Compression garments were originally recommended by clinicians to promote healing and pain relief. Today, snug-fitting support sleeves, shirts, shorts, stockings, and socks worn before, during, or after physical activity have become increasingly popular. Manufacturers claim that such garments improve body mechanics and hasten the clearance of lactate from muscles, thus leading to more strength, power, and endurance; less soreness; and improved recovery.
Do they work? The answer is no — and yes.
Wearing compression gear while you exercise won’t directly do much to boost your performance, says ultramarathoner Adam Chase, author of The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running.
As a recovery aid, however, it can be somewhat effective, perhaps because pressure on the muscles helps curb inflammation. Several studies have found that compression garments may reduce soreness following workouts.
And better recovery, of course, can lead indirectly to improved performance. Cyclists who wore compression shorts in the 24 hours between two separate 40-kilometer time trials rode 1.2 percent faster on the second test than those who wore regular spandex tights, a New Zealand study found.
So while compression gear may not have much effect on race day itself, says Chase, it may be a good bet in the days after — especially if you have more training sessions or another big event in the near future.
Chase also says that people who sometimes experience an uncomfortable shaking or vibration in the muscles during exercise “can wear compression gear for added stability.”
So if they feel good, wear them.