Increase athletic performance and speed up muscle recovery with compression socks
Have you noticed runners wearing compression knee socks or calf sleeves? What about elite athletes wearing arm sleeves for support? More and more athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are embracing the benefits of compression— both during and after exercise.
Compression has been shown to enhance athletic performance and speed up muscle recovery and soreness post exercise. The results of several scientific studies indicate that wearing compression socks stimulates blood flow and reduces lactic acid build-up, which can reduce, prevent or shorten the length of delayed onset muscle soreness. This change allows you to recover faster and jump back into your training or physical activity more quickly. Think about it: If you do a super hard workout and you reduce your recovery time, you can participate in another high-impact workout sooner.
The Research on Compression and Athletics
A 2010 study of young female athletes tested the effects of wearing graduated compression socks after performing a series of plyometric exercises— including countermovement jumps and squat jumps— which tend to cause temporary muscle damage. The athletes wearing compression experienced less soreness than those who didn’t wear them, supporting the idea that compression can be an effective recovery strategy following exercise-induced muscle damage. According to this study, “The ability to train consistently at high levels is important for athletes, and the potential advantage offered by compression at this time-point should not be understated.”
Other research studies also support the idea that that wearing compression socks may improve athletic performance and are “a practical, non-invasive and non-restrictive method of post-exercise recovery.”
Below is a summary of some of the relevant research:
- Prolonged repeat-sprint athletes wearing compression during their workout showed improved exercise performance — likely due to the reduction of muscle oscillation (the muscle movement that happens as your foot hits the ground and a subsequent vibration occurs through your body).
- Constant compression of the calf muscle increases performance at different metabolic stages during an all-out task. Thus, compression socks were effective for enhancing performance during submaximal and maximal running.
- Compression significantly increases cycling performance and post-exercise blood lactate elimination while reducing blood lactate concentration during running, cycling, and cross- country skiing. Three studies observed improved muscular oxygenation (the presence of oxygen in the muscles, which decreases soreness) following and during endurance exercise. Compression reduced post-exercise muscle soreness following running and cycling in eight other studies. These findings suggest that compression can help dampen muscle oscillation, countering fatigue and lowering perceived exertion in power-based activities such as sprinting and jumping.
- Wearing compression reduced lactic acid build up during exercise and recovery, but not only when compression was used during exercise – giving stronger evidence that compression improves muscle damage following high-intensity strength and power exercise.
- Perceptual soreness was observed where reports of decreased muscle soreness and improved recovery were seen after high-intensity speed and power-based exercise while wearing compression. The greater the exercise-related soreness, the more tangible the perceived benefits of compression. One study showed that wearing compression during high-intensity exercise delayed the perception of muscle soreness for up to 48 hours. Accordingly, the addition of compression may be warranted to help with an athlete’s perceived readiness to train or compete.
- Athletes wearing mild and moderate strength graduated compression were better able to maintain their leg power after endurance exercise. Well-trained runners and athletes rated mild and moderate graduated compression (4–12 mmHg) as the most comfortable compression to wear during exercise. Firm graduated compression (23–32 mmHg) caused discomfort. Therefore, athletes considering wearing graduated compression for training and racing should select a mild to moderate strength compression sock. They also found that wearing undersized compression does not improve physiological or performance responses. For best sizing, fit and comfort, athletes should follow manufacturers recommendations and consider their personal comfort, particularly for extended wear.
The extent of the research on the benefits of compression for athletic use is not very complete, and some studies have conflicting conclusions. However, there is a clear consensus between the studies conducted to date— wearing graduated compression is an effective tool for post-workout recovery. While there is mounting data regarding the benefits of graduated compression on athletic performance, more research is required to reach a similar and more definitive conclusion regarding the effects of compression on performance.