Compression Clothing and Recovery from Running

A look at compression clothing and whether it can aid in post-running recovery.

By on July 8, 2008 | Comments

This article asks the question: Can compression clothing assist in muscle recovery?

Salomon S-Lab Exo CalfThese days, an increasing number of manufacturers are offering socks, running shorts, tights (short and long), and leg sleeves (think tight leg warmers) marketed as assisting in recovery. The theory behind these products is that the compression they provide increases circulation, which, in turn, enhances recovery. Skins, one company that makes recovery clothing, writes that its BioAcceleration Technology™:

Speeds recovery through direct compression and improved muscle oxygenation. Wearing Skins™ after exercise has been shown to virtually eliminate delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and MRI-based studies have shown real improvements in muscle recovery.

If such products work as described, they should at least pique the interest of those competing in multiday stage races and especially in mountainous stage races, such as TRR, where the cumulative descent will certainly lead to delayed onset muscle soreness.

Companies also advertise enhanced performance when wearing the recovery products (or very similar products from the same manufacturers) during competition. They described the performance enhancement as being based on increased circulation, reductions in unnecessary muscle movement and vibration, and cooling through wicking.

Skins soxWhile compression products may very well aid performance when worn while racing, this post is about what happens after the racing is done. This begs the question, how should these products be worn to promote recovery? In their FAQ, Skins suggests:

As a recovery aid post exercise – use after any activity and wear for at least 3 hours. Skins™ are comfortable to wear under clothing and can be worn when asleep. When worn while sleeping, Skins™ increase bioactivity and speed up your body’s normal recovery process. Many people report having ‘fresh legs’ the following morning.

Skins further suggests that in the case of injury, that their products be worn for as long as possible. Based on this information, I intend to wear a compression product during a significant of my non-running hours during TRR. That may mean while I sleep, during my waking hours, or both. Unless I’m convinced otherwise, I pretty much intend to wear the products as much as possible when I’m not racing, but will forgo them if I’m too hot or uncomfortable.

Zensah recovery leg sleevesHave any of you tried a compression product as a recovery aid? Which product(s) were they? Under what circumstances and in what manner did you use them? Do you think they helped?

As a reference, below is a list of some compression-based recovery garments as well as manufacturers of such products:

Insider Knowledge:

Personally, I really like [Salomon Exo Calf] for both muscle support and recovery. I’ve been using the Exo Calves in most of my long runs this year and feel ‘naked’ without them – We’re not talking about a huge jump in performance here, but the difference is enough to dull the impact of running and feel the support they offer. Whether it psychological of not, the biggest benefits for me are associated to injury maintenance/prevention. I’ve been battling numerous little ‘nagging’ injuries since the spring, and wearing the calf socks has allowed me to maintain my training volume without aggravating the injuries…The other benefit is that ‘morning after’ feeling you get of fresh legs after having slept with the socks – big difference there!

Salomon is doing a lot of testing in the compression world with 3/4 Exo tights already on the market (although mostly for cool mornings, these are great, too!). Eventually, they will come out with short Exo tights, and tops…not sure if the North American market will be ready for these!

– Phil Villeneuve, Salomon runner
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.