In this series, we set out to understand how compression garments helped performance, specifically in endurance events and recovery, which is where much of the marketing is directed.
We examined as many credible studies that we could find and found one with evidence for performance enhancing properties, three against and two which were inconclusive. It’s important to note that we only examined the Abstract in the studies. We acknowledge that they can on occasion be misleading. Sometimes, the abstract may not always reflect what the text of the study and the actual results show due to the pressures on authors.
What can we take away from this? It does seem that compression garments provide very little actual endurance benefits and none for HIIT either in the objective data or subjective opinions of athletes tested . Stepping away from these events, are they beneficial in any other manner or activity?
In competition, mind-set is everything and the placebo effect is very real. Perhaps much like making cheap wine taste great to blind-folded wine-tasters and some garments retailing at over £50, athletes can be similarly influenced to believe that they can actually boost their numbers with an item of clothing. In sports, without self-belief there can be no success and effective marketing is focused on attempting to solve an athlete’s internal problem which is the way that a problem is making people feel. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of this placebo effect provides marketers with powerful tools. Pre-game rituals, lucky food, sentimental items, a certain song may not actually increase performance but not following these practices might place doubt in the mind of the athlete and affect their performance negatively.
It has been suggested that compression wear increases proprioception. It is well known that appropriate stimuli will make the mind much more aware of specific area of the body. When pressure is applied to a particular area, the athlete is more aware of that limb so perhaps that can be beneficial for precision movements. How much pressure, applied over how much area is not known. No enough pressure and there’s no effect, too much and the pressure becomes a distraction. At just enough pressure, how quickly does the body become used to the stimuli and then filter it out as background noise?
What compression wear is renowned for, is its comfort. It helps the body cool down by increasing surface area of the skin so sweat can evaporate more efficiently and provides warmth in the winter by providing another layer. It’s doesn’t become sodden with sweat like cotton and its light weight and form hugging cut prevents chafing and friction. Although the material used is usually is very smooth (when compared to cotton or wool) it would be a huge stretch of the imagination to credibly cite any aero benefits when using Elastane. The human body (without a machine) can’t propel itself fast enough to take advantage of the minute benefit.
Ending this series, we conclude that while there’s nothing conclusive to suggest that compression garments will assist endurance athletes in any meaningful way, there’s also no evidence which show that they could cause harm either. Do you regularly use compression wear? How does it work for you?
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.