Does Compression Gear Really Help Recovery & Performance, Or Is It All Just A Silly Ploy To Get Us To Dress Up In Stretchy Pants?

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The compression knickers I’m wearing in the video above are made by “110%”. 110% is giving all BenGreenfieldFitness readers 10% off + free shipping on anything from http://www.110playharder.com with code “Greenfield” (code doesn’t expire!).

I personally use the 110% knickers, shorts and calf sleeves.

If you really want to dig into the link between compression gear and performance, compression gear and recovery, and research on recovery and performance from compression socks, compression tights, and more, I highly recommend a post from Joe Friel’s blog. Joe consistently puts out awesome material, and here’s a the research anecdote from his latest article on compression gear (be sure to visit his website to see the entire article):

Does Compression Clothing Improve Performance?

1. Ali, A., R.H. Creasy, J.A. Edge. 2011. The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance. J Strength Cod Res Feb 2 (Epub ahead of print).

Summary: Nine male and three female competitive runners (VO2 max 68.7 +/-5.8 mLO2/kg/min) ran four 10km time trials on a track over a period of several days. They wore either standard stockings (CON), 12-15 mmHg compression stockings (LOW), 18-21 mmHg compression stockings (MED), or 23-32 mmHg compression stockings (HIGH). (The higher the mmHg number the greater the pressure placed on the tissues—lower legs and ankles, in this case.) There was no significant difference in 10km times, heart rate or blood lactate levels regardless of the type of stocking worn.

2. Ali, A., R.H. Creasy, J.A. Edge. 2010. Physiological effects of wearing graduated compression stockings during running. Eur J Appl Physiol 109(6):1017-25.

Summary: Nine male and one female competitive runners ran 3 x 40-minute treadmill runs at 80% of their VO2 max. They wore either 0 mmHg stockings (CON), 12-15 mmHg compression stockings (LOW) or 23-32 mmHg compression stockings (HIGH). There were no significant differences in oxygen uptake, heart rate or blood lactate during the runs. There were no benefits post-exercise.

3. Chatard, J.C., D. Atlaoui, J. Farjanel, F. Louisy, D. Rastel, C.Y. Guezennec. 2004. Elastic stockings, performance and leg pain recovery in 63-year-old sportsmen. Eur J Appl Physiol 93(3):347-52.

Summary: Twelve, trained older (average age 63) cyclists did 2 x 5-minute maximum efforts on a bicycle ergometer separated by an 80-minute recovery period on four occasions. During the recovery between the efforts they wore either compression stockings or no compression stockings. On the second max effort in each case their power decreased compared with the first effort in each pair. The decrease in max power was less when the compression stockings were worn during the preceding recovery and lactate was significantly decreased with the compression stockings also.

4. Duffield, R., J. Cannon, M. King. 2010. The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and plyometric exercise. J Sci Med Sport 13(1):136-40.

Summary: Eleven subjects completed two exercise sessions separated by seven days. The sessions consisted of 20-meter sprints and 10 bounds every minute. For one session they wore compression stockings. For the other they did not wear compression stockings. Performance was measured for the sprints and bounds. Before each session, immediately after, 2 hours after and 24 hours after the researchers measured muscle twitch properties, knee extension strength, knee flexion strength, blood lactate, body fluid pH, creatine kinase, aspartate transaminase, C-reactive protein, heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion and muscle soreness. There were no differences in performance or other measures except for muscle soreness which was less after using the compression stockings.

5. Higgins, T., G.A. Naughton, D. Burgess. 2009. Effects of wearing compression garments on physiological and performance measures in a simulated game-specific circuit for netball. J Sci Med Sport 12(1):223-6.

Summary: Competitive netball players wore either 1) traditional netball clothing, 2) compression garments or 3) placebo garments. They were tested for sprints, countermovement jumps, blood lactate, heart rate, velocity and distance covered during a game (using GPS technology). With compression garments there was greater distances covered and faster velocities although the enhancements were minimal.

6. Kemmler, W. S. Von Stengel, C. Kockritz, J. Mayhew, A. Wassermann, J. Zapf. 2009. Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners. J Strength Con Res 23(1):101-5.

Summary: Twenty-one moderately trained men ran a graded exercise test on a treadmill to a voluntary maximum output on two occasions separated by a week. One test was done with compression socks and the other with standard athletic socks. Running performance with the compression socks improved at anaerobic threshold 1.5% and at aerobic threshold 2.1%.

