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In the year 2000 BC (Before Compression, that is), the thought of running in skin-tight gears would make many of us cringe. Just imagine the discomfort and the pool of sweat. But, fast forward to a decade later and compression socks and sleeves have become the latest fad among runners.
Soon, we find ourselves emptying yet another drawer to make room for our ever-expanding running wardrobe (good thing workout clothes can now double as street-wear!). Despite the hype, scientists have mixed reviews about the benefits of compression gear. What’s holding them back?
The Benefits are Just In Your Head
The debate surrounding the effectiveness of compression gear is basically the Taylor-Kanye feud of the running world.
Both camps, supporters and skeptics, have come up with receipts to back up their claims on the benefits, or lack thereof, of compression socks and sleeves.
One study found that athletes wearing compression socks ran longer and faster on the treadmill. Another concluded that compression gear reduced muscle soreness and inflammation when used during recovery.
It doesn’t take much to buy into the wonders of compression gear. Claims such as “improve performance” and “speed-up recovery” are bound to be a big hit for runners.
But, the most convincing argument of them all is that compression stocking has been a trusted tool in the medical scene for decades to prevent the formation of blood clots and improve blood flow and circulation in bed-ridden and inactive patients.
So, it’s plausible that compression gear may give us that extra boost in performance.
But, some scientists are saying “hold up!” A study on marathoners and ultra-marathoners showed that there was no difference in recovery rate and performance between those who wore compression socks and those who did not.
Some have suggested that any benefits of compression gear are due to placebo effect. Compression gear provides as many physiological benefits as putting on our lucky suits before an important presentation. It’s all about the feel-good aspect.
The Pitfalls of Feel-Good
Most runners would agree that feeling good is just as important as being in good form physically. After all, when we feel our legs slowly turn into jelly during a race, it is our mental strength that helps us break the wall instead of hitting the wall.
American 10-km record holder, Chris Solinsky, decided not to think too much about the science behind the compression gear. He wears compression socks because he likes them and believes in the recovery benefits they provide.
Dr Ajmol Ali, who has conducted a few studies on compression gear, also said that the benefits of feel-good could not be denied and the body will respond positively to positive feeling.
However, such advice raises an eyebrow for some experts. They argue that we should not compress away questions and possible side-effects of the garment.
Placebo effect rests our mind and puts rainbows and sunshine in our head when our body has not quite got out from the hell after we have run a race or done an intensive training. Thus, we may go back to the track too early and not giving enough time for the body to recover, and we know that will not end well.
“...there are benefits to wearing them, but they should not be treated as a one-stop, wonder gear. All the tried-and-tested recovery and training routines should still apply with and without compression gear.”
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
While the benefits of compression gear are debatable, the harms of wearing compression socks or sleeves in the wrong size or wrong way can be clearly seen and felt.
Ill-fitting compression gear may slide down our legs while running thus hampering our movement or it could cause discomfort, even blisters when it is too tight. Many who use compression socks and sleeves, wear them wrinkled. That could cause problems since bunching of compression gear exerts excess pressure on the skin.
To prevent wearing and buying the wrong size of compression gear, make sure that you measure the circumference of your ankle, calf or thigh (depending on whether you are purchasing a knee-high or thigh-high gear) and the distance of the knee or thigh to the floor.
Since we are living in this beautiful, but crazily humid country, and most likely we’ll be having excess moisture on our skin which makes smoothing the socks or sleeves a task, we can apply a little powder or flour before putting them on to dry out moisture.
This article is not written to encourage you to burn your compression socks and sleeves or to repurpose them to make your Halloween costume. As mentioned, there are benefits to wearing them, but they should not be treated as a one-stop, wonder gear.
All the tried-and-tested recovery and training routines should still apply with and without compression gear. After all, we all know that pulling our socks up to be a better runner is never achieved with just one step.
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