with the sizing discrepancies from brand to brand. Plus, with so much online shopping these days, it’s disheartening to order from multiple brands and receive vastly different fits. While we can’t control each brand’s sizing, we can pay attention to things like the inseam length, product descriptions, and product reviews.

Some shorts are a tight fit, made to mold to and contour your body. Other shorts are loose and flowy, giving you a flouncy look and feel. Take some time to consider what the fit of your ideal pair of athletic shorts would look like.

Length

Most athletic shorts range in length from 2” - 8” inseams, this is a huge difference! Do you like your shorts on the shorter side? Is full booty coverage a priority for you? Do you feel best when your shorts hit at a certain length on your thighs?

Waist

High-waisted shorts are all the rage these days, and I can personally see why - they’re so flattering! But not everyone wants a high waist. There are also options to choose a low waist, mid-rise waist, and even uber high-rise pairs, too. Your personal choice might depend on your torso and what best flatters your body and suits your style.

Material

Spandex? Nylon? Cotton? Oh my! There are lots of different material options to choose from. The type of material you choose for athletic shorts will likely depend on the purpose of your shorts. Will you be training in them? Then a pair of Spandex shorts will be perfect. Heading out for a run? Nylon shorts feel like a breeze. Just want something comfortable to wear every day, cotton and cotton blends will be your best friend.

Brand

Now, more than ever, we need to be choosy about the brands that we spend our money on. It might sound silly, but sometimes spending an extra few bucks with a US-based or small family-run brand is well worth it. Rather than jumping on Amazon and buying from another faceless brand just because your favorite influencer mentioned they “loved” them, consider buying from a brand with integrity, one that cares about the customer and the quality of the products they produce. These are the kinds of brands that you’ll find on our list, by the way.

What Are the Different Types of Athletic Shorts?

Before we get into our list, I want to first point out and highlight that there are different types of athletic shorts that are best suited for certain situations and uses. So let’s run through some common women’s athletic shorts types.

Biker Shorts

These are typically made from spandex and are a tight, compressive fit. Despite the name, bike shorts aren’t just for cycling, they are commonly used for workouts, athleisure, and even running. See our top women's cycling shorts if that's something you're interested in.

Compression Shorts

Similar to bike shorts, compression shorts are those that are tight-fitting and compressive. Compression shorts are very popular for weightlifting workouts.

Running Shorts

A good pair of women's running shorts with compression liner is essential for athletes who take running seriously. Running shorts are usually looser fitting and include a lightweight fabric that’s easy to glide in.

Athleisure Shorts

This type of shorts is generally good for all kinds of movement but also for lounging in, too. A good pair of athleisure shorts can easily be taken from the gym to running errands while maintaining a cute and casual look.

Casual Shorts

These are similar to athleisure shorts, but they are more geared towards lounging than working out. This type of shorts might be crafted from cotton or a similar blend that’s more comfortable than anything else.

Weightlifting Shorts

Weightlifting shorts are usually short, tight, and compressive. When lifting, we don’t want anything getting in our way, so minimal coverage is usually what’s optimal.

The Best Athletic Shorts For Women

Alright, let’s dig into the good stuff! Here are my top options for the best athletic shorts for women (all tried and true by me and my team).

1. 1st Phorm Women’s Amplify Shorts

1st phorm womens amplify athletic shorts

If you’re looking for a true pair of athletic shorts that can do it all, 1st Phorm’s Amplify Shorts are where it’s at. I have these shorts in every single color and wear them for everything from training sessions and runs to hiking and running errands.

These are two-in-one shorts meaning they include an inner compression liner and an outer shell. They feature a 4-way stretch woven material with a casual cut that’s relaxed through the thighs. A flattering high waist and adjustable waistband make for a comfortable and functional fit. Plus, there are multiple zippered pockets so you can keep all your things secure discreetly.

