Compression gear has its origins in the world of medicine, where it was initially used to help with low blood pressure and circulation problems. In a medical sense, compression garments assist in dispersing lymphatic fluid and improving blood flow, so it didn’t take long for sports enthusiasts to realise the benefits that compression clothing might have on their own performance.
Still, many people think that compression clothing is a gimmick that does nothing to very little to improve performance and aid recovery.
What does the science say, though?
Increased circulation means increased oxygenation
Good compression garments provide graduated compression to different parts of the body. This means that the particular garment tightens at the extremities. For calf sleeves and compression socks, this will means that the garment gradually becomes tighter at the ankles and the lower leg, promoting the flow of blood in these parts and in the rest of the body.
Increased circulation means that oxygen is more efficiently carried to the muscles, fuelling them with freshly-oxygenated blood from the heart, after being pumped through the lungs. Deoxygenated blood is then carried to the lungs and heart again. Of course, this whole process is a part of the human body’s normal workings – the difference is that it can happen more efficiently if compression gear is worn during and after exercise.
Compression gear limits microtrauma in muscles
Muscle oscillation occurs when your foot hits the ground and there is movement in the muscles, leading to vibrations through the body. Limiting this vibration can help to prevent microtrauma to the muscles, in return helping to reduce stress on the tendons and bones, and preventing microtearing in muscle fibres and connective tissue.
Aiding recovery by removing lactic acid
Graduated compression clothing helps to not only increase blood flow and oxygen in the muscles, but also to remove lactic acid from the muscles more efficiently and quickly than it would be removed without wearing compression gear. Wearing compression gear for between two and four hours post-workout or post-race helps to clear the lactic build-up caused by physical exertion, relieving soreness and providing support to tired joints and muscles.
In short, compression gear is a useful tool to all types athletes, both in terms of performance during workouts and races, and thereafter.