How Does Compression Clothing Help Runners?
As an athlete, you are always on the lookout for ergogenic aids, which are techniques or substances that help enhance your performance. As part of recovery, you use various modalities, such as massages, foam rollers, and water immersion. Recently, compression garments have emerged as the latest rage when it comes to performance improvement.
A great deal of anecdotal evidence indicates that compression garments carry some performance benefits. However, as of now, only a few studies have established its positive functional benefits.
What is compression clothing?
Compression clothing are tightly woven garments designed to provide support and enhance recovery. They look like your normal workout clothes and are often made out of nylon, elastin, or polyester materials. Initially, these garments were used by people for medical reasons, such as poor circulation and deep vein thrombosis. However, currently, they are widely used in sports for enhancing performance and recovery. People in the field of sports have been using compression garments in the form of stockings, socks, full-body suits, tights, and ankle compression sleeves.
Also read: How Can You Recover From Workouts
How does compression clothing work?
The heart pumps oxygenated blood to your muscles where required, and the deoxygenated blood, which is low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide, returns to the heart through your veins. This is a continuous process. When blood is circulated to the lower extremities, it has to return against gravity through the veins.
This allows the blood to flow upward and towards the heart. The progressive graduation in the clothing applies greater pressure to the muscles farthest from the heart.
How does compression clothing help runners?
Long-distance events, such as the marathon, involve prolonged and repetitive loading that is known to cause muscle fatigue and soreness due to lactic acid accumulation. Also, there is a tendency for blood flow to pool into the lower extremities after exercise due to venous insufficiency. In such cases, compression running clothing can aid in your recovery process. Some of the benefits include:
- Faster recovery: Compression clothing applies pressure to the muscles and creates a sort of muscle pump action, which helps remove the accumulation of metabolic waste (lactic acid).
- Improved circulation: Arteries of the compressed area dilates, which allows increased blood flow.
- More oxygen: Better blood circulation leads to increased oxygen supply. So, you get more oxygen into the blood to power your muscles.
- Muscle stabilization: Compression provides mechanical support to muscles. It decreases muscle vibrations with every impact when running, lowering muscle damage and the risk of injuries.
Current research around compression clothing
1. A research study on Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running Armstrong et al. showed that wearing below-knee compression socks for 48 hours after marathon running aided recovery.
2. Another study by Treseler et al. found that recreational female athletes experienced a psychological benefit in wearing compression stockings after a 5K race.
3. A review paper by Engel et al. stated that wearing compression garments might slightly improve variables related to endurance performance (time to exhaustion) due to improvements in running economy, biomechanical variables, perceived exertion, and muscle temperature. Also, during recovery, runners can benefit from reduced muscle pain, damage, and inﬂammation.
4. All athletes who wore compression shorts showed improvement in countermovement jump, which is a measure used to assess their lower-body power height as opposed to loose-fitting gym shorts.
5. A study conducted by Goh et al. stated that no physiological and performance differences were observed as a result of wearing lower-body compression garments in hot (32°C) and cold (10°C) temperatures for about 30 minutes.
How should you choose compression clothing?
Here are a few things to keep in mind while selecting compression clothing.
- Make sure must have a snug fit to work effectively and allow free range of motion and comfort.
- Ensure that the fit is not so tight that it restricts blood circulation. Extra-tight compression garments can compress the nerves and cause tingling and numbness. As a rule of thumb, if the clothing leaves any redness, marks, or irritation on the skin, it is too tight.
- Refer to the size guide before choosing the clothing. It is not necessary to buy a smaller size when shopping for compression clothing; however, sizing guidelines can change based on the manufacturer.
- Purchase suitable apparel and use it during your training before wearing it on race day.
How much compression is ideal?
All garments do not have the same level of compression. Many brands manufacture sport-specific compression wear for running, cycling, triathlons, and football. Some brands also provide variable compression in the apparel itself to support the right set of muscles.
The pressure of compression socks ranges from 10mmHg to 40mmHg. Here, the former category has light pressure, while the latter variant has high pressure. However, the most optimum pressure has been determined as 20mmHg. The higher the number of mmHg, the more compression the garment has, and it exerts greater pressure.
Types of compression clothing
Depending on the sport you play, different forms of compression clothing target key areas to improve circulation. Head to toe compression clothing include:
- Compression tops
- Compression sleeves
- Compression tights
- Compression socks
Regardless of the compression garment you buy, remember to pick the right size to avoid any negative effects on running performance. Every runner may not prefer wearing compression garments. However, if these apparel make you feel good and comfortable, then they are a worthwhile investment.
1. Armstrong SA., Till ES., Maloney SR, et al Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running: a randomized controlled trial. J Strength Cond Res 2015; 29:528-33.
2. Treseler C, Bixby WR, Nepocatych S. The Effect of Compression Stockings on Physiological and Psychological Responses after 5-km Performance in Recreationally Active Females. J Strenght Cond Res 2016; 30:1985-91.
3. Ali A, Creasy RH, Edge JA. The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance. J Strength Cond Res 2011; 25:1385-92.
4. Goh SS, Laursen PB, Dascombe B, et al. Effect of lower body compression garments on submaximal and maximal running performance in cold (10°C) and hot (32°C) environments. Eur J Appl Physiol 2011; 111:819-26.
5. Doan BK, Kwon YH, Newton RU, et al. Evaluation of a lower-body compression garment. J Sports Sci 2003; 21:601-10.
6. Bieuzen F, Brisswalter J, Easthope C, et al. Effect of wearing compression stockings on recovery after mild exercise-induced muscle damage. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2014;9:256-64.