Compression wear has been touted to speed post-workout recovery, among other benefits. Does it really work?
Countless joggers in those snug calf sleeves have overtaken you. Your guy swears by his bib shorts. Your BFF wears her tights to sleep. From what you’ve seen and heard, compression garments might be worth a shot.
Designed to fit like a second skin, compression clothes apply surface pressure to specific parts of the body to reduce unnecessary muscle vibration while boosting blood circulation. The result: You feel less worn out, so you go farther and faster than normal. Wear them after a race and you may not ache like you usually do.
Sounds too good to be true? We get sports experts to weigh in on the claims.
Claim #1: Compression garments reduce muscle fatigue and injury.
More supportive than loose-fitting attire, compression garments cling to your body and reduce muscle oscillation when you strike the ground. The higher the frequency of muscle oscillation during your workout, the more likely you are to feel sore and get injured.
Help or hype?
Initial studies are promising. Research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences revealed that track athletes who wore lower-body compression garments reduced muscle impact on landing by 27 per cent. Assuming that one strikes the ground 14,000 times in a 10km race, a shock buffer like this certainly seems handy. Experts note that these findings may link compression wear to fewer injuries, but more research is needed to confirm it.
Claim #2: Compression garments boost sports performance.
Compression clothing can improve blood circulation and lead to a higher concentration of oxygen in your muscles. With more oxygen, less lactate – the chemical that makes your muscles feel like they’re burning – is needed to generate energy.
Help or hype?
Researchers in Germany noted that although the maximum amount of oxygen used during a workout (aerobic capacity) did not differ between runners in compression socks compared to those wearing regular socks, the former ran longer and hit a higher speed during a treadmill test. One Australian study found that netball players wearing compression garments could cover greater distances at higher speeds than those who did not, though the differences were slight.
There may be evidence to show a modest boost in performance, but don’t expect miracles – the effect is likely to vary according to your fitness level. “If you’re a recreational athlete, your performance improvement may be more pronounced compared to an elite sportswoman who already has an optimised level of fitness,” says Dr Ben Tan, head and senior consultant at Changi Sports Medicine Centre. “If I train 10km more than the next runner every week, I’m sure I’ll finish ahead of him whether or not I wear compression clothing,” he adds.
Claim #3: Compression garments speed up post-workout recovery.
Muscle soreness and weakness indicate tissue damage, which is common with high-intensity exercise. Compression garments are said to speed up the body’s recovery by facilitating the removal of lactate and creatine kinase, by-products of muscle exertion and damage.
Help or hype?
A recent study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found full-leg compression sleeves to be effective in reducing symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage, such as soreness and muscle weakness after plyometric training (explosive exercises like burpees).
If you’re not ready to invest in compression wear to speed up post-workout recovery, there’s a zero-dollar method that works just as well: Soak your legs in a cold bath. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has shown compression garments to be no more superior to light exercises or cold baths in shortening the time taken for your muscles to repair.