Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sock It

I've had a few discussions with my patients and some athletes regarding compression garments/ socks this past week so I thought I'll do a write up on the topic. I first used them back in 2005 and those of you who know that I used to race and asked me how I recovered quickly to train consistently, well here's one the secrets (since I don't race anymore). Some of our national athletes (and gold medalists at the games) that I treated from badminton, table tennis and sailing also started using them prior to and during the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. There is a growing body of evidence in recent times on the benefits of compression garments for athletes, especially in "energy return" and clearance of lactate from tired muscles.

Compression socks were first created to help diabetic patients improve circulation, now they are used by cylists, runners and of course triathletes looking to help with the recovery process and run faster of course. A recent study done by German scientists on "below the knee" compression stockings (or socks) adds further evidence for these benefits. Two tests were performed, the second within 10 days of recovery of the first test. The first test involved some runners wearing the compression socks for a treadmill test while other runners did not. The opposite for the second test. Runners were randomly assigned as to the order which they performed the test. Results were as follows. With the compression socks the runners ran longer (36:44 vs 35:03 min), had a higher workload (422 vs 399 kJ) while maximum aerobic capacity was not significantly different (although it was slightly higher in runners wearing the socks). More importantly, researchers found that running performance at anaerobic threshold was significantly higher (meaning you can run in your fastest optimal speed before onset of accumulating lactic acid longer).

Before all of you rush out to get some of your own, here's the deal. The garments may work but in our super hot and humid climate in sunny Singapore, please take note that some of its effects may be negated. I've never raced in any of the garments, I've only put them on after training so I can recover and train again the next day. The socks may be most practical to race with compared to long sleeved tops and bottoms.

Paula Radcliffe wears the compression socks while racing and of course set the women's marathon best time wearing them as well (but she faltered at the Beijing Olympics - not because of the socks though). Those of you familiar with cycling, Samuel Sanchez who won the Olympic cycling road race wears them before and after his races (especially so if he has a flight to catch after). Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers wears a compression garment on his dominant arm while playing hoops. So does Boston Celtics star Ray Allen, in fact he wears it over both arms. Martina Hingis wore one over her right arm while playing tennis.

One last note, I once answered the door dressed in full long sleeve top and bottom after a hard training session. The postman delivering the parcel gave me a strange be warned.


Kemmler W et al (2009). Effect Of Compression Stockings On Running Performance In Men Runners.  J Strength Cond Research 23(1): 101-105. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e18eaef3.

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