Wearing compression clothing by contrast to cupping isn’t a new technique to be used by sports men and women to aid performance, but it is one of growing usage and prominence. Sports stars as such are now queueing up to wear the latest in tight fitting socks and shirts, and men in tights are just as likely to be congregating on the track as on the streets of Soho. So what is the real science behind compression clothing and does it actually work?
What is It?
Sports compression clothing comes in all shapes and sizes, from socks and tights to sleeves and vests. It works by compressing areas of the body where blood can pool during exercise, improving the flow of blood around the body and the distribution of oxygen through the muscles. This is particularly useful in the extremities such as the lower leg and ankles, where anybody that has suffered from swollen ankles can testify is an area notorious for problems.
So what is the problem? This pooling of blood can lead to aching limbs after exercise, as well as leading to issues such as varicose veins in later life. By wearing compression clothing, this pooling is prevented, leading to lower recovery times and greater endurance.
How Does it Work?
Compression clothing is designed to defy the laws of gravity and give blood a helping hand to flow more smoothly around the body. Valves that are supposed to return blood back to the heart can become ineffective through age and injury, resulting in a slight backflow of blood and weakening of the vein walls.
Compression clothing counteracts this by applying firm, graduated pressure to the muscles and veins, exerting more pressure in problem areas such as the ankles to encourage the blood to flow up the leg, improving performance of the valves and returning blood back to the heart more efficiently.
Does it Actually Work?
A number of studies have been undertaken to determine the effects of compression clothing on athletes. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health focused on the effects of compression clothing on runners. In the study, compression clothing including socks, calf sleeves, shorts and tights were assessed to understand the effect both on performance and recovery over a number of different disciplines including half marathons, trail running, 5 & 10km runs and 400m sprints.
The study found that although there was no noticeable effect on performance times over the range of disciplines, positive effects were found for the calculated time to exhaustion, perceived exertion and peak leg muscle power. It also found that there were large positive effects for post-exercise soreness and a delay in onset of muscle fatigue.
While the sporting world might feel immune to yet another perceived fad, the science shows that compression clothing is far from this. While timed performance may not be improved from wearing it, studies have shown that by wearing compression clothing there is an improvement in endurance performance, running economy, biomechanical variables, perception and muscle temperature.
So what does this mean in English? Simply put, compression clothing has been shown to increase the time to exhaustion and greatly improve recovery times after exercise, as well as benefits in reduced muscle pain, damage and inflammation.
As with any addition to sporting equipment, it should be considered what the user wishes to get from it before purchasing it. While it might not help you to run a sub 3 hour marathon, compression clothing will help with endurance and improve the time of recovery, as well as making the walk down the stairs feel slightly more comfortable the following morning.
For more information on sports compression clothing, you can visit The Leg Care Company.
Written by Charlotte Waller