Does Compression Clothing Really Boost Workout Recovery?
You've seen sports stars wearing tight-fitting performance gear, but have you wondered whether compression clothing could help your everyday workouts?
Compression clothing is designed to enhance performance, help prevent injury, support recovery and reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Studies have shown compression gear typically does help, especially with muscle recovery.
What Is Compression Clothing?
Compression clothing can be made from a variety of materials, including spandex, polyester, and nylon, and can come in a variety of styles, including socks, shorts, leggings or tights, sleeves, and shirts. The clothing applies slight pressure on the skin, compressing the underlying tissue. Lifters, in particular, may use elbow or calf compression sleeves during workouts to improve healing. The compression in the garments creates a tighter fit, designed to support muscles during workouts and speed their recovery.
How Do Compression Clothes Work?
Muscle contraction and release during exercise create vibrations through the body, leading to fatigue and damage during high-intensity or long-duration exercise. By compressing the muscles during exercise, compression gear reduces muscle vibration, which curbs some fatigue. Compression gear also raises skin temperature and increases blood flow during exercise, which can lower inflammation and soreness in the hours and days after exercise.
Compression Clothing Benefits
The benefits of compression clothing start during your workout and continue into the following days. Here's what the research shows:
Improved Blood Circulation
The gentle, consistent pressure compression clothing that applies to your muscles improves blood circulation. This results in faster delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles during workouts and as they recover. The more oxygen your muscles get, the more efficiently they can work. The faster they can access nutrients like glucose, the slower your muscles will fatigue. Through these mechanisms, better blood flow while wearing compression gear could lead to better workout performance. However, studies on the direct effects on performance have been small and inconclusive.
In addition to reducing muscle vibration, compression clothing provides support to muscles and joints. By stabilizing the muscles, compression gear can help to reduce the amount of energy required to perform a given task, which can lead to improved performance.
Compression gear is typically made from moisture-wicking fabrics that help to wick sweat away from the skin, which can help keep the body cool during exercise. When sweat evaporates from the skin, it takes heat with it, which helps to regulate body temperature. Compression clothes can also help with temperature regulation by keeping the muscles warm when you're not sweating, which keeps them in performance gear during workouts and in recovery mode after.
Have you ever experienced swelling after strenuous lifting? Pushing your muscles hard can result in inflammation, which is a natural response in tissues that need to heal. Compression clothing can help reduce inflammation by increasing blood flow during exercise. Improved circulation increases the removal of metabolic wastes, which contribute to inflammation when they build up in muscle tissue.
For example, if you wear compression shorts and calf sleeves on leg day, you could experience less inflammation. Inflammation is essentially a buildup of fluid and metabolic waste such as lactic acid. The buildup causes pain when it pushes up against nerve endings in your muscles. Soreness in the days following a workout is linked to inflammation, which can be prevented or reduced using compression gear.
Faster Recovery Time
Lower inflammation and faster removal of metabolic waste from your muscles translates not only to less pain but also a faster recovery time. In a scientific review of 23 peer-reviewed studies, compression gear was shown to enhance recovery and improve next-day performance. By shortening the recovery phase, compression clothing can potentially lead to quicker strength gains because you can work out again sooner.
Helps with Injury Prevention
If you consistently work out and push yourself to achieve higher fitness goals, it's important to prioritize injury prevention.
Injuries aren't just caused by fatigue-induced mistakes during your workout, like the twist of an ankle. The most common injuries are repetitive motion injuries, which occur when the same exercises are repeated before torn muscle fibers have healed. By speeding recovery time, compression clothing can reduce your risk for muscle strains. Of course, compression gear is not a substitute for giving yourself the time to heal and varying your workouts to minimize repetitive motions.
Another way compression gear may help with injury prevention is by improving your proprioception or the precision of your body awareness.
What to Look for When Buying Compression Clothing
There are all kinds of compression clothing on the market, so to make your purchase worth it, you want to do your research. Here are the most important things to keep in mind when selecting compression gear:
Neoprene is generally the best material for compression gear. Nylon, spandex, and polyester are other materials used to make compression clothing. These have less elasticity than neoprene and are less effective at conforming to your body. Neoprene is also very durable, so your compression gear will last longer. As a synthetic rubber, the material is resistant to water, oil, and weathering. In fact, it's the material used in wet suits to insulate against wet environments.
The thickness of your compression clothing will determine the amount of pressure it applies or the "dose" of compression you get wearing it. Heavy lifters benefit most from thicker compression gear, whereas runners, cyclers, and other athletes generally opt for thinner gear that streamlines speed.
The Right Fit
The fit of your compression gear should feel snug against your skin and hug your muscles. However, it should not be tight enough to restrict blood flow, feel uncomfortable, or inhibit your movements.
Compression Gear for Workouts
Overall, compression clothing can be a useful tool for athletes looking to improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance recovery after workouts. Better blood flow while wearing compression gear improves muscle performance by delivering more oxygen and nutrients, removing waste products, and increasing muscle temperature. It also helps speed up recovery after workouts and reduces inflammation and soreness.