by Team Snapbac
Compression clothing went from embarrassing, geriatric apparel to a necessity in every athlete’s wardrobe in a very short time, but many of us don’t really understand the benefits. Instead we trust our athletic heroes and teammates choosing to follow their lead. The truth is most research is very new and came about from the trend and marketing research, but the findings have supported the use of compression gear. As with most fan favorites, the truth falls somewhere in the middle and opting whether to add high-quality compression clothing to your training or race is a personal decision. If you purchase athletic support of any sort, you want the most result driven, performance enhancing gear available, and that costs money. It’s best to know what you need and why you need it before jumping in and experimenting.
Does compression gear help runners? Simple answer is yes, but it may not be in the ways you are expecting. Compression socks, tights and sleeves were originally designed to aid in blood flow, increasing circulation and improving oxygenation for people with vascular deficiencies. These are great benefits regardless of the state of your veins. Runners who are using compression also state that it cuts down on lactate in the muscles, improves recovery time, reduces muscle oscillation or movement which in turn conserves energy and reduces risk of injury, increases speed and endurance and decreases cramping and ankle edema. But does the research agree with the stated benefits?
When it comes to enhancing your aerobic threshold and increasing speed and endurance, this is tested through your VO2 max, or the maximum volume of oxygen you have to use at your peak levels of exertion. A recent study(1)(2) tested for the VO2 slow component and energy expenditure in runners using compression tights and shorts. Both showed significant improvement. When using compression clothing, there was a lower energy expenditure leaving your body more to use when and where you need it, and speed and endurance where both enhanced by lowering the VO2 slow component. If you love science, you understand this, but for the rest of us, this basically means yes. Compression gear will give us an edge whether training, running for fun or on the race track.
As for lactate, that did not show a reduction when using compression gear primarily because you are experiencing a greater anaerobic respiration which allows you to run faster and longer, so chalk this one up to myth, but enjoy the benefits regardless.
Regarding a reduction in injuries and quicker recovery time, both answers are also yes. Injuries are reduced because of the restriction on muscle movement and forced body alignment, so when you start to experience fatigue, you still have an external support keeping you in form. Recovery time is not so straight forward. Tests(3)(4) have not shown any physiological markers for improvement, but it is nearly impossible for a test to show what an athlete feels. Each study confirmed that runners in compression gear felt less soreness and experienced a faster recovery than those who did not wear compression. We’ll take their word for it.