Pros

  • The 2-in-1 design gives you the best of both worlds and makes these super functional for all kinds of activities
  • Soft, comfortable, and flattering fit
  • Drawstring waist for adjustability
  • Ultra-flattering high waist
  • Excellent length for most body types
  • Multiple bright, beautiful colors to choose from
  • An integral brand that you can trust (110% money-back guarantee)

Cons

  • Taller women might need to size up if between sizes for a longer length
  • Some people don’t like having an inner shorts liner

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2. FLEO True High Contour Shorts

fleo true high contour womens athletic shorts

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FLEO offers some of the highest quality women’s athletic shorts for weightlifting and training on the market. This brand offers athletic wear that’s highly tailored to women who work out and want to work out in cute, comfortable, but highly functional shorts.

The True High Contour Shorts feature FLEO’s signature shorts fabric that’s soft, stretchy, and sweat-wicking. Plus, they come in a ton of cute, fun, and totally unique color options and patterns to choose from. With a 4” inseam and a true high-rise waistband, these shorts are just as flattering as they are functional.

Pros

  • Single lined fabric that’s stretchy, contouring, and stays in place
  • 4” wide waistband that’s without elastic for superior comfort
  • True highrise
  • Back contour seams for curve enhancement
  • An excellent option for workouts both indoors and outdoors
  • Flattering on every body type
  • So many unique and fun patterns and colors to choose from
  • Small brand with a big mission that’s inspiring

Cons

  • They are tight-fitting which some people don’t prefer
  • Not the best option for casual wear

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3. Maven Thread Elite Shorts

maven thread elite athletic shorts women

Maven Thread’s Elite Shorts offer the perfect combination of comfort and style. These shorts feature buttery soft material, a high waistband crafted from their “oursport” Fabric (which is equally soft and cozy), and a 4-way stretch that’s made to sculpt and flatter every body type.

There are two large side pockets that can easily fit your phone, keys, cards, etc. Plus, each pair comes with a super soft, supportive liner for the ultimate in convenience. The inseam is a moderate 3.5”, which tends to be the perfect length for many women. And these athletic shorts are ideal for everything from running, training, HIIT, lounging, sports, and more. These really are a do-it-all short!

Pros

  • Super soft and comfortable material
  • High, soft waistband
  • Large side pockets
  • 3.5” inseam
  • Soft inner liner
  • Great for all kinds of activities
  • Multiple colors and patterns to choose from
  • A small, family brand with a big heart and quality mission

Cons

  • Not super compressive for those who want that feel
  • The waistband is large (some don’t prefer that look)

4. CALIA Women's Step Up Shorts

calia womens step up shorts athletic

CALIA, by Carrie Underwood, is a great clothing line sold by Dick’s Sporting Goods. The Women’s Step Up Shorts are some of my favorite athletic shorts from the CALIA line. They’re modern, trendy, comfortable, and perfect for all types of workouts and life situations. 

CALIA’s Step Up Shorts feature a lightweight, flowy material, a high waistband that’s stretchy and comfortable, an inner lining, and a 3” inseam with a flattering cut. There are tons of colors and patterns to choose from so you can mix up your wardrobe and show off your personal style.

Pros

  • Soft, comfortable material
  • Easy, relaxed fit
  • Super high waistband
  • Multiple colors and patterns to choose from
  • A great option for all kinds of activities

Cons

  • The 3” inseam might be a tad short for taller ladies
  • There’s no drawstring to cinch the waist (which might be unnecessary anyway)

5. Women's UA Rival Fleece Shorts

UA womens rival fleece shorts

If it’s comfort you seek, then these Rival Fleece Shorts from Under Armour are an awesome choice. These women’s athletic shorts are the perfect mix of soft and functional while also allowing you to get in a good workout if you choose.

Lightweight, super comfy, mid to high waist, and pockets make for a pair of shorts that can easily take you from the gym to a play date or lunch with friends while looking stylish and cute. 

Pros

  • Super soft and comfortable material
  • Mid-rise
  • Stretchy waistband
  • A casual look that can be taken almost anywhere
  • External drawstring waist for adjustability
  • Modest 3.5” inseam
  • Loose, flattering fit

Cons

  • Only one color option is available
  • Not the best material for intense, sweaty workouts

6. 1st Phorm Aspire Shorts

1st phorm aspire athletic shorts for women

If you’re looking for that unicorn pair of bike shorts that are ideal for both working out and lounging, then you’re in luck because I have found them. 1st Phorm’s Aspire Shorts are epically amazing when it comes to versatility. You can easily wear these in the gym for your toughest training sessions and then slip these on for lounging around the house or running errands and feel amazing.

