Compression Garments - Yes or no?

Compression garments have been known to promote faster recovery. Do you wear them?

Like it or not, technological advancements have propelled most sports into an entirely new realm. New training approaches, advice, gear and gadgets are literally flooding the market these days. As expected, manufacturers are quick to promote the myriad benefits of their products. One such item claims to help lower athletes’ race times, sustain fewer injuries, and promote faster recovery post-workout.


Welcome to the world of compression garments.


Endorsed by some of the top athletes on the planet and partially backed by scientific research, masses of fitness gurus have come forth and nodded their votes of approval by opening their wallets and buying up big. Compression merchandise that can be adorned from shoulder to toe can be found in specific run and triathlon shops, as well as generic sports stores and online.


Compression garments are a type of athletic clothing which provide gentle compression of the limbs and torso. Some offer a mild, partial compressive pressure, while others offer a more vigorous tight jacket effect around muscles. Using skilled marketing rhetoric, their manufacturers will have you believe that this pressurized clothing is truly the answer to faster and safer training and racing. They claim that compression offers the following benefits:

  • Removal of unwanted bi-products during exercise, namely lactic acid

  • Improved transportation of oxygen to muscles

  • Cramp prevention

  • Maintaining correct body temperature

  • Lower levels of muscular fatigue

  • A decrease in muscle damage during exercise


Put simply, these apparent benefits can be summarized in two sentences. Improved race performance. And improved recovery. Bold claims indeed. Hence the explosion in the compression market over recent years.


Anecdotally, there appears to be no doubt that athletes have experienced improvements compliments of wearing compression garments. Watch many of the top races across a range of sports and you’ll see just how many pros and age groupers wear compression in the lead up, during, and after races (and many other sporting events including football games). Whether this phenomenon is purely a psychological one or not is a topic of hot debate.


Before the advent of sport science, all improvements in sport were anecdotal; one person telling others that by using a particular training approach – such as a particular workout, route, a specific food, or even abstaining from sex the night before a race - actually improved race day performance. People listened, believed, and tried it for themselves. Despite the absurdity of some of them, once embedded in athletes’ brains that these changes were, in fact, positive alterations, they seemed to have the desired effect; athletes progressed, race times dropped, and so the advice was passed on from one athlete to the next with the confident assurance of folklore.


Times have progressed and like it or loathe it, sports science now plays a major role in all sports. For years white-coated sports scientists have plodded in laboratories and stood beside tracks, treadmills and fields and put athletes through their paces with and without compression. They’ve timed, checked, measured, evaluated, and revised. Their results, however, have been somewhat conflicting and certainly not cut and dried.


One early study by the American College of Sports Medicine discovered that wearing compression garments lead to no benefit during exercise, but improved removal of lactic acid after exercise. A different study by a German University concluded that compression-clad athletes had improvements in both VO2 Max, time at anaerobic threshold, and time to fatigue.


The compression gurus cheered at the German findings. But then the results from a South African University were published several years later which found no real difference in VO2 max or heart rates during exercise, however it did confirm the improved removal of lactic acid of those in compression.


The compression gurus pointed out that whether the findings were accurate or not, one should not overlook the major importance of lactic acid removal. And rightly so. Because better lactic acid removal not only spells better performance on race day, but improved recovery too. Better recovery hypothetically means better training, which should therefore translate to better racing.


Compression manufacturers spell out these advantages with utmost confidence and the sheer number of athletes across the globe wearing these tightly clad garments continues to skyrocket.


So get used to it. The world of compression is here to stay.

By: Kerry Hale




“The body achieves what the mind believes.”

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