If you think of compression gear as little more than really tight clothing - you might want to think again. The truth is that the right garments - from calf compression sleeves, to compression tights, could actually improve running endurance, speed up recovery, and in some cases, enhance your performance on the track.
Take a look at any professional race, football game, or sporting event, and the chances are that you'll spot some compression gear, somewhere. Runners of all distances and levels, such as record-breaking Olympian Shalane Flanagan, swear by these garments when it comes to standing out on race day. However, many people remain unconvinced as to whether or not compression garments might have a positive impact on their running prowess.
The problem is that there has been a lot of questions, and very few solid answers.
Where Did the Compression Gear Hype Come from?
Originally, compression clothing - typically made up of a blend of nylon and spandex and engineered to be structured, yet stretchable - was used in the medical field. By allowing for the mechanical and graduated application of pressure to parts of the body, compression allowed for easier blood flow, and provided support to underlying tissues.
From a medical perspective, something like a calf compression sleeve could be enough to introduce the increased pressure patients need to experience better circulation when they suffer with poor blood pressure. Compression gear has also been used to treat spider and varicose veins, prevent ankle and leg swelling, and assist in healing wounds.
When used in the right contexts, research has found that compression gear can be highly effective - accelerating the healing process, and even improving functional movement in patients with arthritis and paralysis.
But compression gear is no longer limited to the medical field, and now, athletes are looking for ways that these garments could help to improve running endurance by assisting muscle and circulatory performance both on, and off the track.
Does Compression Help Performance?
So what's the reality of the situation? Does Compression really help performance?
Despite the widespread use of compression clothing by everyday athletes and competitive sportsmen alike, studies that support the performance enhancing claims of compression gear are often inconclusive. While some studies have found that wearing compression gear during a run can decrease muscle vibrations, and reduce muscle fatigue - the full range of benefits that compression can allow are often left uncertain.
With so many conflicting studies available to read on the internet today, it's no surprise that people are left unsure about the value of compression gear when it comes to finding methods that improve running endurance. While a few small studies have noted improvements in submaximal running and jump performance, others have struggled to pinpoint benefits in professional athletes wearing compression gear. In other words - the verdict is unclear.
What About During Recovery?
Of course, up to this point, there is one aspect in compression gear where the science has been stronger - recovery. Calf compression, for instance, can enhance the overall circulation in a runner's legs, thereby helping to speed recovery time after exercise. The extra squeeze after a tough workout has helped to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness in various studies, and increase the rate of recovery.
To some degree, these results alone might indicate that compression gear can improve running endurance. After all, if it takes less time to recover, then the chances are that you'll be more willing to push yourself farther, and faster on the track. The fact that compression gear helps to push oxygen through the body means that it should make sense that they play a role in recovery. After all, your muscles need oxygen to thrive!
How Compression Effects Endurance
If the somewhat vague information given above doesn't have you convinced, a recent discovery might help you to make a more cautious decision about the future of your compression gear investments. A meta-analysis conducted and published in the Sports Medicine journal, looked at thirty studies on compression gear and running performance across a variety of distances, including 10k runs, 5k runs, 15k runs, half marathons, and even 400-meter sprints.
From the study, the authors were able to conclude that although the compression gear didn't seem to have a direct impact on speed, there was a beneficial impact on endurance - alongside a number of great post-run benefits. Specifically, results were found that indicated a smaller "time to exhaustion" running economy, a higher clear of blood lactate, and fewer markers of inflammation and muscle damage. The researchers also reported an apparently positive correlation between compression gear and the impact of post-exercise soreness and muscle fatigue.
So how exactly does compression gear work to improve running endurance? In a variety of different ways, including:
- Assisting the flow of blood back to the heart from the legs - enhancing cardio output.
- Keeping your muscles and tissues stabilized during running to reduce the amount of damage experienced through delayed onset muscle soreness.
- Improving form by preventing runners from getting sloppy towards the end of the race, when their posture is most likely to start drooping.
At the same time, this recent study, alongside other research, has drawn attention to the perception involved in using running gear. Studies have constantly shown that the placebo effect can be a powerful force in regards to compression gear, which makes sense considering most runners know that mental training is often just as critical as physical training.
Is Compression Right for You?
Though it's safe to say that more definitive research may be needed to determine just how much compression gear can improve your running performance, the large amount of anecdotal evidence from athletes, and our customers here at Active Gear, is pretty convincing to us. After all, so many happy runners can't be wrong.
What's more, considering the fact that study after study proves that compression can only help - not hurt you, it's worth giving it a whirl - there really is no downside.