The use of compressive clothing is becoming very popular in all kinds of sports due to the promise of potential positive effects on athletes. Some of the potential benefits are:
- Improved blood flow
- Less muscle soreness
- Decreased fatigue
- Better muscle recovery
- Decreased muscle damage
Running is no exception to this trend and you can find garments to wear almost from head to toe. You have compression socks, thighs, shorts, shirts, sleeves… You can dress-up in compression, but will it make you a better runner?.
The proposed explanations for all these benefits are an increase in venous blood flow to the heart and a decrease in muscle oscillations. This increased blood flow may result in a higher cardiac output and thus in a lower heart rate, however, no studies so far have observed any actual differences in heart rate with the use of compressive stockings(1).
The reduction in muscle oscillations may result in better energy use and performance, although there is some controversy with this hypothesis as an improvement in performance has not yet been observed(2).
The majority of studies have looked at acute effects of compression garments so we do not know the effect of these garments after long-term use. This is important as it is known that improvements in cardiorespiratory performance are only seen after adequate training for a long time (3). There is one study(4) that has analyzed the results of using compression garments for 3 weeks and did not observe any effect on cardiorespiratory parameters during running in recreational runners. Specifically, this study found:
• No differences in V02
• No differences in heart rate
• No differences in cardiac output
We cannot recommend the use of compression stockings for recreational runners. As far as we currently know it does not provide any definite advantage over running without them, so keep your money in your pocket and keep on running.
- Born D-P, Sperlich B, Holmberg HC. Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013; 8 (1): 4-18.
- Scanlan AT, Dascombe BJ, Reaburn PRJ, Osborne M. The effects of wearing lower-body compression garments during endurance cycling. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2008; 3(4): 424-38.
- Fletcher GF et al. Exercise standards for testing and training: a statement for health professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001; 10(44) 1694-740
- Priego JI,et al. Long-term effects of graduated compression stockings on cardiorespiratory performance. Biol. Sport 2015.32: 219-223