Is there an advantage to compression?
All athletes including triathletes and runners are continuously looking for that extra edge, and they may believe a compression kit is the answer. By squeezing into these constricting garments it is thought to increase blood flow and help the lymphatic system. Compression socks have been widely understudied, but we are starting to see the popularity of them grow.
Compression kits come in all sorts: high-knee socks, elbows sleeves, knee wraps, calf sleeves, the list is endless. Compression leggings and socks are growing in popularity among triathletes and long-distance runners. The best type is graduated compression, tighter at the ankle becoming more graduated as it comes up the leg. Full socks are better when resting as full foot coverage is needed to create the compression. The sleeves (footless) are good if one continues to be mobile. An optimistic Asics ad states; “Compression gear helps you run farther and recover faster because you’ll be removing lactic acid quicker, reducing soreness in muscles.” That is quite the claim and appears a bit exaggerated.
Why use compression?
As exercise intensity increases more lactic acid is produced. When the body can no longer break it down fast enough to remove it, this is the lactic threshold. It has been proven that compression gear does increase your circulation. It also assists in flushing the lymphatic system that is carrying toxins to the bloodstream where it can eventually be filtered. This process reduces your blood lactate concentrations, but whether that’s significant enough to help you break records or perform better than you would without it is unclear. According to an analysis of the current literature published a few years ago in US Sports Medicine Journals, compression gear has overall trivial benefits on variables that are related to running performance, such as your running efficiency, stride length, and number of steps. The benefits might be more of a psychological benefit; you feel less fatigued than you actually are and can push forward longer.
What does compression do?
Compression gear is used for medical conditions such as lower leg blood clotting and other circulatory issues. They are a practical and helpful option replacing blood thinning drugs and other procedures. They are also suitable for keeping injured joints warm and supporting them. In sport it is thought that compression socks or sleeves control muscle oscillation during running. The vibration of the muscles and tendons when running can cause delayed onset muscle soreness. The delayed soreness when the muscle contracts is often accompanied with stiffness, strength loss and swelling. When wearing compression gear it is thought muscle damage is reduced as there is less mechanical tissue stress due to less vibration. This results in a decrease in muscle distress therefore promoting muscle efficiency. Compression gear manufacturers like the popular 2XU like to emphasize the recovery benefits. The product pages states they “reduce muscle soreness.” There can be some truth to that.
Compression socks can easily be implemented into your daily routine. For most of us the routine is train then work. On those rushed days where we train then sit at our desks, compression gear can be beneficial. Sitting after a workout, where lactic acid has built, shuts down the lymphatic system which then shuts down repair. Simply adding compression gear can assist this system. On travel days in front of races, compression gear can be used to keep legs feeling fresh and ready to race because they keep circulation moving. Working in conjunction with water and electrolytes it is even more effective. They can also be used after hard efforts and long training days to promote muscle healing and help with recovery. According to a review of the research in British Journal of Sports Medicine, wearing compression gear after intense exercise or competition can help speed up recovery and reduce your perception of overall sore muscles. Although it isn’t clear why compression gear helps with recovery, a simplified version of a theory is that their compressive nature reduces the space available for inflammation and swelling.
There is a place for compression gear in our training schedules, they are relatively cheap, easy to use and involve no time commitment, just planning. Overall, compression socks can be considered a great tool when integrated into your daily routine.