Compression garments seem to be popping up everywhere these days. It seems like all of the fitness companies have jumped on the compression bandwagon, making everything from knee-high socks to yoga pants to tank tops. First off, let me start by saying that you should not believe any company’s claims that simply wearing a pair of compression pants or a compression shirt will help you get toned. If you like the way they look and feel and want to buy a pair, by all means, buy them. But if you buy them in hopes that you will get toned while sitting on the couch watching television, please refrain from wasting your money.
So are any compression garments actually useful for runners? While many say that the jury is still out, I believe that yes, when worn in the right way and at the right times, compression socks in particular can benefit runners. I have a pair of compression socks that I wear during and after my long runs and I do feel a difference in my recovery versus when I go without them.
The idea and theory behind compression socks is that they aid in blood circulation, reduce blood lactate concentration during running, and control the amount from muscle oscillation that results from pounding during running (i.e. decrease muscle movement with each stride, thus reducing the impact forces). All of these things lead to fewer sore muscles, faster recovery, and increased performance.
I was told by several running stores that CEP brand compression socks were the best because they were scientifically proven and people have had the best results from them. Whether that is true or not, I’m not sure, but that is the brand I went with and I personally love them. From CEP’s website:
Used by professional triathletes around the world, CEP running socks are the first scientifically proven compression running socks to maximize power, boost energy, and speed recovery time. CEP Running O2 Sportsocks maximize muscle oxygenation and boost energy with CEP’s unparalleled scientifically optimized ultimate compression technology for all-day benefits. You’ll run with less effort, increased speed, decreased recovery time, reduced fatigue and optimized performance.
CEP compression sportsocks are the first truly functional compression sport socks with a patented pressure flow technology that provide a scientifically proven increase in blood circulation and a consequent increase in performance. In addition to blister prevention, CEP socks provide more oxygen, more energy, an improved metabolization of lactic acid, and faster recovery so you can return to training quicker than ever.
As far as the research behind compression socks, the results are mixed. Some studies have shown no performance benefits while others have. For instance, researchers in Germany noted that although aerobic capacity didn’t differ between trials of runners wearing compression socks compared to those wearing regular socks, athletes did run longer and hit a higher speed during a maximal treadmill test while wearing compression socks. In addition, they found that the compression sock-wearing participants’ running speeds at anaerobic threshold were higher. In terms of recovery, research has suggested that compressive clothing may affect the rate of cellular membrane turnover in damaged muscle following exercise, and alter the inflammatory response to muscle damage, accelerating the repair process. This means that if you do decide to run with compression socks on, it is important to keep them on post-run if possible. I keep mine on for about an hour following my long runs while I cool down, eat, and relax.
The take away here is that if you feel like you could benefit from compression socks, go ahead and give them a try. Don’t expect miracles and know that some runners don’t really notice a difference. Other runners, however, do notice a difference and wear them on every run. Keep in mind, however, that compression socks won’t have much benefit during short runs. They really only come into play during long endurance running.