From the October 2012 issue of Runner’s World
These stylish compression garments can help you run better
By Sarah Bowen Shea
It started with socks. My lower legs were feeling achy and tight after workouts. Needing relief (an ice bath hardly sufficed), I tried compression socks. I’d heard they sped up recovery by helping muscles remove lactate faster. I soon noticed the tightness ease. Now my calves and shins are pain-free. These days, compression socks have lots of company. Though scientific research on compression’s benefits is mixed, manufacturers are making squeeze gear – tights, shorts, even Superman-tight shirts – for nearly every body part. These six pieces proved to be our top picks.
|SKINS A400 COMPRESSION LONG TIGHTS|
The popular SKINS protect and deliver more oxygen to your active muscles, giving them more power. The compression fabric also wicks well and helps regulate body temperature. Ideal for supercharging your performance, they provide compression where you need it – around the knee, IT band and hip flexors.
Fit Tip: SKINS have pioneered a sizing system that uses a unique BMI algorithm, which takes into account your height and weight. Make sure you check your sizing before stepping into the dressing room.
AUS skins.net; NZ skins.co.nz
With firm compression, these calf sleeves feel great post-event and even during races. The strongest areas of compression are positioned over the biggest muscles, which reduces muscle damage caused by vibration, making them race-friendly. Post-race, testers say the R2s helped with circulation and provided relief.
Fit Tip: To get the sleeves on more easily, fold down the top section before pulling them on.
AUS & NZ compressport.com.au
|2XU ELITE S/S COMPRESSION TOP|
A compression T-shirt? For runners? All right, you’re dubious. But this muscle-aligning top helps maintain proper posture – especially on tough long runs when you can barely hold your head up. And busty women runners will find it eases shoulder strain.
Fit Tip: Twist, turn and stretch in the shirt before buying. You want to make sure it won’t ride up later when running.
AUS 2xu.com.au; NZ 2xu.co.nz
|ZENSAH HIGH COMPRESSION SHORTS|
Compression shorts should keep your quads fresh while allowing the rest of your legs to breathe. The Zensah shorts do that, plus they’re comfortable. The horizontal, closely spaced ribbing over the quadriceps and hamstrings allows for full range of motion in the hips. Stretchy cuffs stay flat while in motion and don’t constrict.
Fit Tip: For a little modesty, layer them under running shorts.
AUS & NZ zensah.com.au
|ZOOT ULTRA COMPRESSRX RECOVERY SOCK|
With extra padding under the heel, the CompressRx provides relief for achilles tendinitis, shin splints, and tight, overworked calves. Good for race day as well as recovery, the socks also help push lactate-laden blood from the back of your legs.
Fit Tip: Buy according to your calf’s circumference, not shoe size.
AUS (03) 9581 5444; NZ zootsports.co.nz
|CW-X STABILYX TIGHT|
AUS & NZ A$179
A good pair of compression tights keeps knees and hips in alignment while also boosting leg power during a workout. With the CW-X, you also get lower-back support since the tights’ back is cut substantially higher than in the front. Below the waist, the leggings wrap your knees and deliver blood-boosting support along your quads.
Fit Tip: Be sure the seams are placed properly around your knees.
AUS & NZ cw-x.com.au
Two experts, Ken Axford, an endurance sports coach, and Adam St Pierre, an exercise physiologist, weigh in on the pros and cons of compression.
Q What is compression wear intended to do?
A First, it improves blood flow, so the exchange of oxygen, lactate and nutrients through your muscles happens faster. Second, it dampens excess muscle vibration. Axford draws the analogy of a bunch of potatoes (your muscles) in a sack (compression gear). “In a sack that is loose, the potatoes bounce around. Put the spuds in a tighter sack [like compression gear], and they don’t bounce as much or get as beat up.”
Q When should I wear it?
A St Pierre says compression gear is more helpful when muscles are working hard for an extended period – so during longer races (half-marathons and marathons) versus shorter ones. (He wears compression tights during ultras.) Both St Pierre and Axford agree that compression is even more effective during recovery. “Legs will feel better and be ready to conquer another workout sooner,” says St Pierre.
Q Should I limit my use?
A Most compression gear can be worn underneath clothes, allowing you to recover faster while carrying on with normal life. St Pierre even says, “There’s no risk for healthy people to sleep in compression gear.” But don’t keep muscles encased indefinitely. “If you wear it all the time, you’re relaxing muscles more than you should be,” Axford says. “You want to use muscles as they were designed to be used.”
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