Compression Tights: Do They Do What They Claim?
Compression tights are a big business in the sports and fitness industry these days with a number of big company’s manufacturing them. Many of the manufacturers make claims regarding the benefits of wearing compression tights.
How true are these claims and is there any difference between the brands?
Skins Compression Wear
Skins claim that their “…compression tights and shorts provide the right compression in the right places to get more oxygen to your muscles. They also wrap and support key muscle groups, so you’ll notice improved core body control and power, as well as less post-exercise muscle soreness.” Skins have been recommended and endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association and qualifying for registration as a therapeutic device by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration.
On their website it states that research has found Skins compression tights to:
- increase venous return
- reduce exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD)
- accelerate recovery processes
- remove lactic acid faster
- increase strength and power
- improve endurance
- increase muscle oxygenation
- improve body temperature control
2XU Compression Tights
Another leading compression garment brand 2XU also suggest wearing their compression tights will improve circulation pre-exercise “…for a faster, safer warm up…” and wearing their tights during exercise
“REDUCES MUSCLE FATIGUE & DAMAGE, HEIGHTENS AGILITY, IMPROVES PERFORMANCE.”
Post exercise use of 2XU tights will aid in
“FASTER RECOVERY, DECREASES SORENESS, HELPS REDUCE THE RISK OF DVT.”
Compression Tights: The Research
So what does the research actually say? Should I bother buying compression tights? And if so which brand is best and how should I wear them?
- A studying comparing three types of full-body compression garments (Skins, Adidas and Under Armour) on repeat-sprint and throwing performance in cricket players found analysis between respective brands of compression garments revealed no statistical differences as well as this no benefit was noted when wearing compression garments for repeat-sprint or throwing performance. However, the use of the garments as a recovery tool, when worn after exercise, may be beneficial to reduce post exercise trauma and perceived muscle soreness.
- Another study looking at lower limb compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in young active females indicated that individuals who wore “Skins” lower limb compression garments for 12 hours following exercise inducing muscle damage, experienced up to 20% less functional muscle decrement and lower perceptions of muscle soreness in comparison with individuals who had a passive recovery.
- Again another study looking at lower limb compression as a recover strategy following exercise found that the results indicate that compression clothing is an effective recovery strategy following exercise-induced muscle damage.
- Yet another study investigated whether compression garments could benefit metabolic recovery from eccentric exercise. The specifics were following 30 minutes of downhill walking the muscle metabolites of eleven subjects were evaluated at baseline, 1 hour and 48 hours. Found that compression garments may alter potential indices of the repair processes accompanying structural damage to the skeletal muscle following eccentric exercise allowing a faster cellular repair.
- An Australian study looking at wearing compression tights during flights of greater than 5 hours showed significant differences in ankle circumference and symptoms of Economy Class Syndrome. Results found that participants wearing gradient compression garments (SKINS) during air travel experienced reduced flight-induced ankle oedema and subjectively rated travel symptoms of leg pain, discomfort and swelling, and improve energy levels, ability to concentrate, alertness, and post-flight sleep.
- A study investigating the physiological and performance effects of lower-body compression garments during a one-hour cycling time-trial in well-trained cyclists demonstrated limited physiological benefits and no performance enhancement through wearing compression tights during a cycling time trial.
- A study using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking to examine performance measures looking at compression garments on performance measures in netball found performance enhancing effects of compression garments were minimal.
Research Supports Compression Tights As A Recovery Tool
Basically statements such as those that Adidas make stating their compression garments “focuses your muscles’ energy to generate maximum explosive power, acceleration and long-term endurance.” don’t have a lot of research supporting such claims. There has been substantial research done on compression tights and their effect on performance and recovery and to date the majority of research that I am aware of supports them being used as a tool for recovery following exercise but not as a way to improve performance.
Answering The Questions Around Compression Tights
Should I bother buying compression tights? If you are a athlete who exercises regularly and due to the frequency of training or competing your recovery time from exercise is crucial then the answer from me would be YES! However if you exercise inconsistently or at very low intensities and the quickest possibly recovery isn’t as vital then there may not be a lot of merit in buying compression wear as there is little to suggest they do anything to help something other than recovery and enhanced recovery is not going to be either vital or that noticeable to you and your training.
Which brand is best? The answer to this is I don’t know, a research paper stated above suggested there is no statistical difference between the individual brands and therefore it doesn’t matter which brand you go for. You could suggest that “Skins” is the brand with the most research carried out on their product so you could potentially consider you would be more assured of getting out of the purchase the improved recovery the research papers suggest if you went ahead and purchased Skins.
How should I wear them? It would seem that wearing them during exercise hasn’t shown to have any significant benefits however they certainly didn’t appear to have any negative effects on performance so you could either wear them during and after exercise or more just as the recovery tool they have the backing of the research for and wear them for around 12 hours post exercise.
Or as one study suggests wearing compression tights during long haul flights, this use could potentially be considered even more relevant if you are exercising soon after on the other end of that flight.
You Need To Buy The Real Deal, Budget Options Won’t Work The Same
Compression tights are made with tighter elastic than your average spandex pants and the design of compression tights creates graduated pressure. Meaning you can’t just go to “Supré” or “Lowes” and try and find some stretchyish pants and hope they work. However if you do spend the $170 on a pair of skins long compression tights will they help you …Train longer, perform stronger + recover faster”? The later possibly but train longer and perform stronger the research at this stage suggests unlikely.
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance on compression tights should consult his or her general practitioner or physiotherapist.