Old comedy sketches often featured gray-haired ladies in knee-high skin colored socks; it turns out this was the beginning of women embracing compression gear. Originally sold in drug stores to increase circulation for issues like diabetes and arthritis, these days the compression sock has changed its image to appeal to a new generation.
While the medical community still utilizes compression apparel for healing, the jury is out on whether it really provides any benefits to athletes. Dr. Ferber Director of The Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary notes: “Entering the term ‘compression clothing’ into the National Library of Medicine returns only 15 research studies. Of those studies, less than half were well-controlled scientific investigations.”
Compression gear, usually made of 80% nylon and 20% spandex, conforms snuggly to the body preventing oscillation of the muscle during impact and increasing blood flow to the area.
The reduction of oscillation, or muscle movement, is thought to prevent energy waste and maintain proper body alignment, and increased blood flow ensures that the muscles are receiving a constant supply of oxygen, which is required to sustain performance or enhance recovery.
Studies have yet to conclusively show that compression gear enhances running performance. According to an analysis of multiple studies, experts concluded that it did provide “reductions in muscle swelling and perceived muscle pain.”
This indicates that compression may not directly result in faster race times, but those who recover faster train more consistently and harder, which typically leads to long term gains.
The Mental Aspect
Skeptics believe compression gear falls into the placebo effect category. But still, even if the benefits turn out to be all in our heads, I’ve yet to meet an athlete who wouldn’t embrace any kind of confidence-booster.
On a personal level, I swear by my compression tights for marathon race day to help prevent calf cramps and IT Band pain as my form may deteriorate in the final miles. Frequent marathon racer Monica Olivas agrees that compression socks have become a standard recovery tool for her, ensuring she can keep racing week after week.
On the other hand, Laura Skladzinski, the youngest female to complete a marathon in all 50 states, doesn’t find much value in compression. She notes that the factors which go into recovery are still tried and true: training, intensity and nutrition.
Whether you’re curious about compression gear or already swear by its benefits, here are six top-notch apparel options to add to your recovery arsenal.