Compression clothing matters but how?

My Life as a Runner > gadget > Compression clothing matters but how?
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In the past several years, I’ve been a good sport trying out various compression clothing as running apparel manufacturers develop compression technologies and market their products. Whether it’s for performance enhancement or efficient recovery, I squeeze my lower extremity into shorts, socks, calf sleeves or recovery tights during and after a tough exercise. There are several major manufacturers of compression clothing out there: CEP Compression, SKINS, and 2XU all have compression gears targeting runners. While they use different technology and fabrics, the underlying premise is the same: It helps deliver oxygen to muscles faster, which is likely to enhance athletic performance, and it helps remove byproducts of exercise from muscles faster, which is likely to reduce Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS). These days, when I run a marathon, I wear CEP Compression shorts, which helps me run the distance without muscle cramps. After a marathon, I religiously put on the recovery tights, so that my legs feel better soon. I rely on these compression clothing 100%, yet I am not 100% sure how I am receiving these benefits; physiologically, that is.

Many people have asked how compression helps. My response so far has been that it improves blood circulation, which oxygenate/deoxygenate muscles, which has performance and recovery benefits… While this might not be untrue, most people don’t seem satisfied with the answer. Why would compression improve blood circulation? Wouldn’t compression make vein walls contract and slow down the blood circulation?

So I turned to Google and started to search for the answer, or authoritative information that is written in layman’s terms. Several searches later, I came across with a couple of resources that helped me understand this better. One is from Fleet Feet Sports’ article titled “Compression: Does it really work?” Here is a direct quote from the article:

Recent studies show that with an optimal level of consistent compression, the walls of the arteries will dilate, increasing the blood flow through them. Arterial blood flow has been shown to increase up to 40% during activity and 30% during recovery. This means more oxygen and nutrients flowing through the body! On the other hand, the walls of the veins will constrict under compression, which helps to increase the velocity of blood flow through them. Increased velocity of blood flow through veins means that deoxygenated blood and lactic acid will get back to the heart quicker, which will help to increase the rate of recovery and decrease muscle soreness!

So arteries dilate, while veins constrict under optimal compression. Aha! Further, this video from Khan Academy about Arteries vs. Veins helped me understand how beneficial it is to increase pressure in the veins because it has high volume of blood in a lower-pressure system. Now, I cannot wait for someone to ask me this question.

By the way, I love CEP Compression shorts and recovery tights. Because they are mass-produced products, it can be difficult to fit them perfectly. I have two different sizes for the compression shorts and wear them differently; ie. bigger size when I run a marathon and smaller size when I run shorter distances. I only have CEP recovery tights in one size, and they are super tight that it takes several minutes to put them on. The fabric feels strong, and they compress my legs really tight: Almost to a point where I feel my range of motion is compromised. On the other hand, Skin RY400 recovery tights are much easier to put on and move around in them. The fabric is softer and I don’t feel the squeeze very much. Because CEP recovery tights have much stronger compression, I feel I get most out of CEP tights but I have not done any meaningful comparison between the two. I tend to use CEP tights after marathons, and Skin after less demanding workout. They are both pricey but it does work for me. Do you wear any compression gears? What are your preferred brand and why?

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