These shorts fit like a glove, offering a subtle compression that keeps things tight and tucked in but not so much that they feel restrictive and uncomfortable. These have a great inseam at 4”, which hits mid-thigh, a soft, comfortable high-rise waistband, and two deep pockets on either side. You’ll want these in multiple colors!

Pros

  • Very soft and comfortable
  • Perfect for intense gym sessions and for everyday wear
  • Two large pockets on either side
  • Slight compression
  • Flatters your backside perfectly
  • Comes in multiple color options
  • 4” inseam

Cons

  • They are not the cheapest option for bike shorts (but, you get what you pay for)
  • Some people don’t like the look of the seams

7. Maven Thread 4” Biker Shorts

maven thread biker shorts women

Honestly, Maven Thread’s 4” Biker Shorts are tied with 1st Phorm’s Aspire Shorts - they are both just so good! Maven Thread has the softest, most comfortable fabric that just kind of glides on and makes you feel supported and cute at the same time.

One of the best things about purchasing athletic shorts from Maven Thread is that they offer patterns that are completely unique. I don’t know about you, but I get sick of seeing the smae people wearing the same things all the time. Maven Thread allows you to mix up your wardrobe with some super high-quality pieces in trendy designs that only they offer. These shorts are 10/10 comfortable for all things from workouts to lounging.

Pros

  • Super soft and comfortable
  • Luxe fabric
  • Unique patterns and designs
  • 4” inseam
  • Large side pockets
  • Flattering seams

Cons

  • Some say they run a tad small (size up if you want a more relaxed fit)
  • Not the cheapest bike shorts on the market

The Bottom Line

Athletic shorts are for every woman, so whatever the reason is that you’re looking for a great pair to rock, you’re sure to find something that’s in alignment with your preferences and needs.

As someone who wears shorts every single day, I can tell you that not every pair is made equally and that not every pair suits every occasion. My goal for this article was to choose a nice selection of the best athletic shorts out there so that you can pick and choose which option(s) are most ideal for you.

To narrow down the top athletic shorts for women is tough, but having tried and loved every pair on this list, I am confident that you’ll find a pair that you love, too.

FAQs

Let's take a look at some frequently asked questions that could help you make a better decision.

How Should Athletic Shorts Fit?

There’s no right and wrong way to wear gym shorts or athletic shorts. The answer really comes down to what you plan to do in your shorts as well as your personal style and preferences. For example, many women who lift weights like to wear compression shorts that hug tightly and flatter from all angles. On the flip side, women who run/walk/jog tend to like athletic shorts that are a little looser in the legs for ample breathing room and space. Of course, you can buy 2-in-1 shorts and get the best of both worlds! Take a few minutes to decide what you’ll be wearing them for and make decisions from there.

Should Gym Shorts Be Tight?

That depends on what you’re planning to do with them. In general, I would advise against wear super tight athletic shorts as they can be more restrictive than anything else, thereby getting in the way of whatever activity you’re doing. That said, a pair of tight-fitting shorts might be a good idea for training sessions, just make sure that they aren’t so tight that you’re uncomfortable or that they interfere with your workout. The best solution is to find compression shorts that give you a close fit but feature a 4-way stretch and soft, comfortable fabric.

What Length of Shorts Is Most Flattering?

When it comes to athletic shorts, the most flattering length is usually around the 3.5-4” inseam mark. For most average-sized women, this provides a modest yet flattering length, hitting around the mid-to-upper thigh area. Certain situations might call for longer or shorter shorts just like some women have a preference for one or the other.

Can Anyone Wear Athletic Shorts?

Of course! More and more women are jumping in on the shorts-wearing trend these days. Athletic shorts come in all shapes and sizes, which means there’s a flattering and comfortable fit for everyone out there.

About the author 

Tami Smith

Tami Smith is a certified Nutritionist and an ACE certified fitness trainer, specializing in pre and post-natal fitness. She studied business and earned her bachelor's degree in Business Economics. Tami is a mom of two and women's health advocate. Her passion is to help people live a fit, healthy life through proper nutrition and exercise!

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