7. Scanlon, A.T., B.J. Dascombe, P.R. Reaburn, M. Osborne. 2008. The effects of wearing lower-body compression garments during endurance cycling. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 3(4):424-38.

Summary: Twelve well-trained (VO2 max 70.5 +/-4.9 mL/kg/min), young (20.5 +/- 3.6 years old), male cyclists did 2 graded exercise tests and 2 one-hour time trials wearing either full-length SportSkins Classic compression garment (LBCG) or standard underwear briefs (CON). In the graded exercise tests there was a 5% increase in anaerobic threshold power (245.9 +/- 55.7 to 259.8 +/- 44.6 watts) when wearing LBCG. There was no performance enhancement in the time trial (as measured by total work achieved in kilojoules).

8. Sperlich, B., M. Haegele, S. Achtzehn, J. Linville, H.C. Holmberg, J. Mester. 2010. Different types of compression clothing do not increase sub-maximal and maximal endurance performance in well-trained athletes. J Sports Sci 28(6):609-14.

Summary: Fifteen young (27 +/- 4.8 years old), well-trained (VO2 max 63.7 +/- 4.9) athletes did sub-maximal (70% VO2 max) and maximal tests wearing either compression stockings, standard tights or whole-body compression suits. There were no differences in performance, ratings of perceived exertion, muscle soreness, time to exhaustion and lactate concentrations.

Does Compression Clothing Improve Recovery?

9. Ali, A., M.P. Caine, B.G. Snow. 2007. Graduated compression stockings: Physiological and perceptual responses during and after exercise. J Sports Sci 25(4):413-419.

Summary: In this study Ali discovered that after 10km running trials, recreationally active men experienced a reduction in delayed-onset muscle soreness 24 hours after wearing compression stockings (18-22 mmHg) compared with traditional sports socks.

10. Berry, M.J., R.G. McMurray. 1987. Effects of graduated compression stockings on blood lactate following an exhaustive bout of exercise. J Phys Med 66(3):121-32.

Summary: Twelve highly fit males were subjects in 2 experiments. In the first experiment 6 of them did VO2 max tests on a treadmill with and without compression stockings. In the second 6 of them did 3 x 3-minute max efforts on a bicycle ergometer at 110% of their VO2 max. On the first of these 3-minute efforts they wore compression stockings during the test and during recovery. For the second 3-minute bout they wore compression stockings during the test but not during the recovery. On the third they did not use compression stockings for either the 3-minute effort or the recovery. For the first experiment (VO2 max tests) there was no difference in VO2 max with or without compression stockings. But blood lactate levels after the test were lower with compression stockings. For the second experiment (3-minute max efforts) post-exercise lactate was lower only when compression stockings were worn during recovery.

11. Davies, V., K.G. Thompson, S.M. Cooper. 2009. The effects of compression garments on recovery. J Strength Cod Res 23(6):1786-94.

Summary: Following exercises designed to cause soreness 11 trained subjects wore compression tights on one occasion and none on another. Self-reported muscle soreness was reduced by wearing the tights.

12. French D.N., K.G. Thompson, S.W. Garland, C.A. Barnes, M.D. Portas, P.E. Hood, G. Wilkes. 2008. The effects of contrast bathing and compression therapy on muscular performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 40(7):1297-306.

Summary: Twenty-six young men did heavy-load squats to induce muscle soreness. 48 hours afterwards they were evaluated for strength performance. During the 48 hours they either 1) did hot-cold contrast baths, 2) wore compression stockings or 3) rested passively. Neither the contrast baths or compression stockings promoted recovery any more effectively than passive rest. However, the contrast baths had a brief but transient benefit for reduced soreness.

13. Miyamoto, N., K. Hirata, N. Mitsukawa, T. Yanai, Y. Kawkami. 2011. Effect of pressure intensity of graduated elastic compression stocking on muscle fatigue following calf-raise exercise. J Electromyogr Kinsiol 21(2):249-54.

Summary: Fourteen subjects did 15 sets of 10 reps each of calf raises on different occasions. They wore either standard stockings (CON), compression stockings of 21-25 mmHg at the calf and 30 at the ankle (EC30), or compression stockings of 12-14 mmHg at the calf and 18 at the ankle (EC18). The EC30 stockings produced the lowest levels of fatigue.

14. Montgomery, P.G., D.B. Pyne, W.G. Hopkins, J.C. Dorman, K. Cook, C.L. Minhan. 2008. The effect of recovery strategies on physical performance and cumulative fatigue in competitive basketball. J Sports Sci 26(11):1135-45.

