Image of a man running down the sidewalk in compression gear

The Truth About Compression Gear: Does It Really Work Or Not?

by Cole Matthews - Last Updated September 2, 2019

If you’re a sports fan, you have seen athletes wearing form-fitting, ‘‘superhero’’ type clothing underneath their uniforms. The garments seem to give them a special edge over the competition or at least, make them look more prepared to compete. These skintight clothing items, more commonly known as compression garments, are one of the latest trends in athletic performance. Compression wear in most cases is made of spandex and nylon; creating the perfect scenario for clothing to be stretchable while maintaining its shape. Designed to fit closely to the body, this sportswear compresses tissue to increase blood flow. These seemingly intricate garments evolved from the medical field. Compression socks, sleeves and tights are used to increase blood flow for patients with various health ailments including those with poor circulation. Since it is proven that compression garments increase circulation for these individuals, certainly these garments can support and increase athletic performance.

Despite their connection with the compression garments used in medicine, there has been much discussion about the impact of compression gear on athletic performance. Some of the reported benefits of sporting compression gear while you’re working out include improved circulation, reduced muscle fatigue and improved muscle recovery.

How Compression Gear Works

Before we get started discussing each of the main benefits, I wanted to show you this quick video made by Skins, a popular compression wear brand, which explains exactly how compression gear works.

Cool, now that you’ve got a background on things, let’s talk about the benefits!

Improved Blood Circulation

A number of professional athletes have noted compression wear or skins as a key factor in their ability to bounce back from the rigorous physical activity. Science would support their claim. The form fitted material acts similar to a circulatory pump helping to reduce the swelling especially if worn after rigorous physical activity.

Think about it this way – if compression gear increases blood flow, therefore increasing oxygen flow, a football player wearing compression clothing during a game should be able to recover more quickly than a player that did not wear compression gear. To dig a little deeper, consider the fact that our muscles need oxygen to operate, so increased oxygen flow should produce better results when performing normal daily functions. If compression gear increases oxygen flow and oxygen flow helps the blood circulate, wearing compression gear should aid in getting the best results while working out.

Reduced Muscle Fatigue

A number of studies have linked compression gear to reduced muscle fatigue as well. Increased oxygen flow may be linked to reduced fatigue. Because compression garments support increased oxygen flow, they are also linked to reduced muscle fatigue. A number of professional athletes have reported wearing compression shorts and t-shirts overnight to increase their ability to remain fresh during training camps. This may be due to the fact that compression garments increase blood flow.  The skin tight fit of the garments also helps keep the body warm. This is beneficial in during warm-ups and workouts. Compression garments may also enhance the benefits of stretching. Because of this, compression wear may be linked to improved performance.

Another component to consider involves the production of lactate. Lactate is a byproduct of muscle movement, but it is sometimes the cause of muscle soreness and fatigue. Increased circulation counteracts the overproduction of lactate and helps athletes perform better. Researchers have found that athletes that wear compression garments have significantly lower lactate levels. This may explain why several trainers have encouraged wearing compression skins during weight training sessions.

Accelerated Muscle Recovery

Evidence supports that the use of compression skins after a workout improves muscle recovery. The snug fit of these garments is attributed to the delayed onset of muscle soreness. Many experts recommend wearing compression sleeves to manage swelling of the joints after intense workouts. This is due to the fact that compression gear may help evenly distribute synovial fluid. Synovial fluid helps “lubricate” the joints preventing soreness and swelling. In addition, other experts promote wearing full-body compressions suits, or at the very least a compression shirt, to help manage overall muscle recovery.

Because of its link to recovery time and reduced fatigue, compression clothing may be connected to improved sprint times. Research shows that compression wear may not positively affect performance when participating in physical activity for a long span of time. However; compression garments may benefit those who participate in activities that are short-winded. For example, a man running on a treadmill for thirty minutes may see the benefits of wearing compression gear before and after his workout. He may not experience those same benefits if he decides to go for a 2-hour run.

Is It Going To Make Me A Better Athlete?

Superman’s suit is technically compression gear, right? Maybe that’s what makes him so super…

Okay, all kidding aside, what’s the verdict on compression gear? In short, it seems that the verdict is still out. There are a number of research studies that support the idea that compression wear increases athletic performance. In other cases, there is a decrease in athletic ability or no change at all. It seems to depend on how long or intense the physical activity that is being measured is. If you run short distances, you will benefit from wearing compression clothing. If you want to run a 5K, it may help you recover more quickly, but won’t help you finish in first place.

Most of the benefits of wearing compression gear are linked to increased oxygen flow and blood circulation. Some of the same qualities that make compression material beneficial for patients with low circulation helps athletes perform better – or does it? It seems that most of the benefits of compression sportswear are associated with recovery and reducing muscle fatigue. For those that workout on a regular basis, this may help you develop the ability to recover from new workouts quicker. Wearing compression wear may also help you achieve more explosive workouts without the soreness.

I think it is also important to note some of the other benefits of wearing compression wear while working out. Some of the other non-performance related benefits include the material’s ability to absorb sweat and prevent skin chafing. These benefits carry some weight and should be noted. These factors may not affect your performance, but they do assist in creating a more comfortable workout. Whether you’re looking to enhance athletic performance or enjoy the non-performance related benefits of compression wear, these trendy garments are worth giving a try the next time you go to the gym.