Originally compression clothing was used for the treatment of circulatory and inflammatory disorders including: chronic venous insufficiency, lymphedema, varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis. These garments have a high level of compression and should be worn only as advised by a doctor.
30 years ago: gradient compression stockings were invented for athletes involved in high intensity training to improve muscle oxygenation and speed up muscle recovery after exercise.
Today: There’s a wide range of compression garments available and they are used for a broad spectrum of activities, purposes and people including competitive athletes, nurses, bodybuilders, gym users, frequent flyers, pregnant women, and runners.
Can compression clothing enhance your workout performance?
Manufactures claim that compression gear can increase strength and power as well as improve endurance performance. The reason, they say, is it increases muscles oxygenation due to improved blood flow to the muscles, and prevents excess muscle oscillation (vibration) which reduces fatigue.
Studies haven’t yet shown any evidence regarding improved performance, but recovery is another story – more about that later. However, one study found there’s a real placebo, comfort and confidence effect.
Placebo effect: In study conducted with 16 participants, endurance runners were given a pair of compression sleeves, and then sensors were attached to monitor the oxygen intake and runners gait during an exercise test. The same exercise was then done without the compression sleeves.
The results were “we found nothing” according to Abigail Strickford, a post-doctoral researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
So, on average, no benefits were revealed and measures of efficiency were the same. However, two men in the study DID show improvements while wearing compression sleeves, and they were the ones who believed in the benefits of compression gear for training and recovery. This is the placebo effect in action.
So, the Placebo effect exists, and it really can make a difference to how the test participants performed. If you feel more comfortable, or you feel that compression gear boosts your performance, you will probably put an extra effort in your training and thus achieve better results.
What About Post-Exercise Recovery?
Studies have found that compression clothing helps to decrease the lactic acid buildup and heart rate in athletes. According to one study, it was observed that using compression clothing resulted in less soreness and decreased swelling during the 24-hour post-exercise period.
Compression gear helps to make recovery quicker and less painful by reducing muscle fatigue (more muscle oxygenation), the easing of muscles soreness (less lactic acid buildup) and decreased swelling.
Benefits of Compression Sportswear
- Keeping the muscles warm to prevent muscle strain
- Quicker muscle repair
- Reduced muscle pain, soreness, and stiffness
- Prevent sunburn
- Provide insulation and warmth
- Help to prevent cramp
- Decreased fluid retention in extremities
- Increased blood flow
- More confidence and greater comfort
Flying: Especially during long flights, our feet and ankles can swell due to the pressure and the long time spent in the seated position. Frequent flyers use compression socks to reduce swelling.
Nurses: Long shifts, and long periods spent standing are exhausting for the legs, especially the calves. Compression socks or sleeves are commonly used by nurses to fight fatigue and prevent varicose veins – a common problem for people who have to stand a lot.
Running: Runners are probably the biggest community using compression sleeves, socks, and shorts. Although the studies didn’t find evidence of improved performance, many users swear that compression clothing helps boost performance because it increases comfort and improves self-esteem, allowing athletes to run faster or for longer periods. Most users mention that recovery is quicker and less painful.
Recovery: This where science proves the benefits of compression wear, and most users confirm. After a long day walking, running or working, compression socks help to reduce calf muscle soreness and make muscles recover faster.
Pregnancy: Compression gear can help relieve tired legs and reduce swollen legs and ankles.
Road trips: Long hours spent driving usually results in swollen ankles and legs. Compression socks can help to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling.
Types of Compression Clothes
Compression Sleeves (Calf sleeves): Used especially by people who spend long periods standing, walking or running. They can help to keep the calves warm on cold days, and feet fresh on hot days (when compared with compression socks). They increase blood flow and reduce muscular vibration, resulting in less fatigue by the end of the day. Compression sleeves should not be used to prevent feet swelling. Best compression sleeves here.
Compression Socks: Often used by runners but also in sports and exercise in general. They give confidence and comfort for any high intensity sports such as running. Also popular among nurses and pregnant women, compression socks are used to reduce swelling, muscle soreness, and leg fatigue. They can also relieve calf cramps. The best compression socks here.
Compression Shorts: Used by cyclists, runners, and triathletes, as well as gym goers. Many athletes say that compression shorts help to stabilize their muscles and decrease the amount of muscular vibration. Increased confidence and extra comfort allows athletes to train for longer periods and reduce fatigue when used after training.
Compression Pants/Tights: Designed to protect the body from extreme temperatures – both heat and cold. Beach Volleyball players use compression tights to protect from sunburns. Compression tights are both insulating and breathable.
Compressing Stockings: With medical weight compression, these stockings are designed to prevent leg swelling and, to a lesser extent, blood clots by helping to move blood up your legs and prevent it pooling in the lower extremities. They are especially designed for medical purposes and their use is generally advised by a doctor.
Compression Bodysuits: In winter sports, bodysuits are designed to keep the body warm and to prevent muscle strains.
Compression Gloves: Designed to promote blood circulation for swollen, stiff hands and the associated joints.
Compression Knee Sleeve or Brace: Designed to protect an existing knee injury from further damage or to reduce knee pain.
Compression Leggings: Comfortable gear specially designed for running. They keep the muscles warm but still allow your skin to breathe. They provide confidence and comfort.
Compression Shirts: Popular among bodybuilders, these shirts are designed to reduce muscle vibration and increase performance. They also increase kinesthetic awareness which means the wearer is more aware of the muscles they are working.
Compression Yoga Pants: Giving a little more compression than common yoga leggings, these provide a tighter fit around the tummy and legs. This gives more confidence and comfort for yoga classes. Popular among new moms to hold up and tuck everything in nicely.
Different compression levels
Compression levels are measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Compression gear features graduated compression. This means that the compression is strongest at the ankle and gets lighter as you go up the leg.
8-15 mmHg – Light: Compression is very gentle; you can barely feel the difference.
15-20 mmHg – Moderate: If you find firm compression uncomfortable I recommend you try moderate compression. This is especially suitable for people who use compression gear all day or for sleeping.
20-30 mmHg – Firm: This is the most widely used pressure because it provides noticeable compression without being too tight. It can be for sports or for all day use.
30-40 mmHg – Extra-Firm: Should be used only under medical supervision.