Back in 2003, as Paula Radcliffe broke the tape at the London Marathon to set a new world record her distinctive compression socks were a rarity in the field – just one of many areas where Paula’s attention to detail gave her the edge over her competitors. Dial the clock forward 14 years and compression garments from calf sleeves and arms guards to recovery tights can be seen from front to back at your local parkrun.
Times have changed and technology is constantly developing, but what are the real benefits of compression?
For many years compression garments were used to improve blood flow in the health care world to manage conditions such as deep vein thrombosis – you can almost see that Paula’s compression socks looked more like DVT socks than modern sports kit.
Technology has now improved and today’s garments focus on graduated compression which helps to increase venous blood flow from the extremities where blood pooling can occur.
This increased blood flow has been shown to have performance benefits including improved running economy and lactate clearance. All this contributes to athletes seeing reduced energy cost for the same performance.
Compression garments help reduce muscle vibration during activity which helps to reduce the potential for delayed on set muscle soreness (DOMS).
This explains why many runners feel they recover better after using compression garments (particularly calf sleeves) when training and racing. Increased blood flow from compression can also help improve waste by product clearance and improve post exercise recovery, but can also give a more ‘secure’ feeling for muscles when running on uneven terrain.
Many runners will look to compression garments to provide more joint and muscle stability as opposed to using kinesiology tape which can be tricky to apply yourself and can come unstuck win key sessions and races.
Heat and moisture management
Modern fabrics used by the major compression brands can help wick away moisture and reduce the build up in heat that occurs during exercise. This can improve comfort and reduce the chance of swelling and blisters.