Compression wear: Do you need gaiters and knee socks?

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Manufacturers mislead us a little, assuring us that compression running clothes should instantly raise our results to the next level.

The manufacturers’ claims slightly mislead us, assuring us that compression garments for running should instantly take our results to the next level. As you probably realize, it’s not really all that smooth.

You’ve probably noticed how many runners use compression socks and gaiters even in classic asphalt marathons, let alone ultra or trail running. That many people can’t be wrong, can they? They can’t. What’s more, they sometimes feel the real difference between running in compression and without it.

However, several studies conducted under different conditions have questioned the need to spend good money on such equipment. The fact is that the use of compression garments had no effect on the overall performance of runners and its components, such as oxygen consumption. Studies even included the possibility of changes in biomechanics, which also could not be found.

It turns out that compression garments that “focus the energy of your muscles to generate maximum explosive power, acceleration and long-term endurance” only produce positive results in studies conducted by the manufacturers themselves.

But what about the real feel of the athletes? A study by the Exercise and Environmental Medicine Institute in Dallas found real, albeit small, changes in performance in those runners who relied quite heavily on the properties of compression and zero improvement in more relaxed athletes, suggesting a classic placebo effect. However, this effect in our case is undoubtedly beneficial.

According to the findings, “although compression gaiters did improve blood flow in the legs, the effect is trivial and the observed improvement in metabolic waste clearance is not sufficient to affect the onset of fatigue and the overall performance of the athlete.”

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According to the findings, “although compression gaiters did improve blood flow in the legs, the effect is trivial and the observed improvement in metabolic waste clearance is not sufficient to affect the onset of fatigue and the overall performance of the athlete.”

The assumption that compression garments could really help only sprinters, not stayers, prompted researchers to find its benefits for short-distance runners. They did not find any. But they did find an increase in body temperature due to reduced evaporative cooling on warm days. And this, on the contrary, can lead to overheating and reduce performance.

But don’t be too quick to give up your compression socks and leg warmers. If you already have them, you’ve probably noticed a difference in your recovery process if you put them on after a workout. And this is no longer solely a placebo effect. The British Journal of Sports Medicine finds it helpful to use compression garments as a tool for post-workout recovery and to reduce the sensation of muscle pain.

Of course, they are not alone in this and there is a large meta-analysis that includes the necessary data to consider the therapeutic effects of post-workout compression garments to be valid and quite useful. In this regard, some manufacturers and retailers have already switched to and emphasized this proven evidence, although others continue to build their marketing on non-existent benefits, such as increased muscle power.

Another recovery experiment with compression clothing, performed on cyclists, showed a 1.2% improvement in performance the next day. This fact can probably be a good reason for some to use compression garments, but you have to consider that during the experiments they were on the athletes for 12 to 24 hours, which for most non-running enthusiasts will seem like a pretty absurd decision.

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