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Compression wear for runners…is it worth it?

One of the biggest trends in running over recent years has been the cropping up of compression wear. You can buy everything from brightly colored knee-high socks to spendy compression shorts or tights. So, before you invest in this high-priced trend, you may be asking yourself: is compression wear worth it?

As a PT and runner, when I ask “is this worth it?”, I am mostly asking:

  • Does compression wear improve performance?
  • Does it increase the speed of recovery?
  • Does it FEEL like it helps me?

With these questions in mind, I investigated whether or not this running trend really is all it’s chalked up to be.

CW-X compression wear for runners

CW-X Conditioning Wear is one of the more popular compression clothing lines for runners.

Does compression wear improve running performance?

Short answer: Yes
Compression stockings and tights have been shown to offer minimal performance improvements by increasing your VO2max and improving anaerobic and aerobic thresholds. One study concluded that wearing compression tights during running exercise may enhance overall circulation and decrease muscle oscillation to promote a lower energy expenditure at a given prolonged submaximal speed.

In another study, researchers concluded: “Running performance at the anaerobic (minimum lactate + 1.5 mmolxL) threshold (14.11 vs. 13.90 kmxh, ES: 0.22) and aerobic (minimum lactate + 0.5 mmolxL) thresholds (13.02 vs. 12.74 kmxh, ES: 0.28) was significantly higher using compression stockings. Therefore, stockings with constant compression in the area of the calf muscle significantly improved running performance at different metabolic thresholds.” Translation: compression wear improved performance at different speeds and thresholds. But one thing compression stockings are NOT proven to do is reduce the lactic acid build up while running.

One final study showed that lactic acid build up was actually higher when wearing compression stockings, but they still help you run faster and longer. So while improvements may be minimal, we can conclude that there can be some performance benefits with compression clothing.

Does compression wear help me recover quicker?

Short answer: No
Sadly, almost all studies out there have shown that there is not any physiological benefit to wearing compression stocking for recovery. However, those same studies have shown that most runners FEEL like they have recovered faster and feel better after wearing compression stockings.

Does compression wear feel like it helps me?

Short answer: It’s personal
This is a very personal question for many runners. Some runners swear by their compression socks or sleeves, while others don’t notice much difference at all. Personally, I have one pair of expensive compression capris. I will admit, I like how I feel like my muscles are well supported while I am running. I don’t know if I run any faster with them on (I am not a fast runner to start with) but I do like the way they feel. A close friend loves running with her compression socks on. She feels like her legs have a lot more energy during her long runs. So for her, the investment is totally worth it.

My take home message? Compression wear can have some benefits for your running which could potentially help you run just a little bit faster. The cost can be high for clothing but if the article in question makes you feel better, it can be a worthwhile investment. My recommendation would be to make sure you are investing in good running shoes and running socks before you make the investment in compression wear. And for women, buy a great running bra before you make the investment in compression wear!

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