Compression garments have become an incredibly popular piece of fitness clothing. Worn by professional athletes, sportspeople and fitness lovers alike, compression gear has been marketed to provide multiple fitness benefits, including improved performance, enhanced recovery and reduced risk of injury.
But, what does the evidence say? The theory behind compression clothing is that it increases blood flow to the muscles, which in turn increases oxygen to the muscles and removes waste products quicker. Several studies have been conducted to test such theories, with many differing opinions still existing amongst researchers. Let’s take a look at what existing evidence tells us about each of the promoted benefits:
Research conducted by our apparel partners, 2XU, has found that wearing compression garments whilst training or competing can have the following impact on improving performance:
- Gains of up to 10.6 seconds over a 10km run
- 5% peak power gains and 18% blood flow increase to the quads
- Power improvement of up to 1.4% for exercises bouts of up to 30 minutes
Another recent study completed by the University of Essex Human Performance Unit produced evidence that compression tights can improve energy expenditure while exercising and improve proprioception. The study, involving eleven recreational runners, found that the participants used less energy when running at a sub maximal speed, meaning they could run for longer at a faster pace. They concluded that wearing compression clothing during running may decrease muscle oscillations and alter running posture, thereby promoting lower energy expenditure at a given intensity.
Although there are these individual studies that suggest small improvements in performance, there are still many that believe wearing compression garments during training or competition will not provide any benefit to performance. It is however worth noting that while compression gear may not improve acute recovery during training sessions, they are certainly not going to negatively impact performance.
Reduced Risk of Injury:
2XU research studies suggest that wearing compression garments can aid in reducing the risk of injury by:
- Reducing oscillatory properties of quadriceps, calves and surrounding soft tissue
- Delivering lower markers of blood clotting
- Reducing heart rate by up to 2.5% for exercise bouts lasting up to 15 minutes
As compression garments are more supportive than loose-fitting attire, they have the ability to reduce muscle oscillation when you strike the ground. Muscle oscillation = the muscle movement that happens when vibrations occur as your foot hits the ground. The higher the frequency of muscle oscillation during your workout, the more likely you are to feel sore and get injured. Research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences reported that track athletes who wore lower-body compression garments reduced muscle impact on landing by 27 percent. By limiting these vibrations and preventing trauma to the muscles it is believed that compression tights may reduce stress injuries and soreness.
Especially in the colder months, compression garments can also assist in warming up and maintaining body temperature to prevent injuries related to cold and stiff muscles.
Research studies by 2XU have found that wearing compression garments can speed up the recovery process in the following ways:
- 8% increase in blood lactate removal in a 60-minute recovery period
- Reduced swelling to the thigh by 1.1cm and to the calf by 0.6cm when worn in a 60-minute recovery period
- Power improvements of up to 2% when worn for recovery between repeat bouts of exercise
By far the most strongly agreed upon and examined benefit for wearing compression garments is the positive effect it has on recovery. A variety of studies have shown that wearing compression garments after a training session will hugely reduce the feelings of soreness, whether it is strength training, high-intensity training or a sports specific combination of cardio and strength training. The increased circulation and improved oxygenation provided by compression garments reduces the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness and accelerates muscle repair.
After consistently finding that most people feel better after wearing compression garments, many athletes around the world now wear compression clothing as part of their recovery strategy.
So, what’s the verdict?
While its evident that more research is required in this space, the current body of research suggests there are far more positive effects of wearing compression garments than not. As well as the benefits mentioned above, many people love the feel and look of compression garments. If you are looking to invest in some compression gear, our partners at 2XU have an extensive range of styles, colours and product types for all of your performance and recovery needs. If it looks good and feels good, we say go for it!