Compression Wear: Part 1

Keep it Tight

Compression wear or clothing is tight fitting, synthetic garments worn to (primarily) alter blood flow. They are primarily worn on the lower body, although compression garments for almost every part of the body can be found now. Compression garments came from medical/clinical research showing that graduated compression (more pressure at ankle and less pressure at knee) can enhance blood flow in patients who have issues with lower body blood flow. The reason you see it now in all kinds of sports is because blood flow is important to exercise performance no matter the sport. So... maybe compression garments can help in healthy, recreationally active or elite athletes as well?

But does it work?

Now we enter Pandora’s box. First question (a future Part 2 post), do compression garments enhance performance during exercise. Then (a future Part 3 post), do they enhance recovery from exercise. In each situation, it is important to understand if the exercise is endurance based (running, cycling, triathlons, etc.) or strength based (weight lifting, jumping, etc.) and is it high intensity (close to or above maximal exertion) like sprints, cross-fit, all-out 5K race, etc. or submaximal (“endurance” or “aerobic” or “cardio”) like training for a marathon. So you can see here that this topic is multifaceted and depends what type of athlete you are and for what purpose.

I’ll address these from what the scientific literature says. If you want to know the mechanisms—the physiological reasons why or why not compression wear impacts exercise performance—stay tuned for future posts.

Jumping to Conclusions

For those that want to know right now (!) ... the simple answer is wearing compression garments may help. That’s the best, vague answer. Compression garments aid in recovery from exercise more than during exercise. I have a pair of calf-high compression socks for recovery. I don't wear them during exercise. I've tried, but prefer to run without them. So it depends if you have money to spend. I know the conclusion isn’t great, but that is what the review of science shows.

More details and specifics to come on this topic!

Contact me if you have any questions or want to know more!


References and further scientific reading

  • Born D, Sperlich B, Holmberg H. Bringing Light Into the Dark : Effects of Compression Clothing on Performance and Recovery. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013; 8: 4-18.
  • Engel FA, Holmberg HC, Sperlich B. Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing? Sport Med. 2016; 46(12): 1939-1952.