Have you ever wondered about those funny-looking almost-socks you see people wearing in the gym? You know, the kind that start above the ankle and end below the knee? They’re known as compression wear, and they are designed to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury during exercise.
Compression athletic wear is very popular these days. The pieces are normally made of a flexible, elastic material like spandex or Lycra, and they’re made to fit your body head to toe with varying types of socks, pants, shorts, sleeves and shirts. Compression wear is also available in every style from mild (basic black) to wild (tiger print and tie-dye), so you can always look hip—and protect your hips at the same time.
Compression wear offers many benefits. Here are several to be aware of:
- The main benefit of compression wear is that it keeps the muscles warm, which helps to prevent muscle strain and fatigue and thereby reduces the risk of injury.
- Compression wear can improve blood flow return and oxygenation to working muscles, reducing the time it takes for muscles to repair themselves, and speeds recovery from injury. It also helps relieve pain from muscle stiffness and soreness.
- These garments also reduce muscle oscillation, which involves small tears in the muscle tissue along with a build-up of lactic acid. Reduction of muscle oscillation allows you to work harder and longer while minimizing pain.
- Increased proprioception (the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion and equilibrium) helps to prevent injury because not only does the garment provide support, it also helps you to be more aware of your range of motion. For example, it may help hamstrings control the leg during sprints.
- Compression wear promotes increased muscle output due to the elastic and supportive properties of the fabric. Recent studies claim that the stretch in the fabric aids the stretch reflex, which helps with power output and can enhance athletic performance. Increases in vertical leap have been noted. Also, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that powerlifters who trained for 10 weeks while wearing compression garments added nearly 40 pounds to their squats.
- Compression sportswear also helps to keep undergarments in place, and for certain sports, like baseball and softball, come with padding at the hips to protect players from injuries due to sliding. Compressive garments significantly reduced impact force by 27% compared with American football pants alone.
With advances in science and technology, compression wear does more than just reshape your body. It is important to remember that not all compression wear is created equally—not every piece will share every one of the benefits listed here. Some are designed for specific activities, like running.
But there are several traits common to almost all compression wear: They are comfortable to wear, provide support and warm muscles. So whether you are a competitive athlete looking for that extra edge or just a weekend warrior looking for extra support, compression wear may benefit your performance.