How Compression Works: The Gear Made for Performance and Recovery
In the world of sports and fitness, there’s no magic tablet that can make you become a successful athlete or achieve the body you’ve been dreaming about. To reach optimal performance, you need to put in the time and effort. The process is remarkably tough to compete with leading stars (and your very own self-discipline) yet remains inherently rewarding as you push the limits of your capabilities.
However, in all sports like soccer, basketball, football, and running, you may encounter some aches and pains during the muscle-building and endurance stages that you could avoid. Performing exercises incorrectly or having inadequate post-workout recovery techniques could increase your chances of muscle pain and prolong the repairing stage!
Many athletes use compression garments to assist and progress in their fitness journeys, such as undershorts, lumbar supports, and ankle braces. The many benefits this clothing can provide an athlete during and after exercises is astonishing. So what are the benefits?
What are compression garments?
Compression garments are a style of clothing that is tight and compressive. Usually, it’s made from elastic materials such as polyester and nylon, which is specially designed to improve an athlete’s performance and recovery.
Compression gear is also highly used in the healthcare sector. Compression clothing has proven its effectiveness with athletes and those who suffer from lymphoedema, leg ulcers, varicose veins, and other health issues.
Check out this table for a quick visual about the main benefits:
Influences on recovery
Effects on performance
Decreases the possibilities of post-exercise edema (aka swelling)
Better joint awareness, which can strengthen and reduce the risk of injury
Enhances the natural process of removing metabolites (waste products)
Boosts muscle oxygenation, which is proven to increase the longevity of strength during an exercise
Improve blood flow to a specific & targeted area
Lessens the rate of fatigue to the compressed muscle
Lower chances of delayed onset of muscles soreness (DMOS)
It helps the passage of fluid through the circulatory system (bloodstream)
Compression clothing can provide athletes huge advantages during and after exercise. But how does compression even work?
How does compression work?
Whenever compression is applied to specific body parts correctly and in a balanced matter, there’s an acceleration in blood flow. Because of this increased rate, more oxygen is fed into the working muscles. This works to dramatically reduce the build-up of lactic acid and various other metabolites, which generally leads to muscle soreness and fatigue.
Now you understand the underlying technology of compression clothing, let’s see an example of how this therapy can be applied!
We’ll use a knee brace for this example, as every individual has a 45 percent chance of developing osteoarthritis in this joint. Because of this, the possibility of needing to use compression wear is exceptionally high.
When training with a knee brace, it drastically improves proprioception and sensory feedback. When this occurs, you lower the risk of potentially performing an exercise that could damage your knee. Compression wear also maintains internal body temperature in the joint and encourages blood flow, which keeps muscles and tendons prepped and ready for movement. In addition, continuing to wear a knee brace after exercise will reduce the possibility of tissue inflammation.
Therefore, from just wearing a knee brace, you improve the ability to sense movement, action, and location while reducing inflammation, which can cause additional pain after performing an exercise.
Benefits of compression when working out
Now you have a solidified understanding of the benefits you can receive from this clothing, let’s dive into the benefits of compression when working out. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Enhanced levels of proprioception
According to this study, compression bandages (which work similarly to compression clothing) might improve proprioception. For those that don’t know, proprioception is all about position awareness in the body. The way compression bandages help proprioception is from the external pressure applied to the skin.
By having enhanced levels of proprioception, your mind and muscles can work much more effectively together. Because of this, you’re much less likely to perform an action that’ll cause pain to a targeted body part.
Many people use knee sleeves or compression bandages when they develop osteoarthritis. It’s a common problem in many people’s knees, meaning a wrong turn could take them out of training for a long time. Therefore, to reduce this, knee sleeves, compression bandages, or knee braces are used to improve mind and muscle communication.
2. Better performance
Additionally, wearing compression clothing while performing an exercise can help short-term recovery (during the session). A 2013 meta-analysis proved this theory and established that wearing compression clothing while working out can help the chronic recovery of muscle power and strength between training sessions.
This analysis concludes that compression garments can improve your performance by enhancing your recovery rate during and after exercise. We must note here that there haven’t been any studies conducted that showcase that wearing compression clothing can cause adverse effects on your performance.
3. Increased anaerobic and aerobic threshold
Your anaerobic threshold is a relatively consistent effort that many athletes can perform for hours. Whereas the anaerobic threshold is the starting point at which lactic acid and other metabolites start to build up in your blood, making the exercise more challenging.
Another benefit of compression clothing is an increase in your anaerobic and aerobic thresholds. Your anaerobic threshold is the max intensity of exercise your body can sustain for a prolonged time before lactic acid begins to build up in your blood – this happens during intense bouts of activity, like sprints. Lactic acid build-up causes your muscles to stiffen (and cause that burning sensation!), making the exercise more challenging. Aerobic threshold is your body’s ability to perform slower, steady-state exercise that can last for hours – think of the energy you expend while going for a long walk. Both are important to a well-balanced regimen!
It’s been established that compression shorts can help improve threshold levels by as much as 6.2 percent! That’s a remarkable figure and something that undoubtedly provides benefits athletes and the like can take full advantage of.
How does compression help recovery?
Now that you understand the benefits of compression when working out let’s discuss how compression helps with recovery.
1. Compression decreases inflammatory response
When you apply compression to an injury or a body part sensitive to swelling during exercise, the increased tension supports your veins and promotes proper blood flow. This will keep blood and fluid from pooling in the affected area, which causes swelling and sensitivity. Compression will help keep blood flowing to reduce pressure and thereby relieve pain!
Compression may even be linked to relieving DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after strenuous exercise. Although, this reaction isn’t always fully understood.
Usually, people believe that the effects of DOMS come from the disruption of both muscle fibers and surrounding tissues. However, others think that this reaction is the result of an inflammatory response. Whatever you believe will highly depend on the studies or information you’ve read.
2. Compression lowers creatine kinases (CK)
In addition to the above recovery benefits, wearing compression clothing can lower creatine kinases (CK). This enzyme is naturally created inside our bodies and is produced in overdrive when we exercise.
CK is well-researched and is a biomarker of muscular damage, and there have been various studies exploring the impact compression clothing has on its production rates. The meta-analysis we discussed above that was performed in 2013 demonstrates that wearing compression garments can lessen the CK concentration after exercise. It’s solid evidence that compression can help improve the longevity of an athlete!
3. Compression improves running economy
As you can imagine, this only improves the running/cardio aspect of training. However, in most sports such as soccer, football, basketball, baseball, practically anything, you must be good at running.
This study performed by A Bringard and associates concluded that wearing compression garments (such as shorts) can improve the oxygen cost of running by approximately 9% while traveling at 10, 12, 14, and 16 km/h!
But how does this necessarily help recovery? As you know, oxygen is an essential requirement for exercise as it helps refill deficiencies created while exercising. Therefore, the more oxygen you can feed into your muscles before, during, and after performing a workout, you’ll dramatically enhance your recovery process.
As you can see, the benefits that compression can provide recovery are immense. The above are just a tiny minority of benefits that have been studied that suggest the advantages compression can offer!