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Workout recovery is important for clients of all fitness levels. If the body isn’t allowed to recover between exercise sessions, it can increase injury risk. Adequate recovery also aids in improved performance.
The question is: does wearing a compression garment enhance the recovery process? We’ll take a look at what research has found on this topic. But first, let’s talk about what compression gear is.
Compression gear is clothing that fits tight or snug to the body. It can be made from a variety of materials. Some compression gear is made of nylon or spandex, for instance. Other compression wear has a silicon base. (Compression gear also sometimes contains a small amount of cotton to help make it softer.)
Compression wear comes in many forms. You can purchase:
Compression tights or leggings
Compression sleeve (for the arm)
Research suggests that compression gear supports exercise recovery. One way it does this is by improving blood flow. Compressing the blood vessels in the body helps them pump blood more efficiently. This aids in muscle recovery by improving blood circulation to the affected area.
Compression gear also contributes to reduced muscle fatigue. Muscle fatigue lessens the force with which the muscle can contract. This results in lower strength performance. By alleviating this fatigue, the muscle is able to better recover. This allows it to push harder in the next workout. One study reports that compression helps prevent fatigue by improving muscle function.
What about muscle soreness? Can compression gear help reduce the discomfort experienced during recovery? According to some studies, the answer is yes.
One piece of sports medicine research involved 15 soccer players. Each one wore a compression garment on one thigh and nothing on the other. The thigh with the compression had less delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Researchers hypothesized that this was due to reduced muscle damage on the compression leg.
Another fitness benefit of compression clothing is increased athletic performance. One study found that compression enhanced recovery past the 24-hour mark. So, its authors concluded that the use of compression gear could enhance next-day performance. (In this case, it was cyclists being studied.)
Compression wear also helps limit muscle oscillation. This is when vibration is sent through your body when engaging in movements where your feet hit the ground. Compression garments can help reduce this effect. That’s why runners benefit from wearing compression devices such as leggings, tights, or socks.
It should be noted that there are two types of compression garments. One is compression stockings worn in sports. An example is wearing compression leggings while running a marathon. Another is baseball players who wear compression sleeves during a game.
Other compression garments are designed for medical purposes. A compression stocking may be used to reduce blood clot risk after surgery, for instance. These are often referred to as TED hose. TED stands for “thromboembolism-deterrent.”
Medical grade compression has several qualities that distinguish these products from sports gear. Among them are:
A more graduated compression, with the sock tightest at the ankle and looser at the top. This is designed to better move blood through the leg.
Being lighter in weight. Medical compression socks are very lightweight, almost like pantyhose. Compression socks for sports are thicker, more like a regular sock.
A wider range of compression options. Sports compression socks generally range from 15- to 30-mmHG of pressure. A typical pressure range for medical compression garments is between 8- and 50-mmHg. The lower pressures are designed for tired legs or for people who spend a lot of time on their feet. Lower pressure medical compression garments are also used for pregnant women, people with varicose veins, and people with poor circulation but need to be stationary for long periods of time, like on an airplane. The higher-pressure levels are for people with severe health conditions, like post-thrombotic syndrome.
If you want to try compression clothes, look for apparel that states that it is for recovery or injury prevention. Some compression gear is simply clothing that offers a snug fit. This might look nice, but it does nothing for recovery. So, if recovery is your goal, you want to select clothing that mentions this specifically.
Also, consider the amount of compression the clothing provides. If you’re looking for something that will aid in workout recovery, 20 to 30 mmHG is good for this purpose. If these feel too tight or you’re looking for compression gear for everyday wear, you might prefer less pressure. In this case, you could choose socks, leggings, or sleeves in the 15- to 20-mmHG range.
It’s also important that you buy the right garment size. If the compression gear is too small, it could cut off blood flow. Most companies offer a sizing chart to help you pick the right size for you. Pay attention to this chart so you don’t wind up causing your body harm.
When wearing compression clothing for sports or exercise, you may wonder how long you should keep it on. The general recommendation is 12 to 24 hours. If your workout is light intensity, you may be okay with less time. Try different time frames and see what works best for you.
If you do plan to wear compression garments for long periods, it’s helpful to pick ones that offer moisture-wicking technology. This will help keep that area of the body dry while helping it recover. It also reduces skin irritation that can occur if it isn’t allowed to adequately breathe.
Compression gear is just one recovery tool. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the greater your ability to recover from exercise.
Giving the muscles enough time to recover from one workout session to the next is critical. If this time isn’t allowed, it can lead to an injury. Overtraining is another risk associated with too little recovery.
This might involve taking a day off regularly to give the body time to heal. You can also engage in active recovery. Go for a light walk instead of doing intense exercise. This can assist with recovery as well.
Other non-exercise activities can positively impact recovery as well. They include:
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet
Getting enough sleep at night
Treating yourself to a relaxing sports massage
Although commitment to exercise is a good thing, so too is giving the body time to recover and heal. This is just as critical for training clients as following an effective exercise program.
Want to gain the expertise needed to promote workout recovery? Become a Certified Exercise Recovery Specialist. This ISSA certification course teaches you how to help both athlete and non-athlete clients better recover after their workout. You’ll also learn additional ways to reduce soreness and other effects of an intense exercise session.
ISSA's Exercise Recovery Specialization unlocks the science behind recovery techniques. As a Certified Exercise Recovery Specialist, personal trainers can apply this information to their exercise prescription and programs, helping athletes and general fitness clients alike.
Yang, C., Xu, Y., Yang, Y., Xiao, S., & Fu, W. (2020). Effectiveness of Using Compression Garments in Winter Racing Sports: A Narrative Review. Frontiers In Physiology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00970
Hsu, W., Tseng, L., Chen, F., Wang, L., Yang, W., Lin, Y., & Liu, C. (2020). Effects of compression garments on surface EMG and physiological responses during and after distance running. Journal Of Sport And Health Science, 9(6), 685-691. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2017.01.001
Valle, X., Til, L., Drobnic, F., Turmo, A., Montoro, J. B., Valero, O., & Artells, R. (2014). Compression garments to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness in soccer players. Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal, 3(4), 295–302.
Brown, F., Gissane, C., Howatson, G. et al. Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med 47, 2245–2267 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0728-9
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