SNL often featured gray-haired old ladies in outdated clothing topped of with knee-high skin colored socks; turns out the joke is on us because compression pants and socks for running are all the rage and they knew it first!
Originally sold in drug stores to increase circulation for issues like diabetes and arthritis, these days compression gear has undergone a revolution and I’m in love.
While the medical community still utilizes compression apparel for healing, there continues to be debate about the benefit to athletes. This is largely due to the low number of scientific studies…BUT that’s changing and part of why I want to talk about it again today!!
What is Compression Gear?
Compression gear, usually made of 80% nylon and 20% spandex, conforms snugly to the body preventing oscillation of the muscle during impact and increasing blood flow to the area.
Let’s break that down in plain English:
The reduction of oscillation, or muscle movement, is thought to prevent energy waste and assists in maintaining proper body alignment. While increased blood flow ensures that the muscles are receiving a constant supply of oxygen, which is required to sustain performance or enhance recovery.You can thank me later - understanding how compression gear impacts your #run Click To Tweet
Why Run in Compression Pants?
Skeptics believe compression gear falls into the placebo effect category. But still, even if the benefits turn out to be all in our heads, I’ve yet to meet an athlete who wouldn’t embrace any kind of confidence-booster.
(These are the women’s leaders in the Houston Olympic marathon trials, rocking those compression socks!!)
Training for a distance event is all about consistency, which means finding the tools that will help you to recover faster and stay injury free. It seems some of the hype about running faster or farther might just be true when you look at the LONG term impact of using compression gear, rather than the impact on a single run.
Which is exactly what a brand new study found:
A new study provides scientific evidence to support the idea that your compression socks are not just fashionable, they’re also functional. The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that wearing compression socks for 48 hours after running a marathon improved performance on a treadmill test two weeks later.
In fact, a few brands have conducted a number of studies as well and here is what they found:
- increases venous return
- reduces exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD)
- accelerates recovery processes
- removes lactic acid faster
- increases strength and power
- improves endurance
- increases muscle oxygenation
- improves body temperature control
- reduces in-flight ankle oedema
MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS✅Best race day compression tights: help prevent calf cramps and keep my muscles going as my form may deteriorate in the final miles
✅Best compression tights for IT Band pain: I have sworn by this style for years and you’ll often see me running in them during training as I boost mileage.
Specific recommendations for compression socks and sleeves below!
My friend and frequent marathon racer Monica Olivas agrees that compression socks have become a standard recovery tool for her, ensuring she can keep racing week after week.
Plus, we know that running is about so much more than science! It’s a mental sport.
Can you run in compression pants?
I love wearing my compression tights for long runs, recovery runs or on race day. I don’t wear them all the time, but definitely when I need a little extra love for my legs or brain!
Important to know there are different kinds of compression tights! Some are designed for the muscle support while running and some are designed for recovery, hence the reason my drawer is filled with a variety of compression tights from different brands (largely 2XU, SKINS and CW-X).
Should I get compression tights, calf sleeves or socks?
The choice is obviously a personal one, but here are some of the reasons people choose each and what are considered the best compression tights for running!
Best Compression Pants for Running
These are fantastic for sore glutes, quads and calf muscles. They can also provide support while running that many feel helps with IT Band issues. Those who suffer from calf or foot cramps often prefer to focus on just the sleeves or socks.
And I know I often talk to the ladies, but men’s running compression pants are a big thing in our house, it’s become my husband’s go to for running on any slightly chilly days and he’s getting the recovery benefit without realizing it.
A few of the compression tights I’ve tested and recommend:
- CW-X Stabilyx – a little thicker, more knee support (my go to for IT Band issues)
- 2XU Tights – Lighter weight which I like when warmer
- Compression capri – when you’re more focused on your hips and glutes, this is a nice option (still provides knee support)
- Skins Thermal Tights – Great winter option
As many of you know, I’m 5’9″ so long compression pants are also a must for me. I would say most of these are long “enough” though I’d be happy with an extra inch in the inseam.
Best Compression Running Shorts
These are another option that seem more popular with male runners. I do have a pair that I tend to wear when my glutes or hips have been really sore, but I tend to prefer the tights because I might as well be getting the benefit in my calves! You’ll often find compression running shorts are a bit longer, which I actually like to prevent chaffing!
