Queue Compression Clothing
From long sleeve performance shirts to shorts and full body suits - compression clothing started off a number of years ago as a niche piece of training equipment, these days in the gym, at the stairs and during obstacle course races it seems almost everyone is wearing some form of compression clothing.
A fashion fad or performance enhancement? Let's take a look and find out...
If every claim a piece of training equipment or supplement made lived up to the claims on the packaging and preached throughout its marketing campaign we'd all be walking around ripped to shreds while bench pressing north of 400lbs. Unfortunately, there's very minuscule research and studies to back up the majority of these claims (and as always, if it seems too good to be true it probably is!)...
Here's what a few of the leading compression wear companies claim when it comes to their men's long training compression pants...
"A combination of innovative compression tech and streamlined design make SKINS long tights your perfect training partner for endurance-based exercise. Our long tights have strategically placed memory panels that support the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles so you can run harder and faster for longer, without the risk of injury holding you back."
"The Elite MCS Compression Tight offer unparalleled power and protection against muscle trauma during intense activity. Graduated engineering also offers impressive recovery benefits post exercise. Front panels have PWX FLEX (70D) focused to the quads. Rear panels have PWX WEIGHT (105D) focused to the hamstrings and calves."
The overall promise is quite clear
- Faster recovery
- Injury prevention
- Thermoregulatory control (maintaining correct body temperature)
- Performance improvement
- Decreased muscular fatigue
Does Compression Clothing Work For Performance?
Based on my experience and the lack of studies around there does not appear to be any definitive link between compression clothing and increased performance, be it crushing weights in the gym or sprinting laps of the track - the majority of the major players in the compression garment game elude to increased core stability and increased performance over time, however there's no definitive studies to indicate that compression clothing does actually improve performance.
When it comes time to unrack the barbell bending due to the sheer number of plates on there your compression pants, regardless of which brand or model you purchased won't be able to assist you with an extra repetition or two like you may have been lead to believe.
That said I do wear compression pants when I train legs for a number of reasons which I'll elaborate on shortly...
The Research (Compression Clothing & Performance)
Two Indiana University studies released in 2010, for example, found no impact on running performance when highly trained distance runners were outfitted with lower-leg "sleeves" and no effect on jumping ability when 25 average guys wore upper-leg compression garments in three different sizes.
Canadian researchers concluded in a 2012 study that compression socks improved blood flow to calves and "may enhance performance, especially in sports that require repeated short bouts of exercise".
Does Compression Clothing Work For Recovery?
Here's where compression clothing lives up to it's claims.
Compression clothing assists return blood to the tissues at a faster rate, bringing them oxygen and flushing out lactate and other by-products.
The Research (Compression Clothing & Recovery)
Australian researchers put a number of rugby players in waist-to-ankle compression suits during active recovery' sessions on the treadmill. They discovered that the compression assisted in the removal of lactate from their blood. Lactate is the byproduct that causes your muscles to burn during high repetition and intense forms of exercise.
The University of Connecticut researchers who put men and women in "whole body compression garments" after intense weightlifting found that they helped reduce fatigue, swelling, muscle soreness and other side-effects of exercise.
Can Compression Clothing Prevent Injuries?!
This is by far the most outlandish claim of all.
There's absolutely no research or information to suggest one of the biggest marketing points of all when it comes to compression clothing. Injury prevention.
The majority of injuries in the gym or on the field are the result of negligence including poor form, attempting to lift too much weight, not warming up the muscles correctly or at all and poor mobility.
Compression garments cannot prevent any of these as they're all essentially user error.
My Take On Compression Clothing
As seen above a number of studies on compression garments are based around full body suits. I've never worn or used a full body compression suit, however long compression tights have been a staple in my gym wear draw for several years now.
I don't expect to see any dramatic increases in weight (or any increases at all!) due to the fact I'm wearing compression clothing... although I do always have a better workout when I am wearing them because:
Foam Rolling & Mobility Work Becomes Easier
Using a foam roller or rumble roller for myofascial release on your calfs, quads, hamstrings, quads and ITB is uncomfortable to say the least. Performing my mobility routine consisting of foam rolling, ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexor exercises is far more comfortable when I'm wearing my compression clothing.
As I find myself recovering quicker (whether this be placebo or actual recovery, there's studies to promote both) I don't have to endure as much before I'm warmed up and mobile for my lower body workout at 5am in the morning.
Compression Pants Have Become My Anchor
This is a trick I learned from Tony Robbins.
Queues are anchors can be used to invoke a state or an action - as I enter the gym and put on my compression pants I'm mentally preparing myself for heavy low rep squats.
This may sound absurd but it's become routine for me and as a result of that, it works!
As I approach the barbell everything other thought and interaction going on around me becomes irrelevant. It's time to squat.
The Placebo Effect
If you believe it works it may just do that.
Rob Aughey, a senior lecturer in sport physiology at Melbourne's Victoria University's School of Sport and Exercise Science in Australia said: "When testing compression garments in elite athletes, we found that wearing them did result in an improvement in the perception of pain and fatigue for the athlete.
However, we found no evidence to suggest that the garments can help improve the actual rate of physical recovery."