As athletes we are constantly searching for training tools that can improve our performance and recovery. One tool that has been recently adapted by many is using compression garments (think Meb’s socks and Shanaye Flanagan’s arm sleeves).
Compression has been around for at least 50 years, and traditionally was most common in hospitals and medical uses. Medical stockings are usually worn around the ankle or foot to create consistent pressure on the leg, more towards the ankle and less as you move up the leg. Consistent compression has been used to help blood flow returning to the heart and decreasing risk of thrombosis. With many of the same physiological affects happening after tough workouts, compression has begun to be popular in sports and sports training.
So with all this popularity, do they actually work? This post focuses on common questions I receive and the science behind compression.
What are the suggested benefits of compression?
Benefits for compression have been listed as the following: enhanced blood circulation, reducing blood lactate concentrations, reduced muscle oscillations, improves performance, improves recovery by removing blood lactate build-up, and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the days following delayed muscle soreness. As added benefit that we stress at Born to Run is using compression when transitioning to minimal footwear. When running more mid-foot or forefoot, your calves, Achilles, and feet will get sore while in the process of strengthening these muscles. Compression socks and calves sleeves can help reduce this soreness.
What does research say about compression?
Research on compression for performance has been mixed. Most of the research on performance benefits such as time to exhausted, aerobic threshold or perceived exertion show no difference with compression and if differences are found they tend to be minimal. While there are no clear-cut answers for performance, I think the main issue is defining what “performance benefits” actually means.
Where the research is indisputable is benefits for recovery. Research has found consistent results in the decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS typically occurs for runners on downhill runners or running a distance or speed longer/faster than normal. The theory behind the decrease in muscle soreness is the constant pressure of the garment reduces the space for swelling and gradient pressure of garments increase blood circulation.
There seems to be no clear-cut answers regarding the benefits of compression. With more scientific research, hopefully this will change. It comes down to how each individual person experiences.
What are the differences in brands?
Three of the major brands are 2XU, Skins, and CEP, you can find all of these brans at Born to Run. They all stress the same benefits, but there are some differences between them. Skin’s is the only one that has gradient compression throughout, meaning different compression levels throughout to increase blood circulation. 2XU and CEP both have one consistent level of compression throughout. Because of the added compression, the only brand that recommends sleeping in compression is Skins. In regards to fit, Skins tends to be slightly longer, especially in the calf sleeves and socks than 2XU and CEP. So for those people who are tall or who want more supports, Skins is the way to go. I personally have used all brands and prefer Skins tights and shirts, I think the quality is higher and it just plain feels better on my body. For socks, I prefer 2XU for a snugger fit, especially around the arch of the foot.
One of the most important parts of wearing compression gear is to ensure that it fits properly. Take the following steps below to ensure proper fit:
When compression was brought to my attention a few years ago, I knew the benefits of use in medical field, but needed to try it for myself. For performance purposes, I didn’t notice any differences in my times; I think there are more important tools to improve performance than relying on compression to magically drop time. But for recovery, compression is my favorite. After long or hard workouts, I used to take an ice bath to reduce soreness and help recover faster. Now, I wear my full tights for a few hours after a tough workout or race and the next day my legs feel brand new. No more freezing water required! If you do destination runs and end up on a plane soon after, pack your compression to help reduce the pooling in your lower legs. My own overall subjective observations support the research showing that compression aids recovery, but not as much performance.
It seems there needs to be more research on the topic with clearly defined parameters for both performance and recovery. I highly believe in doing what feels best and if you notice differences using compression while running or after running, then by all means use them!
Crisp, refreshing, beautiful. I would have written this article on the first day of fall, but I was too busy enjoying the great outdoors in my favorite running season. I’m not alone in this feeling, as over and over I hear about how runners look forward to and enjoy running during fall the best. Here are my top 10 reasons that fall reigns supreme:
Now stop reading this article and head outside to enjoy your surroundings.
What is your favorite season for running?
About the Author: Erin Nielsen is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and ambassador for SKORA Running with a Master’s Degree in Health Promotion. When not writing for Born to Run, Erin is most likely running, reading, or helping others become healthier individuals. Current Shoe Rotation: SKORA Base, Form, Phase, & Core and Vivobarefoot Jing Jing.
The moment I lace up my shoes, Atlas goes crazy. He races back and forth between the door and me as if to say, “Take me with you! Take me with you! I promise I won’t chase that squirrel today if you just take me with you.” The anticipation grows and he can barely contain his excitement. We’re going for a run! Atlas, an energetic five-year-old Boxer/Great Dane mix, is my running partner.
