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Date Posted: 16 December 2022
Popular sports brands such as SKINS, CEP, 2XU and Compressport have sunk time, research and funds into their compression clothing out of a deep belief in its benefits. Is it worth getting compression gear yourself?
We’ve all seen them. Go for a coffee early in the morning and you’ll likely see cyclists sporting knee-high socks. Pass by a track and field event at your local park and there will be arm and calf sleeves galore. And when you’re next at a triathlon or running event, the number of athletes you’ll see wearing tight-fitting shorts and shirts will be staggering. Why are so many athletes now squeezing themselves into these skin-tight garments called compression gear?
What’s all the fuss about?
Compression sportswear consists of super tight-fitting clothing that many athletes wear during athletic activity and recovery periods. Popular sports brands such as SKINS, CEP, 2XU and Compressport have sunk time, research and funds into their compression clothing out of a deep belief in its benefits.
Compression gear is designed to help athletes in five main ways:
As a result, compression clothing can help to improve performance and speed up recovery.
What types of compression clothing are available?
Compression clothing usually comes in four categories: socks, sleeves, shorts/tights, and shirts.
The low-down: Compression socks are usually almost knee-high, but can come in lower cuts as well. They keep your feet and (in higher cuts) legs warm while waiting for your race to start, keep your muscles in place during the event, and prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs, which causes your feet to swell painfully. In addition, the tight fit is less likely to give you hot spots and blisters from wrinkling. Some brands use graduated compression, so that compression is more intense at the lower end of the limb to help push blood back up to the heart.
Best for: Runners, skiers, people with shin splints/calf issues, people who work on their feet all day (e.g. teachers, construction workers, retail assistants).
Arm & Calf Sleeves
The low-down: Arm sleeves like the 2XU Run sleeves lend your arms the benefits of compression clothing while leaving your shoulders completely free for complete range of motion. Calf sleeves work in much the same way as high-cut compression socks. Most people choose calf sleeves when they want different socks on their feet (e.g. warmer socks, having to change into dry socks, having a favourite sock), or when compression socks are difficult to fit since their foot and calf fall under different sizes. They also tend to work as arm and leg warmers!
Best for: People who want full range of movement across their shoulders (arm sleeves) or those with long feet but thin calves, or short feet but thicker calves (calf sleeves).
Shorts & Tights
The low-down: Compression shorts and tights come in many different lengths. They support your glutes, groin and quads, as well as your calf muscles in longer variations.
Best for: Cyclists, runners, hikers, ball sport players (e.g. footballers), martial artists.
Shirts – Women’s & Men’s
The low-down: Compression tops keep you warm during early-morning or interval sessions. They increase blood flow across your upper body, reduce muscle oscillation in your arms, and helps pull your body back into its natural alignment during sports that require an ‘unnatural’ posture (e.g. cycling and skiing).
Best for: Cyclists, skiers, runners, field sport athletes, gym junkies.
Is it too good to be true?
Compression gear has its origins in medicine. Doctors discovered that compression fabric that moulded around various parts of the body could increase blood and lymphatic flow. To this day, nurses and doctors hand out compression bandages to injured athletes. Innovators then took the concept and created the thin, lightweight compression gear we see on athletes today.
That said, there simply isn’t enough research to entirely support compression clothing yet. Several studies support the benefits of compression gear. These include:
But there isn’t yet a consensus among experts. Other studies contradict these, or at least find no perceptible difference in their subjects when they wear compression clothing. Many studies do agree that compression gear does provide its theoretical benefits (the five points above), these benefits don’t always translate to noticeable performance benefits.
Anecdotally, however, many elite, professional and amateur athletes worldwide who try compression clothing report performance boosts and feeling better during their recovery period. Most studies show that compression gear improves perceptual recovery: people feel better having worn the gear, reporting less muscle soreness and less fatigue. Many people also simply enjoy the tight-fitting feel of compression clothing and appreciate the lack of extraneous movement from their muscles when exercising with compression.
There is no evidence of compression clothing having any negative effects on performance. So, one might say that compression clothing is not so much about magically making you stronger as faster as it is about making you feel better and fresher, so you can put in more effort during exercise and feel more comfortable afterwards.
Whether you wear compression clothing for aesthetics, comfort, or their psycho-physiological benefits, Wildfire Sports & Trek stocks a wide range of compression sleeves, socks, tops and bottoms.
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