Does Compression Gear Help?

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Compression gear is all the rage lately.  At virtually any race you attend, you’re sure to see an abundance of skin-tight socks, shorts, tights, shirts, and sleeves.  These items are marketed as magic bullets, promising users faster performances and improved recovery.  They are supposed to improve circulation, thus boosting the delivery of oxygen to muscles if worn during activity.  When worn during recovery periods, the increased blood flow to tired muscles is supposed to flush out exercise-related biochemicals and reduce swelling.  But do any of those claims hold true?  Can compression gear really benefit yourrunning?  Research has revealed some surprising answers.

Compression Gear for Performance

study published recently in The International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance tested graduated calf compression sleeves on sixteen competitive male distance runners.  The men were outfitted with monitors and masks to measure such variables as gait and oxygen intake and were asked to run on a treadmill at three speeds.  The men then repeated the treadmill test while wearing the compression sleeves.  Researchers analyzed the measured data and found no statistically significant difference in performance when the athletes used compression gear.  The sleeves did not improve performance at all.

Other studies have shown similar results.  This study demonstrated that compression shorts do not increase blood flow to leg muscles.  This study measured performance variables for runners in an off-road trail running scenario and also found no improvement when test subjects wore compression gear.

Compression Gear for Recovery

Compression gear may offer some small benefits during recovery, however.  This study measured the blood lactate levels of ten college cross country runners after treadmill tests with and without compression stockings and found that levels were lower when the athletes wore the stockings.  Anotherstudy found that perceived muscle soreness was lower when runners wore compression gear following a trail run.  Perceived muscle soreness is obviously based on participant feedback, not measurable data, so it is unclear if any actual physiologic benefit occurred.

 Is Compression Gear Right for You?

Compression gear hasn’t been proven to have significant physiologic benefits, but it also hasn’t been shown to have any negative effects.  Moreover, the garments can offer psychological benefits.  The placebo effect is a very real effect that can dramatically impact performance, so if runners believe compression gear helps them, they are likely to do better when wearing the gear.  Additionally, plenty of runners just like the way compression gear feels and enjoy wearing it regardless of any real or perceived benefits.  If you have room in your running budget and want to give some compression gear a try, go for it.  You won’t do yourself any harm and you just might find some small benefits.

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