Sunday, August 21, 2016

Do Compression Garments Help While Exercising? Or Only With Recovery?

Picture I retook with my iPhone 6 from Alex Hassentein/ Getty Images
Allyson Felix just missed another gold medal in Rio earlier in the week, finishing second in the 400 meters after losing to a dive by Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas.

Last night, she just won her 6th gold medal at the Olympics in the Women's 4 x 400 m relay, the most ever by a woman in track and field.

Five of her gold medals have come in relays. Her individual gold came in the 200 meters in 2012.

Why am I writing about Allyson Felix? Other than being one of my favorite runners, she is also one of many athletes in the Rio Olympics wearing compression sleeves (see picture above) while competing.

You too would have seen many athletes wearing them while training or racing. I've written about compression garments before way back in 2009.

Newly published studies suggest they definitely do help muscles recover significantly after exhausting exercise. The compression garments can aid the the movement of blood through muscles after exercising, when blood flow would otherwise be slow.  This increase in circulation may help reduce inflammation and muscle aches.

To provide such benefits, the compression garments must be quite tight, which some people may find uncomfortable. They must be also be worn for several hours after exercising/ racing, even if they become unpleasantly damp and stinky.

However, they do have certain downsides that may cause some of us not to wear them. Most recent studies indicate that compression garments do not boost blood flow through muscles during exercise, most probably because the movement of blood when we are exercising is already at its peak.

Even though many athletes report that exercise feels easier when they wear compression garments, these athletes performed similarly whether they wear the compression garments or not.

The authors concluded that compression garments has small effects on short duration sprints, running at VO2 max, as well as time trial performances (Born et al, 2013).

Like I wrote before  I've never raced with compression garments, I've only worn them after hard training so I can recover and train again the next day.

Maybe Allyson Felix didn't have to wear her calf compression sleeves after all ......


Born DP, Sperlich B et al (2013). Bringing Light Into The Dark: Effects Of Compression Clothing On Performance And Recovery. Int J Sp Physiol Perf. 8(1): 4-18. DOI: 10.1123/jisppp.8.4

Engel FA, Holmberg H and Sperlich B (2016). Is There Evidence That Runners Can Benefit From wearing Compression Clothing? DOI: 10.1007/s40279-016-0546-5.

*Here's another look at Allyson Felix's compression sleeves - took the picture with my iPhone 6 from the original by Cameron Spencer/ Getty Images.

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