Why compression clothes? Do they work?

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The available research suggests that compression clothing may provide small improvements in running performance and recovery.

1 Terminology

The term 'compression' clothes is a little confusing, as it can mean clothing that actually compresses your body, or simply form fitting clothing, so I split these into "Graduated Compression" and "Form Fitting". Graduated Compression clothes provide sufficient pressure to make a difference to your body, typically 10-30 mmHg. Form Fitting clothing generally provides no pressure (0-8 mmHg), but does follow the contours of your body. By comparison, medical compression sleeves are 30-40 mmHg.

2 Graduated Compression and Performance

Graduated compression clothing provides differing levels of compression, highest at the ankle and reducing towards the torso. There is some evidence[1][2][3] that graduated compression clothing will improve athletic performance, but this is not shown in other studies[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]. I believe this research shows that there are probably improvements in performance from wearing graduated compression clothing, but these improvements are likely to be small and may not apply to all runners.

3 Graduated Compression and Recovery

There is evidence for the use of graduated compression clothes in recovery. One study[13] showed a reduction in Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in untrained women who wore compression arm sleeves for 5 days after eccentric exercise. Another study[14] of Rugby players showed improved post-match recovery from compression garments. A study[15] using Skins compression suggested that wearing compression garments in the recovery from eccentric exercise (downhill walking) may alter the inflammatory response to damage and accelerate the repair processes inside of the Muscle. There is some evidence that graduated compression clothing can increase tissue oxygen saturation at rest and during low intensity exercise[16].

4 Form Fitting

Some athletic clothes that are called 'compression' really provide little pressure. Mostly these are really 'form fitting', flexible clothing that touch the skin rather than being loose. There are a number of advantages of compression clothing over loose...

  • When you are cold, and therefore not sweating, compression clothing will trap the air next to the skin and keep you warmer than lose clothing.
  • When you are hot, and therefore sweating, compression clothing will spread out the sweat to that it evaporates more efficiently. The evaporation cools the compression clothes, which being next to the skin, helps keep you cool. Very thin compression clothing will keep you cooler than bare skin. With bare skin, the sweat will drip off your body with little cooling effect.
  • Compression clothing moves far less than lose clothing, reducing chafing. On longer runs, chafing can be a significant source of pain. While lubricants like body glide can help prevent chafing, I believe it is better to have a longer term solution in the form of non-chafing clothing.

The only downside of compression clothing is that it reveals the underlying body shape. For some, this is psychologically uncomfortable. Lose clothing can be worn over the compression layer. While this may be less effective than just the compression layer in warm conditions, it may be better than just the lose layer. Examples of form fitting clothing include Race Ready Shorts and Tights and UnderArmour HeatGear Top.

5 See Also

6 References

  1. W. Kemmler, S. von Stengel, C. Köckritz, J. Mayhew, A. Wassermann, J. Zapf, Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners., J Strength Cond Res, volume 23, issue 1, pages 101-5, Jan 2009, doi 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eaef3, PMID 19057400
  2. A. Bringard, S. Perrey, N. Belluye, Aerobic energy cost and sensation responses during submaximal running exercise--positive effects of wearing compression tights., Int J Sports Med, volume 27, issue 5, pages 373-8, May 2006, PMID 16729379
  3. JA. Sear, TK. Hoare, AT. Scanlan, GA. Abt, BJ. Dascombe, The effects of whole-body compression garments on prolonged high-intensity intermittent exercise., J Strength Cond Res, volume 24, issue 7, pages 1901-10, Jul 2010, doi 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181db251b, PMID 20555284
  4. A. Ménétrier, L. Mourot, M. Bouhaddi, J. Regnard, N. Tordi, Compression sleeves increase tissue oxygen saturation but not running performance., Int J Sports Med, volume 32, issue 11, pages 864-8, Nov 2011, doi 10.1055/s-0031-1283181, PMID 22052027
  5. A. Ali, RH. Creasy, JA. Edge, The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance., J Strength Cond Res, volume 25, issue 5, pages 1385-92, May 2011, doi 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d6848e, PMID 21293307
  6. B. Sperlich, M. Haegele, M. Krüger, T. Schiffer, HC. Holmberg, J. Mester, Cardio-respiratory and metabolic responses to different levels of compression during submaximal exercise., Phlebology, volume 26, issue 3, pages 102-6, Apr 2011, doi 10.1258/phleb.2010.010017, PMID 21228356
  7. AT. Scanlan, BJ. Dascombe, PR. Reaburn, M. Osborne, The effects of wearing lower-body compression garments during endurance cycling., Int J Sports Physiol Perform, volume 3, issue 4, pages 424-38, Dec 2008, PMID 19223669
  8. R. Duffield, J. Edge, R. Merrells, E. Hawke, M. Barnes, D. Simcock, N. Gill, The effects of compression garments on intermittent exercise performance and recovery on consecutive days., Int J Sports Physiol Perform, volume 3, issue 4, pages 454-68, Dec 2008, PMID 19223671
  9. B. Sperlich, M. Haegele, S. Achtzehn, J. Linville, HC. Holmberg, J. Mester, Different types of compression clothing do not increase sub-maximal and maximal endurance performance in well-trained athletes., J Sports Sci, volume 28, issue 6, pages 609-14, Apr 2010, doi 10.1080/02640410903582768, PMID 20391083
  10. BJ. Dascombe, TK. Hoare, JA. Sear, PR. Reaburn, AT. Scanlan, The effects of wearing undersized lower-body compression garments on endurance running performance., Int J Sports Physiol Perform, volume 6, issue 2, pages 160-73, Jun 2011, PMID 21725102
  11. A. Ali, RH. Creasy, JA. Edge, Physiological effects of wearing graduated compression stockings during running., Eur J Appl Physiol, volume 109, issue 6, pages 1017-25, Aug 2010, doi 10.1007/s00421-010-1447-1, PMID 20354717
  12. SS. Goh, PB. Laursen, B. Dascombe, K. Nosaka, Effect of lower body compression garments on submaximal and maximal running performance in cold (10°C) and hot (32°C) environments., Eur J Appl Physiol, volume 111, issue 5, pages 819-26, May 2011, doi 10.1007/s00421-010-1705-2, PMID 21046140
  13. WJ. Kraemer, JA. Bush, RB. Wickham, CR. Denegar, AL. Gómez, LA. Gotshalk, ND. Duncan, JS. Volek, M. Putukian, Influence of compression therapy on symptoms following soft tissue injury from maximal eccentric exercise., J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, volume 31, issue 6, pages 282-90, Jun 2001, doi 10.2519/jospt.2001.31.6.282, PMID 11411623
  14. N D Gill, Effectiveness of post-match recovery strategies in rugby players, British Journal of Sports Medicine, volume 40, issue 3, 2006, pages 260–263, ISSN 0306-3674, doi 10.1136/bjsm.2005.022483
  15. MI. Trenell, KB. Rooney, CM. Sue, CH. Thomspon, Compression Garments and Recovery from Eccentric Exercise: A (31)P-MRS Study., J Sports Sci Med, volume 5, issue 1, pages 106-14, 2006, PMID 24198687
  16. B. Boucourt, M. Bouhaddi, L. Mourot, N. Tordi, A. Ménétrier, Changes in tissue oxygen saturation with calf compression sleeves - before, during and after a cycling exercise., J Sports Med Phys Fitness, Oct 2014, PMID 25286891