2XU makes a good short and I’ve used Under Armour in the past as well, though I don’t usually consider the UA gear true compression…it’s tight, but not adding that level we need for increasing oxygen flow.
Best Compression Running Socks
One thing to note is that these can make your shoes feel larger, which bothers some runners.
However, they’re also super beneficial for those who have issues running with Plantar Fasciitis or on marathon day when our feet tend to swell and can make your shoes uncomfortable.
The best compression socks for running:
- O1st – fantastic for Plantar Fascittis, it’s a short sock as well if you don’t want one covering your calves.
- CEP – Ultralight tall socks, love this version for not overheating, but still getting that compression
- McDavid Elite Compression – this brand you don’t hear about often, but they have serious science behind them and I started using them before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon.
- VitalSox – Again one of the first on the market, I find their quality of compression and features to be top notch.
- Doc Miller Open Toed – For those who hate the feeling of the tight socks on their toes this is an option. However, I would NOT wear an additional sock over top of these as that could make your shoe too tight and cause blisters.
Best Compression Sleeves
I’ll be honest just never floated my boat. But if you want the calf support and don’t want to notice any change in your shoes, they could be the best option. (who am I to question Meb, after all?!)
Plus, if you have issues developing shin splints while running, these could be something you easily wear throughout the day to help with recovery. And I will say, I’ve used my calf sleeves to add some compression to my knee when I was having issues last year, ha!
A few that I recommend from testing:
- CEP calf sleeves – they are a super high quality brand, which means these will last and you can get them in super fun colors.
- ProCompression – I have a pair of their socks and assume the sleeves must be every bit as good! Again they also really love coming up with fun patterns, so your race day look is always top notch.
How to wear compression pants?
There are a variety of times to pull on your compression tights and following I’ll address some of those specific situations. In terms of running, I try not to wear them for every single run because I do want my legs to get fatigued at times, but I adore them as I continue to increase my long runs!
Can I wear compression and fly?
Compression gear is actually used medically to help prevent blood clots while flying for patients! BUT an important note is that you should NEVER wear compression sleeves when traveling home post race as this could cause blood to pool in your feet. Stick to socks or tights.Are compression pants a placebo or the real deal? Find out! #runchat Click To Tweet
Can I sleep in compression gear?
Yes! But make sure you’re using recovery specific gear, which is designed with a lighter level of compression (see note above).
However, it’s important to note that some would say NO because compression gear is ultimately designed to help with circulation through gravity and graduated compression…neither of which you need while laying down.
How often does it need to be replaced?
Most of my compression gear has lasted years. It’s top quality and as long as you wash in cold water and NEVER put it in the dryer, it should retain it’s fit and feel.
What other activities can I do in compression gear?
Basically anything! SKINS happen to have 50 UVP and are really lightweight, so you could wear them doing SUP or even for a hard swim session knowing that they won’t weigh you down (just thoroughly rise after).
I like wearing compression pants under my snowboarding pants because let’s be honest…I’m going to hurt later so I might as well mitigate it!
Are all compression pants the same?
No. Just as each shoe line has their own features, compression brands do as well. I have found it’s worth paying for the quality pair because they last and seem to provide me with more of the benefits ascribed to compression wear.
I have said many times that CW-X Stabilyx is my go to for IT Band issues! It’s a much different feeling than the very thin Skins.
Does compression gear prevent DOMS (delayed on set muscle soreness)?
William Kraemer, professor of kinesiology in the Neag School of Education, induced delayed onset muscle soreness through an eccentric resistance training protocol in 20 female participants.
Immediately after the muscle damaging protocol the women were divided into two groups, one group wore a compression garment for 5 days while the other group received no treatment. The results indicated that compression garments facilitated recovery of muscle strength and power and resulted in significantly less perceived muscle soreness.
Really, Amanda, will it help me?
I have been recommending it to my athletes for years now! I don’t expect it to make them rapidly faster or stronger, but I have seen it improve recovery which keeps their training on track and that leads to results!
Do you use compression gear?
Socks, pants, shorts? All of the above!
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