We're starting this weekly series with an introduction to how compression wear is supposed to work. Next week, we'll report on what the scientific data actually has to say about Go Faster garments. Compression wear has been marketed as a means to help athletes of all levels go faster, further and to recover quicker. Their main features being to promote better blood circulation and reduce muscle oscillation. But just how much objective data is there to support these claims? We trawled through as many studies as we could find and analysed the results.
Before we dig into the data, first of all let’s examine how compression garments including tights & leggings, sleeves, socks and rash guards work. In this article, we are only investigating sports apparel and their performance enhancing properties. We will not be looking at medical compression garments which have proven benefits to their wearers for rehabilitation purposes or pain relief.
In a performance context, compression garments work by physically limiting how much swelling is allowed over the body part covered and the compression assists your veins by forcing the valves to work more efficiently.
Initially this seems counter-intuitive because the obvious assumption to make when squeezing a limb is a decrease in decrease blood flow. With compression garments, the pressure is spread out over a wide area which limits blood from pooling in the tissue, forcing it from the muscles, back into the veins and back to the heart. This is how compression garments work to increase circulation. The theory is that increased circulation will increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients going to the muscles and with this boost in resources, they should be able to work harder, longer and recover quicker.
A feature of advanced compression clothing is graduated compression. These garments use a pressure gradient on the limbs towards the torso which further encourages movement of blood away from the extremities. Maximum compression is found at either the ankle or wrist and the compression gradually fades as it approaches the trunk of the body.
Join us again next Monday at 1230 and we'll look at the evidence which shows no benefits from compression wear.
You might be interested in our Health and Fitness magazine which cuts through the marketing and snake oil in the fitness industry to deliver the truth about nutrition and training.