If have spent any time around the racing community you have heard the buzz about compression. Among the proposed benefits are enhanced recovery and better performance but with all the hype do compression socks really live up to their reputation?
How Compression Socks Improve Recovery
The theory behind compression socks and enhanced recovery is simple. By using graduated compression these socks are built to improve venous return. What does this mean for you? Instead of blood pooling in your lower limbs and taking their sweet time to get back to the heart for fresh nutrients and oxygen this process of return is enhanced. By enhancing the bodys’ ability to clear the tissue of blood you are also increasing the rate at which it can remove toxins and derby while creating the opportunity for fresh oxygen and nutrient rich blood to get into those muscles and start the repair and rebuild process. This process of rebuilding muscle tissue is what makes you stronger, faster, and better at your sport. Compression socks have been used by the medical community for decades and its ability to increase venous return is well established.
How Compression Socks Improve Performance
Does wearing those knee high socks and sleek calf sleeves actually make you race faster? The jury is still out on this one but let’s talk about the theory behind racing and training with compression. The main idea is increased support and reduced muscle damage. Think of your muscle like a lose mesh bag full of medicine balls. When you exercises those balls bounce around sometimes colliding with one another. This can cause damage to the tissue. Now think of those same medicine balls held tightly together in a compression sleeve. The tissue no longer has that extra space for excessive motion and this cuts back on unnecessary damage. Whether or not they make you faster they can make a long run more comfortable and help you get back to regular training faster
Now that you understand the theory behind using compression socks is there any research to back up these claims? A study to determine the effect of compression socks on functional recovery was recently published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The study set out to determine if wearing compression socks for 48 hours after a marathon effected time to exhaustion on a treadmill test 2 weeks after the race. The group that wore compression socks had a 2.6% increase in time to exhaustion vs. the placebo group, which experienced a 3.4% decrease in time to exhaustion. Their conclusion was that wearing compression socks post marathon significantly increased functional recovery.
As far as increased performance the results are mixed. One study published in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy compared trained marathon runners after a race and found no difference in run pace or post-race muscle damage between groups wearing compression socks and conventional socks. On the other hand a 2009 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tested moderately trained athletes with a stepwise treadmill test and found that compression socks “significantly improved running performance at different metabolic thresholds.”
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What are my conclusions? I have used compression socks and sleeves for years and I am hooked. My favorite brand to date is Pro Compression. They are made of great materials that not only feel amazing while you are wearing them, they are extremely durable. I have not had a single problem with any of the products I have bought from Pro Compression and I have been using their compression socks for years. While I have raced in sleeves I cannot definitively say if they made me race any faster. What I can say is they increased my comfort level. I also feel that I experience less delayed onset muscle soreness when I do race and train in compression sleeves and socks. Let’s not forget the coolness factor, racing in sleeves does make me feel faster! On the recovery side of things I can give you a definite two thumbs up. I wear my compression socks ALL OF THE TIME. I wear them on long car rides, plane rides, at night while I am relaxing in bed. And my legs always feel refreshed when I am done. While the research is mixed on the effects of compression socks and performance the important thing is how YOU feel. Try training with and without compression socks and go with what makes you feel better.
I have read that for recovery you should wear your socks for twice the duration of your event. So if you were on your feet racing for an hour and thirty minutes you should aim to wear your socks for a minimum of three hours after the race. I always pack a pair of dry compression socks to slip into after a triathlon. I am speeding my recovery while also being far more comfortable for the post-race activities; sitting around eating, cheering in competitors, and a hopefully winning something and the post-race raffle!
I would also highly recommend wearing compression socks any time you will be sitting or standing for an excessive period of time. This pretty much means at work for most people. I would also slip on those bad boys on road trips and airplanes. Any time you will be seated for an extended period of time your bods’ ability to drive venous return is impaired. It is your muscles contracting that drives venous return and if you aren’t moving your muscles are not contracting. Back when I worked a desk job I wore my compression socks under my work clothes EVERYDAY.
Are you sold yet? I know I am and the great folks over at Pro Compression have offered a pair of free marathon compression socks to one of my lucky readers, just enter the raffle below for your chance to win. Can’t wait to get your hands on a pair? Make sure and subscribe to The Weekly Squeeze Newsletter for a special 40% discount code on all socks and sleeves. And did I mention that Pro Compression runs great promotions through their sock of the month club? Head over to their sight ProCompresion.com and subscribe for updates on new socks and great discounts, they put out new designs for major holidays which are great for those fun themed 5Ks!
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Have you tried compression socks, do you feel they improve your recovery or your runs?
*Disclaimer: Recived a pair of Marathon Compression Socks in exchange for a honest review. All opinions are as always my own and I received no other compensation*