Another question I receive frequently…
What the heck is compression all about?! What do I buy???
How do compression stockings work?
Compression stockings are made of strong elastic material and fit tightly at the feet and gradually become less tight at the knee/thigh. The pressure in the stockings is graded and this allows for the stockings to constantly squeeze the leg muscles. This motion helps to drive blood back to the heart, reduce swelling in the feet and prevent blood clot formation. (source)
Why compression for running?
The primary rationale behind wearing compression socks in a race is that they may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity. And there is the notion that because muscles are kept more compact, balance and proprioception are improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.
However, a study presented at the 2007 American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in New Orleans suggested there were no statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate or minute ventilation between treadmill runners who wore compression socks and those who did not.
According to the study, conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, subjects did, however, show a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise when wearing the compression socks, suggesting that compression socks might speed recovery after a strenuous workout or a race.
So wear them in a race if it suits you, but definitely wear them after the race. (source)
I don’t know if compression helps in a race or not. If you want to wear sleeves as little as possible, I would say to use compression after a race for recovery.
BUT it doesn’t hurt to wear them in a race; if it gives you a boost (mental or physical), go for it because there’s really no downside to it.
Compression Products I have
So here are the products that I have and my thoughts on them.
- Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves
These Zensah compression sleeves were a Valentine’s gift last February. This was my first pair of sleeves and probably my least favorite. (As far as I know and what do I know about cool? but Zensah is kinda the cool brand)
In my opinion, Zensah products aren’t that tight which means less compression. The fabric is thicker so sometimes these feel like a glorified leg warmer.
But, they are definitely some of the sweeter looking, less geriatric sleeves. Plus, they come in a ton of rad colors. If I’m running a cold weather race, I’d wear these ones.
Zensah sleeves $39.99, lots of colors
- Zensah Compression Socks
Zensah sent me these to review, and just like the sleeves, I’d prefer them to be much tighter, but they are cute to race in. And we all know it’s important to look foxy roxy while running.
I wear these more for fun than for anything else; I wouldn’t wear them after a race for recovery though; I’d grab a tighter pair.
Zensah socks $49.99, black, white, pink, sand
- CEP Compression Sleeves
CEP sent me these sleeves to try out, and they’re some of my favorites. These things are really tight and made from a really thin material, just how I like them.
These are the ones I’ll grab post-race; you can wear them under jeans and no one knows that you’re a total geek.
They feel good on your legs too because they’re so tight.
CEP sleeves $39.90, black or white
- Runner’s Remedy Compression Shin Wrap
This is a newer to me product that Runner’s Remedy sent me, and I love the idea of compressing and icing together.
These are nice and tight; I’ve worn them at night to ice in and then to bed as well. If you aren’t going to race in them, I’d recommend this pair as a one stop shop: you can use them to ice and then wear them for the compression.
If you’re going to race in them though, these would kinda dorky with the front pocket.
Cho-Pat Compression Sleeves
Cho-Pat sent me these sleeves to try; they’re another great, tight option for sleeves. They’re made by a medical company so they come with great instructions on how to use and how to keep the sleeves in good condition (don’t use them as a sling shot or parachute).
These ones feel a little inflexible and thick, but they are very tight which is a plus in my book.
Cho-Pat compression sleeves $28 for a pair or $15.95 for one.
- Walmart Compression Stockings
I bought these in the pharmacy/medical area of Walmart, basically where the old people stuff is. Although they’re uglier than sin, these are one of my favorites: they’re super tight and super thin. And they’re the cheapest option.
I wear these on planes or during the day underneath jeans before a marathon. Definitely not a pair to wear during a race.
The one problem with these is that the sock part gets stinky really fast. The Zensah socks have some sort of antimicrobial part to them, but these don’t so you have to wash them often.
Walmart pharmacy area, about $20.
Summary and Tips
- There’s tons of other brands out there that I haven’t tried, but I think the important thing is to find a pair that you like. For me, they have to be tight so it feels like they’re doing something.
- If you plan on racing in them, get a cuter pair than old peoples’ medical stockings, but if no one is ever going to see them, buy them from a geriatric pharmacy and save a couple bucks.
- Certain brands, like Cho-Pat will have you measure the size of your calf so you buy the right size. My man calves are about 14.5” which is a size M. If you’re in between sizes, I say go smaller.
- Remember to hand wash them and don’t use them as rubber bands, sling shots or deliberately stretch them out. They’ll lose their elastic and effectiveness.
- In theory, if compression socks work for your ankles and calves, compression pants/tights should work for your whole leg including your hamstrings, glutes, etc. But I’ve never tried them.
Anyone have some other compression products or brands that you use or love??