Is compression gear worth the hype (and $$)?
There’s a lot of great marketing out there regarding compression gear, but does it live up to it’s own hype or does it just look good? Fellas… here’s a free tip to get you started – it doesn’t look good without shorts over the top, or in white or beige.
Let’s look at what the manufacturers claim, break it down according to available research, then I’ll throw in my two cents using personal experience.
I have listed below a variety of claims made by some of the major brands about their compression wear. I’ve then sat down and done the hard work for you, looking through studies to see if the claims can be validated (references included).
THE CLAIMS AND THE RESEARCH
- Increased performance
- One study demonstrated that lower-limb compression garments may lower the effort perception associated with 400-m performance, despite there being no differences in overall athletic performance. (source)
- Another study demonstrated that compression garments may limit muscle soreness, but insignificantly. The results of this study support that compression stockings fail to enhance performance. (source)
- This study showed that compressive garments significantly reduced impact force by 27% compared with American football pants alone. Through various mechanisms, these findings may translate into an effect on athletic performance and a reduction in injuries. (source)
- Aids in explosive power / Heighten power and ability
- The compressive garment had no effect on the maximal power of the highest jump in either men or women. These data indicate that compression shorts do not improve maximal jump power output. (source)
- Lowers energy cost
- The improvement in energy cost was attributed to better muscle coordination and greater propulsive force, due to reduced muscle oscillation. (source)
- Reduced muscle oscillation and therefore reduced muscle damage and fatigue
- The compressive garment significantly reduced impact force by 27% compared with American football pants alone. (source)
- A compression garment also significantly reduced the vertical velocity (oscillation) of muscle movement upon landing. (source)
- An enhanced mean power output during the repetitive maximal jump test was observed when wearing a compression garment. The performance improvement observed may be due to reduced muscle oscillation upon impact, psychological factors, and/or enhanced joint position sense. (source)
- Increased circulation
- The original use for compression wear was to assist people with circulatory dysfunction. The principle of compressive support is to artificially increase extravascular pressure. However – medical compression is rated on a scale of 1-4, and I am led to believe that none of the ‘sporting’ compression gear comes close to being a medically rated 1. Limiting how much actual compression is being applied.
- UV rating
- They all claim approx spf 50+ UV protection. I didn’t bother looking for research here, it should be pretty clear that wearing something will reduce your exposure to the sun.
- Speed muscle recovery time
- A whole body compression garment worn during the 24-hour recovery period after an intense heavy resistance training workout enhances various psychological, physiological, and a few performance markers of recovery compared with non-compressive control garment conditions. The use of compression appears to help in the recovery process after an intense heavy resistance training workout in men and women. (source)
All in all the rationale for wearing compression gear is solid, but concrete evidence from clinical trials is weak. Varying from – There ‘may’ be benefits for recovery to “compression stockings fail to enhance performance”.
While some studies find physiological benefits, such as increased blood flow, increased muscle oxygenation, decreased lactic acid build up and decreased muscle oscillation, the theoretical benefits from this don’t necessarily translate to noticeable performance benefits in all cases.
However, and this is as good a reason as any to own a pair; many people love the feel of them and anecdotally, many people who try them find they provide a performance boost and that they feel better afterwards. So if you think it works, it does work. Placebo effect or not, I know that if I train wearing compression gear I don’t get as sore than if I train without it and that’s good enough for me.
Given that there’s no evidence of any negative effects, if they feel good and put you in a sporting frame of mind, go for it!
WHICH ONES ARE BEST?
There is no particular brand that stands out as being better than another in studies, from cheapies to top-of-the-range (thats why I wouldn’t outlay $200). I own two different brands because they fit me well, not because of what they claim on the label. One of them also has a cool spartan warrior helmet on the thigh (lets be honest here… a large part of your decision is based on what they look like and who else wears them 😉
The main thing is that they feel comfortable and you feel good wearing them.