Across the sporting spectrum, athletes are putting the squeeze on various parts of their bodies with compression wear. These garments are reputed to enhance performance and recovery, and a study published in Sports Medicine found that runners wearing compression clothing experienced improved endurance performance (i.e., time to exhaustion) and better running economy, as well as reduced muscle pain, damage and postworkout inflammation.
Truth be told, compression garments are nothing new, and things like compression socks have been used for years in the medical field to help with circulation issues and relieve the discomfort from varicose veins. Now the sports world has taken hold of this concept and has — literally — run with it.
Compression athletic wear is skintight clothing with special, well-placed panels that aim to improve blood flow back to the heart, increasing overall circulation and re-oxygenation of the blood.
Here’s how it works: The applied external pressure from a compression garment causes the arteries — which deliver blood from the heart and lungs to the extremities — to push back and dilate, bringing a glut of oxygen to hardworking muscles. Veins then return the depleted blood and metabolic waste products back to the heart and lungs. But while the valves inside the veins prevent all the blood from rushing back into your feet, veins on the whole lack the capacity to push back. A compression garment helps reduce the size of the vein, which causes an acceleration of the blood back to the heart.
“Increased circulation also aids the removal of byproducts such as lactic acid, which can lead to muscle soreness after training,” says Dawn Ferreira, senior product specialist at Zamst, a manufacturer of support products for athletes. “Compression can also reduce muscle vibration that occurs during activity, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue.”
Pro athletes are not the only ones who can reap the benefits of compression wear. Here are some ways these garments can work for you:
Improved performance. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that runners who wore garments with low and medium degrees of compression preserved maximal muscular and explosive power during a 10K time trial. This is good news for endurance athletes who need staying power as well as those who compete in CrossFit or obstacle-course-type events.
Reduced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). According to another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, compression wear could be key to reducing the pain you experience a couple of days post-event or after a tough workout: Rugby players who wore compression garments for 48 hours after training experienced less soreness than those in the control group. This also means a quicker return to the gym and accelerated results.
Faster recovery. The quicker you can remove lactic acid and other waste products from your system, the faster you’ll recover, and since compression garments improve circulation, wearing them after an event gives you an advantage, according to a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And another study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed compressionwear to be effective in removing lactic acid after high-intensity exercise.