by Geoff Rand

Compression clothing claims to cause increased performance and speed recovery.  These garments have appeared on many athletes in the CrossFit Games, but does compression clothing actually offer any benefit to their performance or recovery?

Compression technology is not a new concept.  With its roots as medical devices, compression stockings and socks have been used to promote better circulation and reduce fatigue in patients with lower leg ailments and poor circulation.  Always in search of a competitive edge, athletes adapted compression gear to their sports and eventually companies began producing shooting sleeves, compression shorts, calve and thigh sleeves, compression socks and even full-body suits.

Several studies have been conducted on athletes in many sports to include endurance running, cycling, bodybuilding, basketball, and others.  In these studies, varying physiological measurements were taken and test groups were given compression clothing, placebo clothing, or normal clothing to wear during exercise.  Some studies also compared the recovery characteristics of compression clothing to traditional recovery methods like stretching and ice baths.

The results of the groups measuring performance seemed to indicate zero to minimal increased performance by the test subjects wearing compression gear.  When you wrangle on a sleeve or a pair of tights, you may feel like the sensation of everything being pulled tightly together is going to help you run faster or jump higher, but the study results don’t support this.

The data from the recovery studies pointed to the conclusion that compression clothing does have a positive impact on recovery.  This seems to be supported by a significant number of people who report a measureable reduction in pain or fatigue following certain workouts in which compression is worn compared to the same types of exercises performed without compression.

Even with these studies, compression technology is not fully understood and more studies need to be conducted to determine if there is a benefit to wearing compression clothing during a workout versus only wearing it after a workout.

So, if you are expecting to jump higher or lift heavier just by pulling on some tight piece of lycra spandex, think again.  But if you suffer from chronic calf cramps every time you run, they might be worth a try.  Just know why you are wearing them.