Summary: 29 male basketball players competed in a 3-day tournament. After each game they recovered by either 1) taking in extra carbohydrate and stretching, 2) doing cold-water immersion (11C degrees) or 3) wearing full-leg compression garments (18 mmHg for 18 hours). Measures of recovery were sprint speed, agility, vertical jump height and flexibility. Cold-water produced better recovery results than carbs + stretching or the compression garments.

15. Riman, D., L. Messonier, J. Castells, X. Devillard, P. Calmels. 2010. Effects of compression stockings during exercise and recovery on blood lactate kinetics. Eur J Appl Physiol 110(2):425-33.

Summary: Eight healthy, trained males did 2 maximum-effort tests on bikes with and without compression stockings. Post-exercise lactate removal was significantly faster with compression stockings.

16. Jakeman, J.R., C. Byrne, R.G. Eston. 2010. Lower limb compression garment improves recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in young, active females. Eur J Appl Physiol 109(6):1137-44.

Summary: Seventeen females did 100 plyometric drop jumps from a high box to induce muscle soreness and damage. Eight of them wore compression stockings for 12 hours post-exercise. Nine did not wear compression stockings after the session. Recovery was measured using self-reported muscle soreness, creatine kinase levels, knee extensor strength and vertical jump height. Compression stockings improved all markers of recovery except for creatine kinase (a marker of muscle cell damage).

17. Kraemer, W.J., S.D. Flanagan, B.A. Comstock, et al. 2010. Effects of a whole body compression garment on markers of recovery after a heavy resistance workout in men and women. J Strength Cond Res 24(3):804-14.

Wearing a full-body compression garment for 24 hours after a challenging, heavy-resistance strength workout enhanced psychological, physiological and performance markers of recovery when compared with non-compressive garments

So what do you think? Do you wear compression socks, compression tights or compression shorts? Do you find that compression helps your performance or recovery? Please leave your questions, comments or feedback below!

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11 thoughts on “Does Compression Gear Really Help Recovery & Performance, Or Is It All Just A Silly Ploy To Get Us To Dress Up In Stretchy Pants?

  1. It seems like there's a small but significant improvement, especially for recovery, in average athletes but not so apparent for Elite athletes like you. One thing though, its hard for the researchers to have the test subject NOT know when they are using compression gear. The so-called Placebo gear won't be compressing and the test subject can feel that.

    1. Yes, unless they did gradated vs. non-gradated compression gear. Incidentally, I'm no where *near* the speed of an "elite" athlete. I definitely consider myself amateur age grouper.

  2. I think compression gear definitely helps recovery for me. I've used different types and they all seem to work fairly well. The full socks are a bit more effective than the calf guards since they surround the whole foot, but i don't think the compressions tops function as nicely. For one thing the hear is already pretty darn close to the chest muscles, and the expansion of the lungs means that it will be harder to get the right fit without restricting your breathing. I've never used comp. gear in competition, but for recovery it works!

    -Armi

  3. I was thrilled to get turned on to these tights and I've already ordered them, I tried doing an icebath in the 43 degree lake this am and could only stay in 3-4 minutes. Thanks a lot Ben, I'm looking forward to them.

  4. Nice thing, especially the moment when you get ice in the compression tights was funny. The only question is how many things a person has to have to be good at any sport. Isn’t it just another thing that will give you 0.0001% of performance boost? For an elite it would be a lot to gain but for amateur?

    1. Tried them post run and they did what they were suppose to in terms of reercvoy. I also tried them during a few of my runs but didn’t notice anything different. Its probably best to do an extensive test of a few months to really understand any types of changes.

  5. Great research and references.
    I definitely noticed a difference wearing compression for my calves after a hard run.
    However, I heard in one of David Warden's podcasts that there was a limit to how long you should wear compression gear. He was saying something like 2-3 hours max. Is that true???

  6. I use compression shorts and tights as an aid for my osteo-arthritic hip. It makes a huge difference in that it seems to offer a lot of support and helps in pain reduction. I subjectively feel that it does help with my recovery from runs also…

  7. Even if there is no physiological benefit to compression clothing there certainly seems to be a psychological effect. Competitors believe that the compression gear gives them an advantage and so it does. Thanks for the interesting summary.

  8. This is very common and very helpfully for all the people who practice sports, I don't know if works or not, but the true it's like loads of people wear every day, and if they do that if for something, well… I think .. :)

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