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Training — Do I need to wear underwear when I run?

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Coach Joe English

So every once in awhile I get a question from a reader that requires a follow-up question from me. Before jumping in to answer their question, I need to probe a little to understand what they’re really asking. This week I received a fairly straight-forward question that deserved just such a follow-up. The question comes from a runner that we will call “Suzie” from a place called “Little Rock”.

“Coach Joe, do I need to wear underwear under my shorts when I run?”

Follow-up: “Why do you ask Suzie?”

“My underwear gets all stinky, brown and nasty, so I wondered if I need to wear them.”

I’m so glad I asked. I thought that she might have been asking something really gross. OK, Suzie, here’s the answer to your question.

Do you need to wear underwear when you run?
Generally speaking, the issue of wearing underwear under your shorts is predicated on three things: 1) what kind of shorts or tights you are wearing; 2) what kind of underwear your are wearing; and, 3) whether you have issues with skin chafing. Let’s take each of these in turn.

1) What kind of shorts are your sporting? Shorts that are made specifically for running come in two varieties. There are loose shorts that have a lining and there are tight shorts that wear close to the skin. Running tights tend to be more akin to the later of the two, fitting tightly against the skin. In either case, running shorts with linings and tighter shorts that cling close to the skin generally do not need to be worn with underpants underneath them. The main reason that I can think of for wearing underwear would be in cases where women are dealing with their monthly cycle and might need extra protection or to hold pads in place. Otherwise, running shorts and running tights should do the job in most cases. The big exception is when dealing with skin chafing, which we will come to in a minute.

2) What kind of underwear are you wearing? The next question is what kind of underwear you might be wearing down there in the first place. As always, I recommend against wearing anything made of cotton against the skin. Cotton absorbs water and gets abrasive, which can lead to chafing. So if you are wearing underwear, lose the cotton under-garments in favor of a tight-fitting under pant made of a moisture wicking material, such as those made by Under Armour, Nike Pro and other other brands. If you are wearing underpants, make sure they fit snuggly so that they don’t move around and rub, which can cause chafing.

3) Are you having chafing issues? The final determinant is whether you are having chafing issues between your legs. Many runners develop a rash or chafing right in between their legs from their inner thighs rubbing against one another. And no, we’re not only talking about people that are over-weight; many runners and triathletes with large muscles in their upper-legs have this problem as well. If you’re prone to chafing in this area then wearing a tight-fitting short, or tight-fitting under pant beneath a lose running short, will help reduce the friction of the skin rubbing and reduce chafing. A little BodyGlide in this area can help as well. As mentioned above, wearing cotton underwear or underwear that is to lose can lead to chafing as well, so make sure that you are not creating chafing with your underwear.

The bottom-line, no pun intended, is that wearing underwear is usually not necessary under a running short, unless you are either dealing with chafing or other issues. In most cases, going “commando” will work fine, but for those that want some extra-protection, go with an under pant made for running or athletics that is snug and will wick moisture away from your skin.

As a final note, whether you’re wearing underwear or not, make sure to change out of your wet shorts immediately after a long run. It is common for runners to go to breakfast or otherwise socialize after a long run and it is important to get those wet, dirty clothes off soon. Leaving them on during an extended breakfast or social visit is a good way to develop a rash or an infection between your legs.

Good luck Suzie with your under pant problems. I hope this helps you out.

We love answering your questions, but please be patient because we get a lot of them. To find out how to ask a question, click here.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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Posted by on February 9, 2010.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] To continue reading about underwear choices for runners, click here. [...]

    by Training — Do I need to wear underwear when I run? « Running Advice and News on Feb 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm

  2. thanks for the advice coach. :)

    by danielle on May 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

  3. [...] the cotton will absorb your sweat, become heavy, and shift around a lot, and could actually become irritating to your skin in that [...]

    by Health Risks Concerning Underwear and Exercise | Be Health Wize on Jun 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  4. Go commando,that simple!

    by Rick on Aug 6, 2011 at 11:07 pm

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Welcome to the Running Advice and News Blog presented by Running-advice.com — in-depth information about the sport of marathon running and advice to make you the most successful runner that you can be. The Running Advice and News Blog is authored by Coach Joe English with frequent contributions by Coach Dean Hebert and is also […]more →