You see it everywhere these days, that form-fitting compression wear that seems to signify “serious athlete at work”—or wannabe serious, anyway. Top runners wear knee-high socks, and you yourself may even own a pair of Under Armour compression shorts because the salesperson (or website) told you they can make you run faster and help you recover.
Well, Old Man Science just weighed in on the various claims made by compression gear manufacturers and it turns out those tight workout clothes aren’t just glorified Spanx, at least when it comes to recovery.
Mr. Science, also known, in this case, as a team of researchers in England and South Africa, pulled together recent research for a meta-study of compression wear in the latest issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. They found twelve studies that examined the gear’s effects on several variables commonly used to measure how well your muscles recover from exercise-induced damage. Those included delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), strength, power and creatine kinase, an enzyme that, at high levels, can indicate muscle damage.
DOMS is that “I’m gonna feel this tomorrow” soreness that comes from doing exercise you’re not accustomed to—especially running downhill—or pushing past your normal limits.
The researchers found that wearing compression gear improved all these factors to a “moderate” degree in the days after a tough workout, and that two thirds of athletes reported less severe DOMS when wearing the gear after working out.
This jibes with another review from earlier this year in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, which came to the same conclusion about recovery, and additionally found that compression gear only had a tiny effect on real-time performance.
In short, you won’t run any faster or longer today, but wear those compression socks, tights or what-have-yous, and you’ll be in better shape to do so tomorrow or the next day.