Compression gear is everywhere – the local athletic store, athletes on the sports channel, fitness magazines, and people from the weekend race running in everything from compression shorts, to calf sleeves, arm sleeves, and compression shirts. Some may argue that it looks cool, and others may not, but sidestepping fashion trends, as with most things, there is compression and then there is compression and it’s not all created equal.
So, what’s the difference between compression and compression for runners?
The concept of compression gear, defined simply as tightly fitted clothing, has been a process of evolution that began with the basic pantyhose or tights and which functioned as a means of fashion that also practically worked to reduce chafing and helped to keep one’s legs warm. From there, the tights gradually morphed into a more science based medical grade entity that was designed to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling for those with poor circulation. The medical grade “compression socks” finally made the leap into the athletic community such that compression proper is now a hybrid incorporating the design benefits of reduced chafing and warmth promotion, as well as the medical benefits of improved circulation, with the additional features of technical moisture wicking fabrics, seamless design, and graduated compression deliberately designed with the athlete in mind. With that said, depending on the desired function, navigating the maze of “compression” athletic gear on the market and determining whether or not it is going to be effective can be a daunting task.
4 Points of Compression
Improved muscle stability
There are four key points in the science supporting compression gear proper. Whether worn before a workout, during, or post workout for recovery, compression is designed to increase blood circulation, decrease fatigue, improve muscle stability, and as a result, enhance efficiency of movement. Some compression gear is designed with graduated compression, which has very specific step changes in pressure from one point to another such as from the ankle to the knee in compression socks. With this graduated compression, CEP, a leader in medical grade and athletic compression gear, has measured as much as a 40% increase in blood flow with use of their compression gear and a resulting 5% boost in performance. Subsequent benefits of increased circulation are a decrease in swelling and inflammation. This reduction in swelling helps in decreasing delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), and promotes faster recovery. As a result of this increase in oxygen to muscle tissue and the structural design of the compressive material, performance is increased as muscle stability is improved, fatigue is decreased, and endurance is increased. In addition, the seamless stitching, moisture wicking fabrics, non-restrictive cuffs, and anatomical fit are designed to prevent blisters, chafing, and increase overall comfort.
With that said, there are a number of different companies that sell compression gear – CEP, Sugoi, 2XU, Injinji, and Zensah to name a few. Some of these companies specifically design their gear with graduated compression and pinpoint zone construction, and all provide some level of compression proper. On the other hand, there is also a lot of athletic gear that is simply form fitting but not specifically compressive as described above. This level of “compression” will help to reduce chafing, dries quickly, and will keep you warm, but not specifically provide compression proper.
Train diligently, Race strong, and Recover well!
- What are Compression Socks? (brainz.org)