For the past month, Atlas and I have been testing out the Inov-8 F-Lite 192. I was excited to try out the 192 as I’ve been looking for a new road shoe and liked the initial feel. An important factor in buying a running shoe is the feel right out of the box. It should be comfortable, not squishing your toes or rubbing you in the wrong spots. The F-Lite 192 had that “just right” feel.
Upon getting the shoes home, I laced them up and got ready to go. After unsuccessfully trying to calm Atlas down, I gave up, clipped his leash around my waist, and set out in my fiery orange shoes for a run in the Seattle rain. (On a side note, if you run with your dog, get a leash that you can clip around your waist. It’s so much better than holding it in your hand.) We started down the street, turned the corner and descended our first steep hill. A problem I have with a lot of minimalist shoes is that my foot slides around too much on the down hills, either smashing my toes into the front or causing hot spots. My foot felt very secure in the 192s and I didn’t get any rubbing. Although my little toes had plenty of room, my big toe was a bit squished. The Inov-8 toe box cuts in a little too much on the inside causing the side of my big toe to feel cramped. After a few runs the shoe stretches a bit and my big toe breathes a small sigh of relief.
I sprint to the bottom of the hill and Atlas casually jogs along side of me. I try not to be jealous of his amazing barefoot ability. Other than the slight big toe discomfort, the 192s perform flawlessly. They cling to the wet pavement with a death grip, giving me the confidence to push my speed even while tethered to a beast who, at the mere thought of a squirrel, could tear off course, dragging me into oncoming traffic. So far so good.
We cross the busy intersection and head up the next hill. This one is a longer gradual climb. The 192s are still feeling great. They are flexible enough that my feet can move freely and minimal enough that I can easily adjust for the contour of the pavement. Although I feel the rocks and cracks on the road, the 192s have plenty of protection and my feet don’t get beat up. We make it up the hill feeling triumphant only to realize that we’re at the top of the rollercoaster looking over the drop.
When running in Seattle there is really no way to avoid hills. If you love them, great! If you hate them, you better develop a love for them quickly or you’re going to be miserable. Me, I’m learning to love hating them. As we plummet over the drop, Atlas looks up at me with excitement. “Now we can really run!” he thinks. I’m just hoping I don’t slip. The 192s continue to grip the wet pavement as I dig in and fight to overcome gravity from sending me to my death. Success! We reach the bottom in one piece. I can tell Atlas is disappointed that we didn’t go faster. I try not to let it bother me that he thinks I’m a wuss but deep down I’m hurt.
At the bottom of the hill we jump on a nice flat section of urban trail for a few miles and then fight the hills again to get home. On arrival, my feet feel good and I don’t rush to get the 192s off (a sign of a good shoe). I leave the shoes in the coveted position in the entryway. The place of honor, the place where they’ll dry out and be ready to tackle the hills again with Atlas the next day.
Lightweight – Inov-8s are named for the weight in grams. The F-Lite 192 weighs 192 grams, about 6.8 ounces.
Flexible – The 192 has a fairly minimal sole that moves with my foot allowing maximum proprioception.
Traction – The rubber on these shoes is very grippy. Although I haven't done any trail running in them yet, It seems like they'll perform great in most situations.
Zero-Drop – Having a shoe with no heel rise can help you maintain proper form.
Unisex – Not just for the guys.
Color – Who doesn’t like fiery orange/red?
Narrow Toe Box – The 192 has inov-8’s narrower performance last. I have a medium width foot and it’s a little narrow for my big toe.
Color – Some people don’t like fiery orange/red?
I’ve been running in the 192s for about a month now and so far my only complaint is the narrow toe box. If you have a wide foot, you may want to try out the Inov-8 F-Lite 232. If you have a caveman shaped foot, Inov-8s may not be for you.
The Inov-8 F-Lite series are great all around shoes. They function well as a gym shoe and are a favorite among CrossFitters. The tread pattern is aggressive enough that they can handle both trail and road running. The F-Lites come in a variety of drops ranging from 0mm (192, 219 and 232), 3mm (195, 239, and 252), and 6mm (240, 249, and 262). I like zero drop shoes but if you’re just starting the transition, a 3 or 6 mm drop Inov-8 may be the way to go. Come on by Born to Run and try them out or order them here today!
See you out there!