The science behind compression clothing for running

It’s easy to dismiss compression clothing for running as a fad or passing craze, but the science strongly backs up its use and its benefits in sport. Compression clothing does work, and it can greatly improve your running experience. 

We’ve all been there. Plodding and grinding through the muscle soreness in pursuit of the last mile of the training run or race, and hoping that we’ve got enough power in the legs to push towards the line. Running features moments like these. However, after you push through to the end and complete the session, the sense of pride and accomplishment is what keeps us coming back. One way of improving our running performance and easing the recovery between sessions is through the aid of external compression clothing.

From the medical world to sports 

Compression has been used by health professionals within an anatomy physiology context for many years, aimed at enhancing post-operative recovery and helping manage conditions such as venous insufficiency and DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and lymphoedema. 

The benefits of compression clothing are desirable within a sport and exercise context for use by anyone within not only a running but also a multi-sport capacity. They are now an increasingly popular ‘ergogenic aid’ to performance that is seen anywhere from your local Saturday parkruns to international platforms on large-scale events.

Compression clothing for running – How does it work?

Following on from the designs of medical compression, exercise compression seeks to enhance the warm-up, amplify the performance and improve the recovery. This is made possible through the design using textiles that have greater applied compression and more distal to the body centre (further away) that reduces this force. This is called graduated compression and increases circulation of blood to feed the body’s tissues and encourages the return of waste (lymphatic) fluid cleared from muscles and the body’s cells. 

The clothing that embodies the science includes socks (or stockings), calf guards (or calf sleeves), tights, shorts, tri-suits and tops and arm sleeves. There is not one specific portion of the workout that each is designed to solely suit, and they are able to be worn throughout the session or after as recovery aid.

Compression clothing for running – Use and benefits

Warming up before a run

During the warm-up, it is important to make sure that our bodies are prepared for exercise to reduce the risk of injury and perform to our best level. This includes:

  • getting the blood flowing through the tissues 
  • preparing our mind-muscle (neuromuscular) pathways
  • preparing our movement for the conditions we are training in. 

Compression enhances the flow of blood through the pressure gradient created between the limbs and trunk, which increases oxygen delivery to muscles exhibiting an increased demand. Through stabilising with the limbs, the brain can have increased awareness of where our body is as we move, and this improves overall agility and co-ordination.

Photo by 2XU

During training and racing

Once the training session is underway, it is normal to experience a range of niggles or an overall reduction in the body’s performance. From HIIT sessions to 5K runs and ultra-endurance sports, the improvements to tissue supply and waste clearance aim to ensure muscles can work efficiently at a high level and can lower fatigue1

Compression clothing can improve power output, and has been shown to increase the speed of recovery between bouts of effort and overall time to exhaustion2. The enhanced blood and lymphatic flow also ensure the tissues are continuously able to take in and expel fuel and waste.

As the body moves, the muscles contract and move with the limbs and this can cause microscopic tears to the muscles. From a running perspective, the main culprits are the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), hamstrings and quadricep groups, and tibialis anterior down the front of the shin. Compression clothing helps prevent excessive damage to these muscles by stabilising them and reducing a type of shock-generated trauma called vibration, and this reduces the feeling of soreness and fatigue.

Recovering after a run

Studies have explored the benefits of external compression clothing on overall exercise performance and recovery from sessions. 

It has been identified that improvements in lactate removal from the tissues, as well as higher power and strength measurements and reduced muscle swelling after training, for runners as well as basketballers3. Compression helps clear the lymph waste that collects in the limbs and draws it to the upper body to be broken down. 

While there is a large amount of research that looks into the benefits of the compression, the sport and exercise industry is always changing and adapting to the common pursuit of enhancing human performance, so it will be interesting to see what future studies will discover! Pulling on your compression gear is a beneficial way of accelerating your recovery so that you can feel fresh and ready for the next session.

Photo by 2XU

Recommended brands

Yes – not only can you move and feel like Spiderman, but there are lots of stylish ways to do so! From triathlons to recreational running, you’ll be sure to find the gear on the market that suits your discipline. At Run4It, we hold stock of 3 main frontrunners within the compression clothing market: 2XU, Hilly and Compressport. All three use the construction of medical grade, graduated compression, and have differences in design and features of the garments.

2XU

2XU (Two Times You) is an Australian manufacturer of compression clothing for the whole body. Their products undergo consistent quality moderation by both the Australian institute of sport (AIS) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), and supply teams in the NFL and NBA. 

From the 2XU range, Run4It holds stock of different styles of full length tights and calf sleeves / socks. Whether your added focus is on being seen with the reflectivity range (handy for the winter nights drawing in), or taking the chill off with the thermal and wind defence items, you can be sure to find your own way of multiplying your performance.

Hilly

Hilly is a UK manufacturer of technical running socks that produce a range of compression socks and calf guards. Designed with an anti-odour material Polygeine® and graduated compression, their range of Pulse compression aims to enhance the running experience from the high-quality products that Hilly produce.

Photo by Hilly

Compressport

Compressport aim to create products with the highest quality. Their products are designed and developed in Switzerland and are assembled by their clothing sports specialists. The innovative fibres used are certified by OEKO-TEX(R), meaning that the fibres contain no chemicals which are harmful to the skin or body. Compressport co-operates closely with a team of athletes and physicians in order to meet the athetes’ requirements as regards to compression, endurance and recovery.

Photo by Compressport

It is through doing continual research, that the running industry aims to educate exercise professionals and runners of all levels, adapt with the changing and advancing goals, and along with running retailers overall help to improve your run.


References

  1. Hsu, W.-C., Tseng, L.-W., Chen, F.-C., Wang, L.-C., Yang, W.-W., Lin, Y.-J. and Liu, C., (2017) Effects of compression garments on surface EMG and physiological responses during and after distance running. Journal of Sport and Health Science. Vol. / Issue N/A. pp.1-7.
  2. Marqués-Jiménez, D., Calleja-González, J., Arratibel, I., Delextrat, A. and Terrados, N., (2016) Are compression garments effective for the recovery of exercise-induced muscle damage? A systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiology & Behavior, 153 (1), pp.133–148.
  3. Lovell, D.I., Mason, D.G., Delphinus, E.M. and McLellan, C.P., (2011) Do Compression Garments Enhance the Active Recovery Process after High-Intensity Running? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(12), pp.3264–3268.