Compress to impress? or Progress?

Compression garments (CGs) have been all the rage for years now, a fad that hung around. Now all of the big brands have bought into the beliefs that compression improves recovery and overall performance in athletes. Is this true? Or is it all a long-lasting fad? Are they researches backed or a coffee goers fashion statement? The Stride explores the relevant literature, and gives you some pointers when it comes to the use of compression garments.

Accumulating evidence supports CGs to enhance performance (Doan et al., 2003; Brigard et al., 2006) and subsequent recovery (Gill et al., 2006; Jakeman et al., 2010). ‘Graduated compression’ resulting from decreasing pressure distal to proximal, improves haemodynamics (Lawrence and Kakkar, 1980).

Tip: Full-length apparel would therefore be advised over shorter forms of compression.

In session application provides positive effect on sprinting and vertical jump performance (Bernhardt and Anderson, 2005; Duffield et al., 2010). Additional advocacy for wearing compression during activity has correlation to improved proprioception and body awareness (Birmingham et al., 1998), which may reduce injury risk. Athlete comfort must be considered as CGs alter the thermoregulatory effects of sweat evaporation (Houghton et al., 2007). After all, what’s most important is athlete comfort. So if you don’t like them and it makes you uncomfortable, then it’s ridiculous to adhere to science because you just won’t run well if you’re not feeling right! Such thermoregulatory affects may also make them less appropriate in more temperate environments (>30degC).

Tip: Compression may reduce injury risk

More pronounced benefits on muscle-damage-inducing stress are seen with 12 to 48 hours of post-activity application (Born et al., 2013). Recovery related parameters (DOMS and muscle swelling) demonstrated moderate effect size (0.47 and 0.35 respectively) (Davies et al., 2009; Montgomery et al., 2008a, 2008b). Smaller but still positive effect seen on recovery of strength and power tasks (0.10) (Duffield et al., 2008) and vertical jump (0.13) advocates post-activity application (Davies et al., 2009; Montgomery et al., 2008a). CGs worn for recovery may reduce exercise-induced swelling, thereby reducing compartmental pressure and subsequent discomfort (Kraemer et al., 2001). Recent thoughts from highly regarded practitioners also stem from the fact CGs compress tissue and reduce small vibrations of movement of tissue that may have suffered damage from previous strenuous exercise bouts (DOMS).

Tip: May improve performance in back up training sessions or events that consist of heat, semi-final and final

CGs preferentially benefit high-intensity exercise, are inexpensive and can be worn when traveling to enhance recovery (Born et al., 2013), and reduce DVT risk due to haemodynamic enhancement (Lawrence and Kakkar, 1980; Mayberry et al., 1991) at relatively low cost across a small team. Out of a variety of forms of recovery, the once off small cost will pay dividends to the body in the long run.

Tip: Cost effective 

We thus recommend that perhaps if you don’t like the feel whilst running, try wearing CGs in the car on the way home or on flights if travelling. Do know that it is probably advisable to sleep in them overnight. With most runners undertaking high training and impact loads across the week, The Stride always places a large focus on recovery strategies so your body is ready for its next challenge.

Tip: Enhances passive recovery if active recovery isn’t an option

Stride on!


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